Leaky Batteries = Ruined Gear… Arghhh!!!!

Kirkland AA Batteries

Before we left to go cruising, we stocked up on AA, AAA and 9v batteries.  We have lots of electronic gear that relies on these batteries, and we wanted to be sure to have plenty of spares.

So when we were in Costco and saw the huge packs of batteries, it was a no-brainer to throw a few packs in the cart and keep moving.  Little did we know that these batteries would eventually cause us all kinds of grief.

Electronic weather station 301

After suffering battery leaks, the outdoor sensor on this weather station stopped communicating reliably…

 

 

As many cruisers eventually do, we left our boat Groovy in the tropics for the hurricane season.  For seven months, we traveled around the mountains in the western US while Groovy was tied up at the dock in Marina Chiapas, Mexico, in sweltering humidity.  How hot and humid was it?  It made Houston in July seem cool and dry!!

When we returned, the boat was in tip-top shape.  We were amazed.  Both the exterior and the interior of the boat looked like we had just gotten off it the day before.  However, our little portable electronic devices were hiding something…

The first thing we noticed was that the outdoor sensor on our electronic indoor-outdoor weather station was no longer communicating with the indoor display.  Mark took it all apart and discovered the AA batteries had leaked all over the interior of the unit.  He cleaned it up as best he could, and got it working, but it failed again and again over the following ten months of our cruise.

More frustrating was that his favorite high-end and expensive LED flashlight couldn’t turn on.  Opening the battery compartment, he found that the AA batteries had leaked all over the interior and were stuck fast inside.  There was no way to pry the batteries out.  This fabulous flashlight that had been used just a few times went in the trash.

Sangean AT-909 ssb radio provisioning

This Sangean AT-909 portable SSB radio had leaky batteries, but was not damaged — thank goodness!!

Mark quickly hunted down every piece of battery operated gear we could find on the boat and checked out the batteries.  All the batteries were leaking.

Many items were salvageable by swabbing the battery compartment with rubbing alcohol and replacing the batteries.  We had stored our spare batteries in a ziploc bag, and they were not leaking in the bag.  But a few other pieces of electronic gear were lost to these leaky batteries.

Part of the problem may be that the cheap Kirkland alkaline batteries aren’t made all that well.  We recently discovered the website http://batteriesandbutter.com which looks to be a great place to buy batteries in bulk.

We were intrigued to see that they list where each battery brand and model they sell is manufactured.  Even with name-brand batteries like Duracell, it turns out you can buy cheaper Chinese-made Duracell batteries or USA-made Duracell batteries for a slightly higher price.  Who knew?

The other problem is that we should not have left the boat for so long with the batteries sitting inside of any piece of gear.  This is common knowledge, but in the excitement of packing up, stowing things, and wiping down every surface with vinegar to prevent mold from growing, it was easy to forget to remove the batteries from everything, including the clock on the wall and the flashlight in the ditch bag.

I hope our mistake will help you avoid this problem on your cruise!!

Divorced Eggs…?!

Pollo Asado on the street

This pollo asado stand is very popular in La Manzanilla!

One of the things many travelers love about Mexico is the delicious food.  For us, the street food is the most fun.  We have enjoyed many a meal of fish tacos or carne asada (grilled beef) tacos from a street cart.

Sometimes we’re lucky and find a fabulous pollo asado (grilled chicken) dinner made right in front of us on the sidewalk over coals in a metal half-barrel turned on its side.

This kind of food is pretty low risk in terms of knowing what we’re getting.  If there is a large crowd of local patrons eating enthusiastically, and a long line of eager customers waiting to be served, the food has to be good.  Even better, we can see what the meal is before it lands on our plates!

Roasted chicken pollo rostisado

It’s nice to know what will be on your plate!

Going to a sit-down restaurant and ordering off the menu is a whole different story, though.  If the restaurant caters strictly to the locals, we’ve found the menu is often indecipherable without a Spanish/English dictionary.

There is an awful lot of unfamiliar vocabulary packed into Mexican restaurant menus!  To make things even harder, many dishes have names that don’t show up in a standard dictionary.

Carne Asada Tacos from Las Brisas in Ensenada

Tasty carne asada tacos.

Usually we end up ordering something recommended by the waiter, and we find out what it really is only after it arrives at the table.

In the restaurants in the tourist areas, however, there is usually an English version of the menu, or at least an English translation appearing near each item.  Thank goodness!

Once in a while, though, there is something on the menu — on the English side — that sounds just a little funky in translation.

The first few times we went out for a big breakfast at a nice place, I found myself scratching my head when I reviewed the various options for eggs.

Everything was okay at the top of the menu where there were descriptions of fried eggs, scrambled eggs and omelets.

Divorced Eggs or Huevos Divorciados

Two fried eggs split by the the color of sauce they wear (plus beans)!

But lower down they had this strange sounding one:  “Divorced Eggs.”

Checking the Spanish side of the menu didn’t help:  “Huevos Divorciados.”

Divorced eggs???  I didn’t know eggs got married!!!

It turns out that this very popular dish consists of two fried eggs, each covered with a different hot sauce: a green sauce on one egg and a red sauce on the other.

Aha!  So this is what eggs do when they decide they have irreconcilable differences.  If only human divorce were so easy!

 

huevos divorciados or divorced eggs

Have these eggs filed for Divorce due to “Irreconcilable Differences”
or is it just a Trial Separation so they can think things over?

I looked up the word “divorciado” in my Spanish/English dictionary and found that its meaning is slightly closer to the word “separated.”

Hmmm.  So it appears these unfortunate eggs may actually be undergoing something that is more like a Trial Separation.

Perhaps they are not Divorced at all. Perhaps they just want a little space and some time apart to think things over!

Whatever the exact marital status of the eggs happens to be, the dish is very flavorful, and it is usually complemented with a big serving of delicious refried beans and some tortillas.

It is very Mexican and it is muy rico (very yummy).

 

 

Quinceañera – Sailboat “Groovy” Helps Celebrate a Mexican 15th Birthday

13-07-13 Quinceanero-4407

July 13, 2013 – This afternoon, Mark was busy in our sailboat Groovy‘s cockpit here at the marina in Ensenada, Mexico, when he noticed a well dressed man in an elegant suit walking on the docks.

The man seemed to be eyeing up our boat Groovy, and he walked back and forth in front of it a few times.  Mark called out a greeting, and suddenly the man stopped and said in English, “My daughter is celebrating her 15th birthday today.  Do you think we could take some photos of her on your boat?”

Mark looked around and thought for a moment.  But of course!

13-07-13 Quinceanero-4370

Within a few minutes a crowd of young teenagers showed up, all dressed to the nines in suits and fancy dresses and stiletto heels.  They were giggling and chatting among themselves as they shuffled down the dock.  Mark flew into the cabin and told me to grab my camera, quick!

friends

 

Quincenaera aboard Groovy

The birthday girl poses on Groovy’s bow.

As I came into the cockpit, the birthday girl appeared at the top of the dock ramp.  She was wearing a beautiful fluffy white dress and had pearls around her neck.

For girls in Mexico, the quniceañera — 15th birthday — is a very special day.  The celebration is something like a coming out party, and it is an occasion for donning a prom dress, wearing makeup, posing for lots of photos, and having a big party with a live band that lasts long into the night.

This birthday girl was obviously relishing every second of her moment in the spotlight.

 

Paparazzi crowd around the birthday girl!

Paparazzi crowd around the birthday girl!

Her proud dad, Carlos, hung back while a professional photographer and videographer posed her all around the boat.  What total fun!

Mark and I ran around behind the scenes, trying to catch her poses as best we could.

Meanwhile her friends all giggled and fidgeted as they stood on the finger pier next to us, jumping up and down, and looking very cute in their dressy clothes.

Suddenly a few boxes of pizza appeared out of nowhere, and the teenagers got busy scarfing the slices down in an instant.

friends

After a little pizza, her friends are ready to party!

A very special day to remember!!

A very special day to remember!!

Once the photo shoot was finished and the sun had set, Carlos invited us to come up and join the party that was in full swing under the tents next to the office.  What an invitation!!

When we got up there, we walked through a few lighted arches onto a dance floor that was surrounded by tables and chars.  Everything was decorated in pink.

Carlos showed us to the family’s head table and introduced us to everyone sitting there — grandma, aunts, godparents and little brothers and sisters.

 

13-07-13 Quinceanera Helm

Several family members had flown in from far-flung parts of Mexico to take part in the celebration.

We’ve been lucky enough to see several quinceañera photo shoots from a distance — the girls are always so lovely in their big bouffant dresses — but this was the first time we had been invited to be a part of the action at the party itself. We were loving it!

As we sat chatting with the family at the head table, explaining to everyone who we were, where we had sailed from, and how we had unintentionally crashed their party after the impromptu photo shoot aboard Groovy, they happily swept us up in the festivities.

Everything around the dance floor was decorated in pink.

Everything around the dance floor was decorated in pink.

 

The man on my left, Alfredo, fondly told us how he had held the birthday girl at her baptism fourteen years earlier when she was just a baby, and we could feel his pride at being her godfather.

Everyone whipped out pocket cameras, cell phone cameras and iPads to get pics of the party, and suddenly we found ourselves being posed into the group shots too.  We were just the boat people from down on the docks, but that didn’t seem to matter — we were welcomed right into the heart of the family!

 

birthday cake

A birthday cake fit for a princess and
decorated with icing starfish!

When we finally stood up to go — wanting to let this jovial group enjoy their special moment together — the grandma didn’t want to let us go.  “Sit down, sit down!” she insisted, patting the chair next to her where Mark had been sitting.  “No, no… thank you, thank you!”  Mark said as we tip-toed out backward and bid them all goodbye.  This was their party, but they had been so kind to invite us to join them so we could get a glimpse of a true quinceañera celebration.

Back on the boat, we crawled into bed and listened for a long time as the band got rowdier and rowdier and the heavy bass thumped a steady beat through the hull of the boat.  What a fantastic tradition this 15th birthday party is, and what a great way to bring together the whole family to celebrate the arrival of a young girl on the threshold of adulthood.  Most of all, what a lucky day it had been for us!

 

Living, Loving and Perfecting “The Dream”

Sailing Groovy

Happy days aboard Groovy!

June 2013 – We’ve been living the Good Life here at Paradise Village Marina in Puerto Vallarta for three months now. Wow!

This is a wonderful place to hang out, and lots of folks stay for years at a time. But the reason we have stayed here so long is actually because we’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching and thinking about our next move.

Bahia Concepcion, Sea of Cortez

Bahia Concepcion, Sea of Cortez

 

 

 

Heaven on earth at Las Palmas Resort in Huatulco

Heaven on earth at Las Palmas Resort in Huatulco

We’ve had an unbelievable run of good fortune and exciting times this past year.

Last summer in our trailer, and this past winter in our sailboat, we were gifted with one beautiful experience after another.

Groovy Isla Coyote, Sea of Cortez

Groovy at Isla Coyote, Sea of Cortez

The jewel box interior of Morelia's Our Lady of Guadelupe church.

The jewel box interior of Morelia’s
Our Lady of Guadelupe church.

It seems that everywhere we went we met kind and caring people who quickly became friends.

All year long we have been pinching ourselves, saying, “Is this all possible? Are we really living this life?”

It may seem strange, but on that very high note we have decided to make a huge change in our lives and take Groovy back to California and gradually close the cruising chapter of our travels.

After sailing up and down Mexico’s west coast several times, we have fulfilled our cruising dreams completely — and then some.

 

Monte Alban - the first ancient pyramid ruins we ever saw

Monte Alban – How stirring it is to see these ancient pyramids.

Throughout our travels this past year, in the background, behind all our exhilarating escapades, we have been digging deep in our hearts and pondering all the different ways we could move forward with our cruising lifestyle.

Cruising is a unique way to travel. Even though you move from place to place, the focus is always ultimately on the boat and the process of boating rather than on the destinations you visit.

Groovy anchored at Isla Coronado in the Sea of Cortez

Groovy anchored at Isla Coronado in the Sea of Cortez

As one seasoned cruiser told me before we started our sailing adventure,

“The boat takes up the majority of our budget and the majority of our time.”

We have found that to be true!

When we started cruising we had already traveled full-time by RV for two-and-a-half years.

We thought that cruising would be much the same as RVing, just doing it on the water instead of land.

Sea of Cortez

Sea of Cortez – RVing on water?

Colorful Bahia Careyes on the Costalegre

Colorful Bahia Careyes on the Costalegre

But we have found that while RVing is all about the destinations we visit, cruising is largely about the boat.

Why is the boat such an important part of cruising while an RV is so much less important in RVing?

Because a cruising boat is a very complicated vehicle.

The boat’s Plumber, Electrician and Mechanic are all very busy people as they work to keep the boat’s power plant, water treatment plant, sewage plant, mechanical propulsion system and wind propulsion system all functioning.

Aboard Groovy, my sweet hubby Mark filled all these roles while I concentrated on navigation and sailing the boat.

Barra de Navidad, a favorite cruiser hangout.

Barra de Navidad, a favorite cruiser hangout.

Needless to say, we were both very busy, but Mark bore the brunt of the responsibility of keeping us afloat, and it weighed heavily on his shoulders.

Unlike a sailboat, an RV, especially a trailer, has very simple systems that rarely require any maintenance or repair.

In addition to the boat itself being more complicated than an RV, living aboard a boat at anchor is infinitely more complex than living in an RV anywhere.

In the cruising life, simple day-to-day tasks like provisioning, doing laundry and getting around require forethought, planning and time.

A spotted eagle ray soars over the sand in Huatulco

A spotted eagle ray soars over the sand in Huatulco

They often involve dinghy rides, crazy beach landings, intense study of the weather forecasts and all-night travelJust showering is an adventure!!

And then there’s the simple maintenance of cleaning. After every sailing passage the entire boat would be covered with salt crystals, and although it was sometimes a fun adventure to swab the decks underway, it was still a chore that had to be done regularly!

Not only did the decks need swabbing, but barnacles needed to be scraped off the bottom of the boat every few days. Every time I jumped over the side to snorkel and enjoy the reef fish, I took a few tools too so I could to spend an hour cleaning the hull!

One huge surprise was the crazy noises at night. Nevermind the live bands that played at the resorts lining every beach in every anchorage, but the fish were surprisingly loud too! This often made sleeping a challenge, as the boat rolled relentlessly in almost every bay.

One of our favorite pastimes - swimming and playing on the back of the boat.

One of our favorite pastimes – swimming and playing
on the back of the boat.

In contrast, in the RV lifestyle you’ve always got wheels to get around, the weather plays a much less important role in travel planning, you can let a few weeks go between rig washings, and nighttime is for sleeping.

Therefore, out of necessity, Travel, in the traditional sense of sightseeing, mingling with the locals and becoming immersed in a new culture, is a secondary focus in the cruising lifestyle.

Sunrise in Santiago

Santiago – Land of Sunrises!

In our sailing travels we’ve found the happiest cruisers are those that have a deep and lasting passion for everything to do with boats and boating. Many are skilled handymen who love working in, on and around boats as well.

We love our boat Groovy. It is our dream boat in every sense: beautiful, sleek, well engineered, meticulously maintained, easy to sail, and as comfortable as a sailboat of its size could possibly be.

We have poured our hearts and souls into making it ultra-efficient for long-term life afloat at anchor.

Misol-Ha waterfall in Chiapas

Misol-Ha waterfall in Chiapas

However, as we have cruised Mexico for the past three and a half years, we’ve discovered we are actually more passionate about Travel than we are about Boating.

We are drawn towards seeing the sights, spending time with the locals, taking photographs and writing about our adventures. Time spent working on the boat and on the logistics of our lifestyle afloat often feels like time away from what we really wanted to be doing: traveling.

Our recent phenomenal trip to Guanajuato was a peak experience we’d love to repeat over and over. We absolutely loved our visit there. But Guanajuato is nowhere near the coast and has nothing to do with sailing, the sea, boats or living aboard. How do you put all this together?

As we spread out our maps of Mexico and Central America and studied our options for cruising beyond Mexico’s border, we pinpointed the many fabulous destinations we wanted to go see and then thought long and hard about whether it would be best to travel there by sailboat or to go another way.

Guanajuato city street

Guanajuato, like no other!

It turned out that most of our bucket-list locations were well inland from the coast and not easily reached by boat. Cruising further south just doesn’t make sense for us.

If we could use the boat for just three months each winter and temporarily leave it behind inexpensively and with confidence that it would not deteriorate during the rest of the year and need loads of work upon our return, we might continue cruising.

Sailing Groovy

Sailing Groovy

Then we could enjoy all the things we do love about boating each winter. However, that’s not possible, at least not in the areas we’ve explored that are within a reasonable distance of Pacific Mexico.

We will miss the lively day-sailing we’ve had in Huatulco, Acapulco, Zihuatanejo and near Loreto. It will be really sad to give up swimming off the back of the boat and living in our tiny home in the middle of beautiful tropical bays.

However, we have lived that dream — and loved it — and we have three-and-a-half years of vibrant memories, tens of thousands of photos, and hundreds of stories that we bring away from the experience.

 

Palenque - an evocative and mystical place of the ancients

Palenque – An evocative and mystical place of the ancients that fascinated us.

So we have made the most of our time in Puerto Vallarta as we have waited for July to approach. The 1,100 miles between here and San Diego are a very difficult voyage.

Sailors call it the “Baja Bash” because it can be a very long, scary, miserable and dangerous slog directly into huge winds and waves. After making the trip last month, a cruiser said simply: “I thought I was going to die.”

The advice from experienced sailors that have made this trip many times is that the best months to go are July and November.

Agua Verde anchorage, Sea of Cortez

Agua Verde anchorage, Sea of Cortez

We are waiting for a weather window to make the first 280 mile (48 hour) jump across the Sea of Cortez to Cabo San Lucas. From there we will take it section by section, trying to catch the best conditions we can as we make our way up the 850-mile coast.

If this post has surprised you, or saddened you or just seems strange, because you thought we would be out cruising “forever” — or at least a lot longer than three and a half years — here are some parting thoughts:

In the end, going cruising is all about dream fulfillment. The most important thing is to HAVE a dream and then to make it come true.

Beach time at Playa San Agustin in Huatulco.

Beach time at Playa San Agustin in Huatulco.

The thrill of having a dream and making it come true is being able to live it, to live WITH it, and to find its true essence.

Only when you are actually living your dream, day in and day out, can you decide which parts of it are dreamy and which parts need a little adjustment.

Many people allow themselves to be scared away from pursuing their biggest dreams. The fear that pens them in is fear of the unknown.

However, if you don’t jump into your dream with both feet, you’ll never know what that dream might have become once you wrestled with its limitations and figured out how to make it even better.

 

Enjoying some sweetie time in the romantic hot tub at Paradise Villaage resort.

Enjoying some sweetie time in the wonderfully romantic hot tub at Paradise Villaage resort.

It is said that cruising is about “The Journey,” and in our experience the most important journey you end up taking is one that goes within.

It is a journey where you learn a little more about who you are and what you truly want out of life.

As we have lived our cruising dream, we have learned that we are Travelers more than we are Cruisers. It took us a while to understand this.

While we love doing both, our preference is to spend our time seeing new sights and experiencing other cultures rather than taking care of and living on a boat. We can’t wait to see Mexico’s Caribbean side — by plane, bus and hotel!

 

The sun sets before our overnight passage.

The sun sets before an overnight passage.

Once we get settled in San Diego, we will be offering our beloved boat Groovy for sale so she can continue her own adventures with new hands on her helm.  She has been our “dream boat” in every way.

We so appreciate all of you who follow our travels. We have many many more adventures ahead, not least of which is this upcoming voyage (yikes!).  We should have internet in many locations along the Baja California coast, and we expect the trip to take about three weeks, so stay tuned for more stories from the sea and for many future land-based capers!

Note added later: Our Baja Bash trip had exciting moments but went very well in the end. Here’s the story:

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For more comparisons of the cruising and RVing lifestyles, see the two articles I wrote for Escapees Magazine, “RVing by Land and Sea” and “Life Afloat and On the Road” which are about 1/2 way down this page in the Other Articles section.

More thoughts on Living the Dream in a sailboat or RV:

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It’s Not About the Hair!

Getting a haircut in Mexico

Lorena gives me a hairstyle called
“cola del pato” (tail of the duck)

June 16, 2013 – One of our favorite things about traveling is all the little encounters we have that make us stop in our tracks, scratch our heads, and say, “Wow, this is so different than home.”  After living strictly within our own comfort zone for so many years, focused on our workaday lives, we now find ourselves refreshed, over and over, as the folks we meet here in Mexico, so far from our backyard, show us that there are other ways to live.

I’ve been wanting to get a haircut for a while, and as a full-time traveler this is always a great opportunity to have a long conversation with someone from wherever we are visiting.  More important than finding a top quality salon, I’m always hoping to find someone that will tell us a little about the community we’re in or share something about themselves.

Yesterday, as we wandered the quiet, dusty streets of a small Costalegre coastal village between Tenacatita and Barra de Navidad taking photographs, we asked a few people where to get a haircut.  They all said to go to “Lorena” and they gave us directions. In our usual lazy way, we didn’t wind up on her street until dusk.  A group of people sitting on the sidewalk around a folding table with fruit laid out for sale pointed us towards her shop.

Unfortunately, it was now so late in the day that her shop was closed.  We shrugged.  Oh well.  Tomorrow!

“No, we’ll find her for you!”  One of the guys by the fruit stand said to us.  He asked his friends if they knew where she was and then yelled her name a few times.  A few minutes later, she appeared at the far end of the block, hustling towards us and waving.  The fruit guys grinned.

“Come in, come in.”  She said as she opened the door to her shop.  She began clearing some things from around her work area to make a place for me to sit down.  The room was about 9′ x 9′ and stacked with manicure equipment, brushes, combs, a few random cups, a chair and other stuff piled up.

After asking about my hair (I’ve learned my hair style is called “cola del pato” or “tail of the duck”), we began to have a lively conversation in Spanish about life in America and life in Mexico and the close similarities and vast differences between these two worlds.

She had grown up on a ranch far out in the countryside, one of twelve kids — ten girls and two boys — along with lots of horses, cows, burros and fruit trees.  Despite having no electricity, the family found plenty of diversions among themselves, always sitting around in the same configuration at night, mother here, father there, and kids circled around in between.  Outside, there were a bunch of tree stumps, and they would all sit together on the stumps and sing songs under the stars.

Her mother and grandmother had always worn traditional, colorful dresses, long sleeved and well below the knee, and her father was very strict with the kids.  He died when she was a teenager, and when he died her world changed forever.  The family moved to the city and she was shocked by the stress of urban life and the different interests of her peers at school.  She missed the fresh fruits from the garden and fresh meat and milk from the cows.

Lorena's hair salon in Mexico

Lorena shared her life experiences and cultural insights
with us as she gave us haircuts in her shop.

As I listened to her tale, I could just imagine the adjustments she had to make as she moved first to Mexico City then to Ensenada and Tijuana, and eventually to California.

“It was all wonderful.”  She said warmly.  “I learned so much.  About people.  About cultures…  And I learned what I liked.  In California I made a lot of money, I wore fancy clothes and makeup.  I had lots of beautiful shoes.  Now I just wear flip-flops.  I like to live in a small town where life is calm and quiet.”

By now Mark had decided to get a trim too, and her sheers snipped around his ears as she went on.  “America and Mexico are very different,” she said.  “In Mexico, out in the rural countryside, it is a man’s world.  The man is everything.  Girls are told they don’t need an education because their husband will provide.”

And then she said something about women and keeping a rifle in the corner of the house, and she laughed. Oh how I wished I understood better. She was on a roll, and I didn’t want to ask her to repeat. She had said either that women in the country kept a rifle in the corner so they could hold their own with the men, or that women who lived alone kept a rifle for protection. Gosh, I don’t know, and now I so wish I had had her explain further…

“But in America, In my neighborhood in California, I didn’t know my neighbors,” She continued.  “We waved and said “hello” every day but that was all.  We didn’t know each other like we do here. And in the US, when a store is closed, it’s closed!  Neighbors don’t go yelling for a shop owner to come open it up for customers after hours.”

So true.  Here we were in her shop because of the fruit sellers in the street.  Not so at Great Clips and Supercuts back home.  I usually end up reading a few magazine articles while I wait for a stylist to become available.  The stylists at home all commute to work, and who knows where any of them live. Certainly not in the rooms behind Great Clips!

As she finished Mark’s hair, she invited us to go camping in the mountains with her.  “I’ll show you some beautiful places.  We can sleep in tents close to nature.  We’ll make tortillas over a fire and you can meet my horses.” What a great invitation!

As she swept up all our locks on the floor, she said the haircuts were 40 pesos each (about $3.20 USD). For us, the experience was priceless.

See more about Life in Mexico and check out Our Most Recent Posts!!

Oh, That’s Just Swell! – Life on a Boat that ROLLS At Anchor!!

A container ship rolls in the swell in Manzanillo Mexico

The container ship rolled slower than this, but I can only imagine what it felt and sounded like inside!!
Notice that there are no visible waves!!

It is rare — no, it’s nearly impossible — on Mexico’s Pacific coast to find an anchorage where the boat stays flat. The direction of the wind, the tides and the ocean swell conspire to keep the boat in constant motion, endlessly pitching and rolling and ignoring all pleas from the crew to “Please Stop and Let Me Get Off!!”

It’s not that big a big deal during the day.  If we’re on the boat, we’re busy doing things.  Of course, sometimes we get caught off guard in the middle of something that requires coordination — like pouring a hot cup of coffee, standing on one foot while putting on a bathing suit, or walking up the companionway stairs carrying his-and-hers lunch plates in both hands.  The boat will suddenly lurch to one side and the coffee will spill all over the floor, or I’ll topple over with one foot stuck in my bathing suit, flailing helplessly as I go down, or the lunch plates will fly off in all directions as I try my best not to get too many bruises bouncing down the stairs to the floor.

At night, however, it’s another story.  The offshore winds at night in Pacific Mexico almost always turn the boat so it is beam to the sea, and it seems to me that the swell always picks up too.  So, even if during the day the swell was mild and the boat was taking the rolls on the nose, gently pitching from front to back, at night (like clockwork after the sun goes down) the boat turns and the side-to-side rolling begins.  Finding a comfortable sleeping position can be a good challenge.  On my side, I find myself rocking forward and backward, over and over.  A better position is either on my back or my front, arms and legs stretched wide on either side for stabilization.  The starfish position!  Get two people doing this in one bunk and… well, it’s a little like the game of Twister.

On more tumultuous nights, the doors, bulkheads and stairs creak with every roll. Sometimes an errant flashlight or coke can begins to roll back and forth on a shelf or in the fridge, banging at either end of its path. Thud, thud, thud.  What the heck is that noise?  Our ears perk up, listening for each thud as our bodies rock around around in bed.  Then we’ll find ourselves doing an hour’s worth of cat-and-mouse hunting, as we try to figure out what’s making the noise and squelch it. Sometimes the sound is in a cockpit locker, making for a naked dash outside to repack the locker so everything stays put.

Sometimes the boat plays games with us at night.  As it swings at anchor it faces beam to the sea for a while and then swings to face bow to the sea, moving in a slow 90 degree arc back and forth all night long.  When the boat finally turns all the way so the swell is on the bow, the side to side motion suddenly stops.  Ahh… such sweet relief!  We sink back into delicious oblivion and sleep steels over us.  For a few seconds.  Then the boat gradually swings back on its arc to put the beam towards the sea, and the noise and motion begin once again.

Anchoring all over the west coast of Mexico, we’ve become apprentices in the fine art of taking a shower on board, which can be an adventure unto itself, as well as landing a dinghy on the beach, which is frequently a true water sport of the wettest kind!

When we visited friends in the Las Hadas Resort Anchorage and stood on their balcony enjoying the view of Manzanillo Bay, we suddenly noticed a container ship leaning way over on its side.  Wow!  We watched for a few seconds and it slowly rolled all the way over to the other side.  Holy Mackerel!  What was it like to be on that ship, and what did all those containers sound like as the boat moved?  I don’t know, but it sure makes a great animation to watch from a solid foundation on sweet Terra Firma.

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Free Spirit – Travel inspiration from close to my heart!

free spirit - travel Inspiration for all of us

Free Spirit!
Photo courtesy of LavaTop.com

A very special woman in my life turns 83 this week — my mother, Anne. Full of spunk and fire, grace and enthusiasm, she is the essence of youth despite having 83 candles on her birthday cake.

An avid fan of the performing arts all her life, my mom took up ballroom dancing when she was 55, and is now a living legend in Boston’s Argentine Tango community where she is adored for being a beautiful dancer and a gracious “tanguera.”

Her free spirit and effervescent air defy any hints of aging, and she is admired by all women under 83 because she gives us hope that we too can be vibrant and spry and still wear high heeled shoes and sexy clothes no matter how many years go by.

It is little wonder that Mom has the spirit of a twenty-something and that her motto for her birthday gala two years ago was “81 is the new 18.” She has never believed in limits.

When I was a little girl, instead of admonishing me to be cautious, she always encouraged me to push myself. When I’d say, “Watch me!” as I jumped and jigged around like all kids do, I never heard “Be careful!” Instead I heard, “That’s great, but let me see you do it again, only this time jump higher” or “run faster” or “do it with your arms over your head!”

Of course, this bought her time, as she could sit back and relax while I burned up all my childhood energy running, leaping, climbing and diving, ever higher, further and faster — with toes pointed, for style, of course.

There are no limits in life

There are no limits!
Photo courtesy of LavaTop.com

She has always had a passion for travel, and she hits the road with the same intense eagerness. When I was growing up, I loved hearing her travel stories from the year and a half she spent in France doing a college year abroad.

Between semesters, she traveled around Europe on her own with a rucksack (they weren’t called “backpacks” in 1949), and she stayed in youth hostels. From learning to ski in the Alps to sharing a late night meal of couscous with a group of Moroccans in a hostel, her tales were exotic and exciting.

Traveling Europe solo at 19 made her a savvy budget traveler for life, and she passed it on to us kids by taking us hosteling on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. We vacationed in dormitory style housing with travelers from overseas! Later, in retirement, she took many trips to New York City and Hawaii, always staying in hostels where she would meet folks from all over the world.

At 79 she decided to travel internationally once again, but she felt she had outgrown the hostel scene. Always a city girl, her dream was to go to Paris, see some sights and practice her French while sipping coffee in street-side Parisian cafes. What fun!! Next thing I knew, she had hopped on a plane and rented a tiny apartment for a month in the heart of the action by the Seine.

After she arrived in Paris, the first email I received from her was truly breathless with excitement. Emailing me from a 24-hour internet cafe as the sun was just beginning to lighten the city streets, she described how she had discovered a huge outdoor, all-night Argentine Tango festival in an enormous city park. She had tripped the light fantastic amid hundreds of dancers into the wee hours of the morning, and now it was dawn…!

travel inspiration from a free spirit

Happy Birthday!!
(Thank you to whoever took
this beautiful portrait — I love it!)

Wow!!  Every year since then she has returned to Paris for three months, on her own, suitcase and dance shoes in hand. Each year I can’t wait to receive her daily travel emails. I find my mouth agape and my head shaking in absolute wonder as I read every one.

On these Paris jaunts, every hour of every day is chock full of thrills, from taking guided city walking tours and canal tours to going on outings with new friends to stopping by the Louvre or watching vintage French films in the afternoon to attending ballet and opera performances in the evening to dancing the night away whenever the opportunity arises.

And, of course, being a lifelong budget traveler, she does it all for next to nothing.

All my life I have turned to my mom for inspiration to be brave, to be daring, to be fearless and to be free. I hope you will too. Seize the day — and go have an adventure!

Happy Birthday, Mom — “83’s your Prime”!!

Love, Emily

Go Fish! – Some wild ways to catch dinner – It’s for the birds!!

Osprey & frigate bird in flight.

Osprey & frigate bird in flight.

One of the unexpected joys in cruising Mexico has been getting to know the wildlife around us. The birds, in particular, are fascinating to watch (as long as they don’t build nests in our boom or soil our decks too much!!).

Osprey in flight

Osprey

And one thing that has surprised me is how many different techniques they use to catch fish.

Osprey were familiar to us from north of Mexico, and we’ve heard their piercing cry up and down the west coast and in Maine. They like to fish feet-first, swooping down to the water and grabbing their prey with their fuzzy taloned feet (here’s a cool video).

 

Frigate bird on wire

Frigate bird

Frigate bird Flying

These guys have a bright red neck
pouch they puff up to impress
the girls!!

Less familiar to us were frigate birds, which we first saw when we started sailing south along the Baja coast. Several played all night long trying to land on our mast!

These prehistoric looking birds fish by skimming along the surface and dipping their long beaks in the water to pluck their prey from the surface. It looks slick (when it works), although it’s less dramatic than the ospreys. However, it doesn’t seem to be all that effective!

So frigates frequently steal fish from other smaller birds – mid-air!

Tern sitting on rock

Tern on a rock

Tern flying

A tern in flight

Terns are terrific fishermen and flyers. They dive beak first and then fly like mad to take their fish somewhere they can eat in peace.

But the frigate birds often gang up on them, hassling them to drop their fish.

The flying displays and dog-fights in these disputes is awe-inspiring. The terns are incredible aerialists, ducking, dodging and darting about, but the bigger and slower frigates usually win, forcing them to drop their catch.

Pelican flying

Pelican scopes out dinner.

Pelican in water

Post-dinner satisfaction.

Pelicans were familiar to us before we started cruising. They soar high above the water and then fold in their wings tight against their bodies as they start their dive. By the time they hit the water they are streamlined to the shape of a javelin.

When a flock of pelicans attacks a school of fish near us, the sky and water look like they’re filled with flying swords. The funny part is when they tip their heads back and gulp down the fish they have caught. Sometimes you can see the fish wriggling down their neck!!

Brown booby flying

Booby

 

Booby on turtle

A Booby rides a sea turtle
It’s a “turtle-bird” !!

Boobies were new to us. They are stout, ungainly birds, and they, too, dive headfirst. When they hit the surface it sounds like a huge boulder landing in the water.

When we first heard a flock of boobies fishing around our boat, we ran out on deck because we thought someone was throwing big rocks at us!

Oddly, these guys barely penetrate the water. They must be extremely buoyant because they seem to penetrate only up to their shoulders. Their tails splash and wag in the air as they right themselves.

Cormorant

Cormorant – free diver!

Cormorants, however, are not buoyant in the least. They are excellent free divers, going quite deep and far. As a small child growing up on the north coast of Boston, Massachuestts, I fondly remember a game I played with my great uncle. We’d count how long the cormorants stayed under water, and we’d guess where they’d pop up again. Some never seemed to resurface!!

Cormorants have much denser bones than all other birds, and their feathers aren’t water resistant. This weighs them down and helps them stay under water longer. A common sight we see is cormorants standing on rocks with their wings spread out to dry!!

Snowy Egret with fish

Snowy Egret
Doesn’t get one feather wet!

 

 

Snowy Egret

Snowy egret in the waves

Egrets are the opposite. Their long legs let them wade into the water and never get a feather wet. Snowy egrets have wonderful bright yellow feet and some very fluffy and decorative feathers that would look just terrible if they ever got wet.

They manage to fish from the shore with great success, tip-toeing in and out of the waves with ease.

It has struck me, watching all the leggy shore birds that scamper in and out of the waves for dinner, that they know as much about wave mechanics and wave sets as world class surfers do.

Fisherman

When you don’t have wings.

Of course, humans don’t fly, but we’ve developed our own fishing tactics over the years. Many modern human fishing techniques aren’t very green or planet-friendly, but one of our favorite sights on the Mexican coast is watching the fishermen ply the waters with their nets in an age-old technique that is used the world over.

 

 

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Snap, Crackle, Pop – Fishy Sounds from Deep Under Our Boat!

Mexico cruising ecosystem under the boat

– A school of fish swims under Groofy’s hull and keel –
We always have a complete ecosystem living under the boat!!

April 17, 2013 – No matter how remote the anchorage, Groovy is never alone in the water. We are always playing host to a whole ecosystem around us! And these creatures aren’t particularly quiet. One of the craziest things about living on a sailboat at anchor is just how noisy it gets at night!

We can’t hear the cacophony on deck and don’t notice the noise while we’re watching movies or listening to music. But once the lights are off and we’re lying still in bed, the noise level is astonishing.

The most common sound we hear is a crackling noise like bacon sizzling in a frying pan. This popping sound engulfs the whole boat and is often very loud down below. Puzzled by it at first, we had to do quite a bit of research to track it down. We discovered it is made by snapping shrimp (also known as “pistol shrimp”).

These tiny little guys live in nooks and crannies on the ocean floor. They are like ordinary shrimp, although quite small, and one of their claws is a very special weapon. This claw can be cocked open and then slammed shut with such force that a huge air bubble shoots out. When this bubble collapses — almost instantaneously — a loud POP is produced. The noise is enough for the shrimp to stun and kill its prey! Here is a wonderful website describing snapping shrimp, as well as a brief and cute YouTube documentary where you can hear the sound snapping shirmp make, and a YouTube explanation of the science and acoustics behind the shrimp’s snap.

Snapping shrimp aren’t the only noisemakers, however.  Down south in Zihuatanejo‘s nutrient rich waters, Groovy grows a long grass skirt almost overnight, and the ecosystem living under the boat blossoms into an entire city. We often hear the swishing sound of fish attacking the tiny crabs that have taken up residence in the seaweed on the hull, and the fishermen in Zihuatanejo and Huatulco love to cast their nets under our boat in late afternoons and early mornings to catch these fish. On a regular basis we get woken up by the sound of a fishing net hitting the hull!

During our six months up north in Ensenada, we heard a completely different and unique sound every night: a honking kind of a noise that made us go up on deck at first to see if it was a fog horn. But all was quiet on deck. The noise was only in the cabin. The honking would go on for about ten minutes, starting far away from the boat and then getting closer and closer, and then drifting away again. We never did figure out what it was, but it seemed to be some kind of fish. He visited us around 9:00 or 10:00 every night for months. We had forgotten all about this noise until we heard it again on the Costalegre recently, some three years later. It had the same pattern, honking at 10 second intervals, growing louder and louder and then fading away.

Perhaps the best aquatic noise of the night we’ve ever heard, though, was when we were anchored in Puerto Marques outside Acapulco. Lying in bed the night before we left, we both bolted upright when we heard the strangest, eeriest, squeakiest kind of wailing noise. What the heck? We dashed up on deck to see what it was, but could hear nothing out there. Returning to the cabin, we heard it again, plain as day: a kind of haunting singing. Suddenly we both knew: it was whales! We climbed back in bed, and listened for hours, eventually falling asleep to the mysterious songs of these magical creatures. A few of them must have swum into our little bay. When we awoke in the morning the sounds were gone.

Last spring, when we returned to our trailer and first set up camp in the northern Arizona woods, we were really startled by the deafening silence and our utterly stationary bed. There were no popping noises of snapping shrimp, or swishes of fish gobbling crabs from the hull, no singing whales or creaking bulkheads.  All was still and silent.

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The Tourist Tangle – All tied up in knots!

The Tourist Tangle - choking straps everywhere!

All those straps can make a mess!!

April 9, 2013 – When we hit the shore to do some sightseeing, we both always have quite a collection of stuff to bring with us: hat, sunglasses, camera, spare lenses, reading glasses, Hoodman loupe (to see what’s on the back of the camera), spare filters, wallet, marina key (now that we’re living the high life in a marina).

My lightweight shorts generally have no pockets, so much of this stuff ends up around my neck where it is easy to reach when I want it.  Throughout the day, I shuffle all this gear around, grabbing each item as needed.

The sunglasses go on and off as we walk outdoors and indoors.  Same with the hat which, when off, slips down my back and leaves the strap choking me.  The sunglasses get swapped with the reading glasses when I need to actually see what i’m looking at up close (the sunglasses usually end up on the hat – just don’t forget they’re there!).  The loop comes out after I take a picture to see if ths pic’s any good.  And the camera has to be ready at a moment’s notice for that really cool, unexpected shot.

But it never fails: we’ll be walking along somewhere and something magical will happen near us.  I go to grab my camera and end up in a tangle of straps.  And what a mess it is if I’ve got an ice cream cone in my hand!!

A fellow watching me wrestling with my spider web of straps one time began to chuckle.  I tugged and struggled to unravel the snarl, and he just shook his head and grinned: “That looks like a tourist tangle!”

Aha – it has a name!!

Now whenever either of us ends up with both arms flailing around our heads, gear dangling precariously as we fight our way free, we just laugh out loud and cry: “Help help! I’m caught in the Tourist Tangle!”

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More funny stories from our Mexico cruise + Tips for planning your own sailing cruise

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