Tuesday, 29 January 2013

is it warm in here, or is it just that fire blazing under my butt?

Written by Rick

The race is on. Two months from now, we will go sailing, sailing, over the bounding waves. Now, we need to make magic happen. We have a lot of tasks on our project list. A couple of them are very important for us to complete before we head off. Most of them are important because we will be leaving resources when we haul up anchor and make our way into the tradewinds.

Bits and pieces
We have owned our boat for six years. We started the refit on the day we bought her and we have no idea when we might finish. We prefer to tackle boat jobs in manageable chunks. It is important for us to be able to use our boat, when we want to. So we try not to take is so far apart that we can't quickly put it back together again to go sailing. Our priority is to make improvements to our boat, and to go out sailing. It sounds like a conflict, but it doesn't have to be.

The first expensive gear purchase we made was a 2000 watt pure sine wave inverter-charger. We knew that there would be times that we would want to run A/C devices, namely power tools, while we were at anchor. We have a large (440 amp/hour) battery bank, but even so, we find we need to run the engine to charge the batteries when we are doing power tool projects.

There aren't many projects we can't tackle while out on the hook. Doing boat projects at anchor is a habit we got into while we were still in Victoria. Weekends were the time we had to do boat projects but it was also the time for us to go sailing. Eventually, we realized that we could sail off, drop the hook, and pick up the tools. It was a good way to have it all.

We are trying to accomplish great things. Several of our objectives are simply expensive. Many are things that have been on our project list for a long time. Then, there are the items we add.

Some of the additions are for improvements we just think of. Then, there are the things we discover while we are working on another project. Each day, we add something to the list that is more important than what we just crossed off.

Measure twice, cut once
In the mad panic of leaving our homeport of Victoria, there were several wood projects that got set aside. Cruising for the past 18 months has refined the wood project list. We decided not to build propane lockers on our aft deck, and opted for an outboard rack instead. We chose to install some horizontal rails that tie our aft stanchions to our solar panel arch and aft pulpit. These have a variety of benefits, not the least of which is providing us a place to sit where we can see over the bow.

We found a carpentry shop and got them to mill up a bunch of mahogany to our measurements. Now old projects and new ones are being taken care of. Sawdust and varnish are flying. Kyra finally got her stove bar. She has been insistent on that for the past 2 and a half years. It is a rail that goes in front of the stove. it prevents you from falling onto a hot stove and gives you something to grab, so you don't fall away from it either. I started it before we left and am happy to say that after only 2 years that project is done.

Keeping things in
Kyra has taken up the sewing baton. Among other things, she re-stitched and patched our sail cover. And she made a lee-cloth sort of thing that contains our shoes (and other stuff) from spilling out from under our berth. It has bungee cord in the top hem, so you can pull it down to add or remove something small. Or, it can be unhooked in order to get at something big, like the sewing machine.

We have categorized our tasks. There are plumbing tasks, electrical jobs, mechanical maintenance, and sewing projects. There are dinghy duties, rigging responsibilities, stuff to install, paint and varnish to apply, and wood to shape, sand, and fit. And the rest, we call organization. That includes everything from provisioning to getting evacuation insurance.

Of all the things I am trying to accomplish, a shorter list is what I am striving for. While I am thinking about it, I'll just add make list shorter to the list.

Friday, 18 January 2013

something to do before breakfast

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? – Mary Oliver
Isla Coronados, Sea of Cortez
You can’t remember exactly when the seed was planted. Dreams, more often than not, begin with one small thought. Initially, you may not be able to put your finger on it. It could be an unnamed yearning or a single word that cultivated an idea. This may have been inspired further by a conversation, a story, or a person. At some point in a dream’s evolution, you begin clarifying what it is you are wishing for. Once you’ve admitted it to yourself, in due course, you dare to tell someone about it. Afterward, you tell another person. If you are determined, your dream begins to take shape and you can’t recall when it was not woven into the fabric of your life. You begin to plan, hopefully ignoring the naysayers, and you move closer to your goal – with trepidation, excitement, and wonder. Sometimes, in the process of reaching for your dream, you fall flat on your face. Things don’t develop as you’d expected. Everything takes much longer than you thought it would. As the saying goes, life throws you a few curve balls. This could mean you need to reassess some aspects of your vision. The key is whether you get up again, and choose to forge ahead or not.

One day, you untie the lines and sail away. You realize with incredulity, that your dream has become a reality.

The reality of a dream is sometimes a lot like what you’d imagined; at other times, it’s not at all what you expected. That’s the beauty of it. The question then is, are you happy? Do you feel fulfilled? Do you believe that the work involved in keeping your dream a reality is worth it?

Nyon in one of favourite anchorages
Honeymoon Bay, Isla Danzante
For us, the answers are yes, yes, and yes. There was a time when the idea to go voyaging seemed incredibly farfetched. We would grin at each other with disbelief on our faces. The people in our lives thought our plans were cool, crazy, irresponsible, or fun. We then met others, who had already realized a similar dream, or yearned to follow a comparable path. This gave us strength. Our families got used to the idea, and helped us in innumerable ways. As did our friends, who also made plans to come visit us in foreign ports.

I wonder what other dreams we will bring to fruition in our lifetime – a life with hope and dreams is a rich life. Even richer, should those dreams be realized. Whatever happens to us in the future, this is one dream that has come true, that continues to be true. Not by sheer luck, but through blood, sweat and tears. 

If you were to ask me, I would say absolutetly. Absolutely, it has been worth it. And I would do it all over again, in a second.
“There’s no use trying,” said Alice: “One can’t believe impossible things.”

“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen.  “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day.     Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Lewis Caroll

Thursday, 17 January 2013

pressing the pause button

I know a few people who'll be surprised by
this photo... Kyra using a sewing machine - 
You do what you gotta do.
How has your 2013 been so far? Ours began in a whirlwind. A whirlwind of information overload, jubilations, decisions, even the flu had a part. You name it, it seems to have already happened.

Our focus when we returned to La Paz after our festive 2 -weeks away, was to inform our loved ones of our decision to sail from Mexico to the South Pacific – we’ve received mixed responses: From no response at all to heartfelt encouragement. Our To-do lists grow and shrink daily: We cross an incredible amount off, but new things to do or acquire lengthen the list all over again. For someone who has spent comparatively little time on the Internet this past year – I feel like a zombie from all the online research I’ve been doing these past two weeks. (I’ll admit I get distracted by participating in boating discussions, reading blogs and catching up with people by e-mail.) I’ve been a little jittery, unable to focus, and falling through on trying to connect with people I really want to connect with because I’m busy finding out where I can get that missing courtesy flag, this paperwork done, these vaccines boosted, the right insurance for the crossing, all this while organizing a trip to San Diego and ordering boat parts I’ll be picking up there. 

Funny how all the small ignored projects are
finally getting done when you know you'll be 
crossing a vast ocean...
Once again, we left La Paz a few days ago. We didn’t go far, just far enough to leave the busy anchorage and the chatter on channel 22 behind so we could focus on boat jobs with no distractions. We even had internet – until it unexpectedly ran out. And I’ll admit, I was relieved to be out of touch for over 24 hours. I realized that I was beginning to lose what I’d gained by removing myself from being constantly dialed into the rest of the world. I’m not sure how to explain it, but simply put, I’d been missing the “empty space”. 

When I remind myself to slow down, breathe deeply for a few minutes, everything rights itself again. I don’t have to live like I’m riding a runaway train. (That's why I went on this voyage in the first place!) I set the pace. I decide what’s important. I can take a break. I can make time to take care of my aching body. Yoga, meditation, quiet conversations with Rick, walks with a friend. Those keep me centered. Yes, I need to be prepared for our South Pacific crossing, but self-care is most certainly a part of that.

Having said all this, I’m not half as overwhelmed and stressed as I was before we left Canada. This  step in our voyage is different, for both of us. We are not frightened by what we are about to do. Sure, we're a little nervous. Mostly, we’re excited and giddy. As I go through our First Aid kit today, and make a list of what we need to replenish, I will pause for a moment, take a deep breath, and smile. This too, is my life.

The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. 
Marcel Proust

Thursday, 10 January 2013

a steamy love affair

A now welcome fixture on our stove
Five years ago, my parents-in-law bought us a pressure cooker for our boat. We had heard great things about pressure cookers. Their practicality on a sailboat seemed undeniable: The speed at which dried beans could be cooked and stews concocted while using very little propane was a great feature. We stowed it aboard with grand ideas. And then, we forgot all about it. Sort of.

Our pressure cooker lurked, unused, in the bottom of our locker for years. I would pretend not to see it when I’d dig out a nice, safe piece of conventional cookware like my frying pan. It would loom nearby, quietly taunting me; I would feel my heart race a little at the thought of using it. How temperamental would it be, if I finally set it down on my stove to use it? Would it avenge its years of neglect by exploding in my face? I admit it, I was a little afraid of it.

Once, nearly a year ago, a cruising friend tried to get us together, the pressure cooker and I. It felt like an awkward, chaperoned first date. Stephanie, gentle and reassuring, tried to make us comfortable with each other as we cooked a lentil curry. But I can’t say I called on my pressure cooker anytime soon after that. And I felt guilty. It wasn’t the pressure cooker’s fault…

That is until a month ago. It began with a guide: Pressure Cookers for Dummies. I have our friend John to thank for that. (I’m not sure what he was trying to say… Then again, I felt pretty dumb about the whole thing, so it wasn’t an inappropriate choice.)  The book was glanced at and then set aside. On New Year’s Eve, John had us over for soup and rum. We loved the spicy soup, and he described how easy it had been to make, using a pressure cooker, of course. (I think it was all part of a plot.) That evening, I repeatedly said we should really use ours.

Finally, John announced he was coming over for a pressure cooked meal the next day. I knew there was no getting around it. So I rallied, and even though I got a little nervous when steam screamed out of the pot before it reached pressure – I was alone after all – I stuck it out. I waited, obsessively reading the instructions over and over while peering at the pot from a distance. I waited, but not for long.

The guys could smell the beef stew I’d made all the way from John’s boat. They’d wisely chosen to steer clear of my first solo date with the pressure cooker. Soon, they were drawn over, with a fresh loaf of bread in tow. We’d made it through, the pressure cooker and I – a delicious stew was the result. That's when I knew I was smitten.

I guess the pressure cooker forgave me. It has delivered many stews and soups that we’ve enjoyed since that evening. I ask myself: Why did I wait so long to take the leap? It was right in front of me for 5 years. We suffered through conventional cooking in the heat of a summer in the Sea, when we could have had quick and easy meals ready in minutes… Like my mother-in-law would say: It’s always 20/20 in hindsight. Yup, I'm head-over-heals for my pressure cooker, and with reason.

As a cruiser, I am now a strong advocate for the use of a pressure cooker aboard. Here’s why:
  • It saves time. A pressure cooker cooks food quickly, therefore retaining more nutrients
  • It’s economical: You can make great meals using cheap dry beans, tougher cuts of meat, etc
  • It uses less propane
  • You can use it for all kinds of recipes: Breads, cakes, stews, chicken, seafood, etc
  • It creates less heat in the galley, (a bonus in the tropics!)
  • It uses less water
  • It’s safer for preparing meals underweigh – the lid locks, no chance of spilling hot or boiling liquids on yourself while cooking
  • You can use it for canning (I only have done that once, but I know other boaters who preserve fish that way.)
  • On passages, you can keep it on the stove, bring it to pressure at meal time, and let it sit there the rest of the time – even if there’s meat in the recipe, it's safe to eat once it's brought back to pressure.
I have great plans for my pressure cooker and I. This is the beginning of a wonderful relationship. And if you’re a cruiser, I really think you should consider getting one, no pressure though.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

a wonderful life

Happy Ho Ho

Christmas on Nyon is a simple affair. The stockings, that usually remain empty (last year was an exception), were hung on December 24th as our only decoration. Christmas music CDs were dusted and played for two days, and we ate a few sugar cookies while watching “It’s a Wonderful Life”. What can we say, we love Jimmy Stewart. Our traditional Christmas Eve meal, which we had on Christmas Day this year, is quiche and a mixed green salad by candlelight: Uncomplicated and delicious. I made a yam, feta and cranberry quiche. It isn’t my mother-in-law’s tasty Christmas turkey, but we both loved it.   

A first: Homemade cinnamon buns for breakfast
I forgot to read “The Night Before Christmas”, on the night before Christmas, so I sat Rick down on Christmas morning to read it to him. When he was a child, his father would read it to him and his sisters – I think that’s a lovely tradition – I was a little late, but Rick humoured me anyway.

In over 17 years, this was our first Christmas with just the two of us. In the past, we would visit my family in Ontario, or spend Christmas Day with Rick’s family, depending on the year. On our first year away from Canada, some of our closest friends came to Mexico to celebrate with us. We’re fortunate; we have always been surrounded by loved ones.

A new favourite anchorage on Isla Partida
This year, we dropped the hook in El Cardoncito, a small anchorage on Isla Partida. We were the only boat there on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We didn’t want to join in on any large cruiser holiday gatherings in La Paz or elsewhere – hanging out with a bunch of strangers is not our idea of relaxation. 

While we most certainly missed some pretty special people up north, we ended up really enjoying our quiet version of the holiday.

Friday, 4 January 2013

parlez-vous français?

Nyon has no idea what we're about to do

It just happened. There were no fireworks, no drum rolls. Just a look. A nod. And that was that. The decision was made.

It’s official: Barring any insurmountable obstacles, we are leaving Mexico and sailing to the South Pacific this spring. French Polynesia, here we come!

While there were no fireworks, I’ll admit to some squealing and jumping up and down once it sank in. I will also concede that a mild panic followed shortly after we hugged over our decision. We. Have. So. Much. To. Do. Sure, we have done a fair bit of research on the South Pacific and its various island countries already, but it’s different when you know you’re leaving in three months. We have started and updated a dozen lists: What to fix, what to acquire, what route to take, what to research; what, what, what. But that’s okay. We have a goal.

We are about to begin a new chapter on this incredible voyage. And we are excited!

Officially signed up for the Puddle Jump Rally - Oh yeah baby!

a dizzying waltz

First sight of La Paz in 8 months

An eight-month absence makes you forget. You forget the constant chatter on channel 22.1 You forget the evenings when loud music skips along the surface of the water and invades your cockpit. You forget the traffic, the mini-ferries and pangas, the busy-ness of the waterfront city.

On the way across Lorenzo Channel
 toward La Paz
At least, you smugly think, unlike the newbies you know the La Paz Waltz. When you had anchored that very first afternoon there, the boat next to you had been a nice distance away. The next day, when the currents start their swirling to and fro, that same boat had wanted to bump transoms with you. Newbie or not, it’s still a little unnerving at times how each boat at anchor seems to groove to its own tune here. As you now watch the familiar dance, you immediately begin to miss the mostly deserted anchorages in the northern Sea.

Then your mouth waters – as you think about your favourite eateries and hangouts in town. Only to be reminded that money doesn’t grow on trees. So you mostly visit old and new friends on their boats; reacquaint yourself with the little nooks and crannies that are free or mostly free. And you remind yourself you have to get through that list of boat jobs as long as your arm. The heat of summer is no longer an excuse you can use to procrastinate.

Incredibly, all the boats are pointed in the same
direction for once

La Paz has a “scene”. We are on the fringes, if that. We like the town’s energy, in small doses. We have found that’s the key for us to enjoy it. We balance most of our wanderings in town with quiet time on the boat; (unless we’re using power tools for some project or other, then it’s not so quiet). Upon re-entering civilization with a capital C, there are also those small pleasures that go a long way. The first week we were back, my friend Trisha (SV Interabang) and I would rave on and on about the green leafy lettuce at the grocery store and on our plates– you’d think we were talking about rare jewels. The variety and quality of fresh produce is that exciting after months of eating more canned vegetables than we thought we ever would. Just thinking about crispy carrots and ripe avocadoes makes my mouth water.

We met up with some great folks - including the SV Starship crew, who introduced us to the basics of kite surfing - Rick having attempted more than I had the chance to, will write about that experience soon.

Yet, it never changes, soon enough, we get the itch to “get away” again – La Paz reminds me what sailing was like for me back in Victoria. Gleefully escaping from the city, work, and schedules, for the quiet anchorages where we read, baked, and explored. La Paz is kind of like that for us – we feel a certain release as we head down its interminable channel to get out to the islands. We, perhaps I should say, I was giddy as soon as we once again pointed our bow toward Isla Espiritu Santo and Isla Partida.

1Channel 22 Alpha on the VHF radio is the internationally designated working channel for the United States Coast Guard, (the Canadian Coast Guard uses 83 Alpha). In Mexico, channel 22 was adopted by the cruising community as the general hailing channel. 


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