Friday, March 23, 2012

FAQs - March 23

Based on some reader feedback (what – you didn’t get our “are we meeting your needs” survey form?!) this blog has raised some questions for some of our readers.  So – here are our responses to some Travels on Abracadabra Frequently Asked Questions (warning - no pictures, very wordy): 

1.       Is Molly the author of the blog?
The blog is authored by Team Arnold/Andrews.  Molly does the first draft of each post.  Bryce then reads it for technical accuracy and tone (she can get a little snarky or whiney at times – as some of you may know) and tries to spot all grammar mistakes and typos.  Bryce also chooses most of the pictures for each post.  After Bryce’s pass, Molly then polishes, adds the pictures and clicks “post”.  However, because Molly’s voice is the one that most people “hear” in the blog, we thought this time we’d each separately respond to the FAQs.

2.       So – are you having a good time -- really?  Do you enjoy retirement?

Molly responds:  Overall, yes, to both questions. 

Keep in mind that we are not truly “on vacation” – this is our life.  I still have to clean the toilet and scrub the slime off the bottom of the dinghy (Bryce actually does the truly icky jobs).  And we’re living this life in something smaller than those luxury campers you hate when passing them on the highway.  This means we often have limitations on water usage and have to actually schedule comings and goings around limitations on sewage storage capacity (no we don’t just . . . in bays).  In short: This ain’t no Four Seasons Resort, sisters. 
That said, the plus side of the ledger is longer:    

I don’t have to write memos or go to meetings or perform any of the lawyer-like activities I spent the previous thirty years doing;
the weather is usually great here;
I’m enjoying the company of other cruisers and our friends that have visited;
I love the food, culture and people of Mexico;
I’ve read twenty books since we left California (not all of them worth remembering, of course); and
I get to spend a lot of time with my boyfriend Bryce who is an excellent captain and, for the most part a really good sport, despite the pressures of dealing with a first mate that is . . . on that rare occasion. . . downright insubordinate. 

So – to borrow the words of a great woman, Ana Matosantos: “It’s all good.”
Bryce responds:  A huge yes.

What can I say? Life is good.  This year has taken me back to my roots – the nomadic existence of an aircrew type; my fascination with the developing world; and no fixed address  – oh, I already mentioned that one. 
I, too, am enjoying making new friends in the cruising community.  And fine tuning my sailing knowledge and skills is very fulfilling for me, too. My biggest thrill, however, has been the opportunity to be full time with Molly – and not kill each other – and to do something exciting together.

3.       What do you do every day?

Molly responds:  Drink margaritas.  No, not really.  In the words of our most recent visiting crew member, Bob Romano:  “Gee, it takes a really long time to get stuff done.”   So, while we spend time sitting at restaurants on the beach sipping cerveza on many occasions – and I have read 20 books so far – we spend a lot of time just living.  To give you some idea of how we spend our time, a typical day at anchor is something like this:
7-8 ish:  Get up and put the kettle on to boil water for coffee.  Dig out some clothes, check for the ick factor and if not too icky, put them on.  I wrestle the bed back into place while Bryce mops the top of the boat with the dew that’s accumulated (if you leave it there it becomes a dust-catching dampness that will result in a muddy mess on deck).  Squeeze oranges for juice; slice fruit for cereal; set up the table in the cockpit (with non-skid material so coffee doesn’t go sliding if there’s a wave); make coffee; take cereal, milk, etc. up the stairs to the cockpit and mop up whatever spills between galley and cockpit.

8 – 10 ish:  Breakfast, and, if there’s internet connection, read the New York Times, or parts thereof.  We look to see what boats have arrived or left since we last checked.  We talk about what’s happening on shore.  After breakfast we boil water and then wash dishes, dry them and store them away.
10 ish:  It’s time for a project, such as paying bills/checking accounts/doing accounting if we can get internet connection; fixing an oil drip; cleaning something; rinsing out some sandy clothes; etc..  Or we get the dinghy ready and go ashore for an act of tourism or shopping.  This involves unlocking and lowering the dinghy and its motor, and storing the necessary things into a dry bag.  All of this takes about 20 - 30 minutes.  Then we motor at a very slow pace about a mile or half-mile to shore and try to stay dry while landing.  Getting “to town” involves finding and negotiating with a taxi, waiting for a bus, or a walk up the beach road to the nearest store. 

1 – 4 ish:  By now it’s time for lunch.  Post lunch we do our errand or act of tourism, and return to the dinghy.  Departing by dinghy is more of a challenge than arriving by dinghy, so that takes more time.  Both dinghy landings/departures and shopping deserve their own blog posts, but in short: shopping is complicated in a foreign language (is it really oatmeal, or is it oat bran?) and when everything is sold in metric (I have never quite incorporated metric measurements into my consciousness).  Do we really shop every day?  Not every day, but consider living with a refrigerator one-third of the size of yours at home, without a freezer.  Yes, we shop often.      
4 ish:  After arriving at the boat and returning dinghy and motor to the upright and locked position (a longer, more difficult and sweatier process than taking them down), we do more projects such as cleaning the sides of the boat or stowing food products away.  We often also have a sort-of shower to get the salt water off of us.  Then we pin the towels to the side of the boat. 

5 ish:  Now it’s time for a drink (cerveza or ron tonic are standards) to celebrate surviving another day – and to see who has come in or out of the anchorage.  Sometimes we share this time with others in the anchorage. 
6 ish:  After our sundowner, we start preparing dinner.  That’s often an hour-long project given the challenges of the galley.  Dinner usually arrives about 7 or 8.

9 ish:  After washing and drying dishes and reading a bit it’s time to go to bed.  Life is simple.  Life is good.

Bryce responds:
You see a lot of cruisers with scraggly beards and pony tails.  While that may save a lot of time I prefer to shave and find a barber.  And that takes time! 

The days just fly by.  I don’t get up all that early but on the other hand, I’ve likely been awake 5 times over the night due to boat noises, waves, loud boat boys on neighboring sports fishermen, etc.
Food prep and eating, as Molly said, are huge time expenditures for the cruising family.  Fortunately for me, Molly gets great pleasure out of cooking or I would be reduced to a much more basic existence!      

Fixing and/or breaking boat stuff takes at least 20 hours a week.  And that is to just keep up with the Evil Forces of Corrosion.  Mentioning that you have a boat problem to another yachtista (that’s what Mexican locals call us) takes another 20 hours since everyone is dying to impart their hard earned advice to you.  (And we know what free advice is worth!).
My Spanish comprehension has come roaring back.  As long as I pay attention I can understand everything.  My spoken Spanish still needs work (I think it’s the age factor [yikes]); but I’m reading again – mainly just juvenile books and newspapers – in Spanish to try to slip back into the groove.

Night seems to come so early.  Dinner, a look at the stars, and then – as a new cruiser friend says – it’s “Mexican Midnight” (9 PM) and time to go to bed.
4.       Where to next – are you going to sail around the world?

Molly responds:  When we left California in October, we agreed to check in with each other in six months to see whether we were both enjoying the trip and then decide whether or not to keep travelling.  However, a couple months ago, both of us simply started talking about where we would sail next season . . . so we have never even had “the talk”, we just started planning to sail in Mexico next fall/winter/spring, probably first in the Sea of Cortez and then south through the territory we have already explored and then beyond.  We talk about year three possibly including Central America – but at this point that’s just talk.  And that’s as far as the sailing “plans” have gone.  We are not yet ready to even talk about “sailing around the world”.  It’s a big world, and so far the longest consecutive period we’ve been underway is three nights.  So – we’ll just keep it to the next couple years, shall we?  The interesting question for me is what to do during the summer months – this year and following.  At this point our only plans are to visit everyone we know with a nice guest room – we may even downgrade to visiting those with a sleeper sofa if the money runs low.  But being guests may not be a viable multiple year plan.  We’re probably not that charming.  So – we’ll think about that some more.
Bryce responds: Sailing around the world would be a monumental task.  I’m not sure this boat is up to it.  But it is definitely up to a few weeks at sea here and there.  We talk about various alternate routes and destinations but it’s just talk at this point.  Next season will tell us a lot – we’ll either move on after that or get hooked into a ‘floating condo in Mexico’ like some of our new friends. Or go home – when you come from a nice place complete with great friends it wouldn’t be a heart breaker to just go home.

5.       How’s the engine . . . the bow sprit . . . and other boat parts?

Molly responds:  We have now run the engine over 100 hours without incident.  So – knock wood – we think the fuel starvation issue we were having during the HaHa is resolved.  Bryce replaced a part on the bow sprit – but after only one day sailing with the fix, it was clear the sprit was bending.  So – he and our friend Bob Romano have installed a more robust fix.  After we get a chance to sail downwind for a while, we’ll report in on the success or lack thereof of that fix.  More technical details are available from Bryce upon request.  As for other boat parts – we’re filling in the blanks every day (again, technical details available from Bryce) and I am becoming more and more comfortable with Abracadabra as my home and as the safety net that stands between me and a lot of water.    
Bryce responds:  Can I bring you anything?, the arriving guest asks.  What is the baggage limit on Delta, I wonder.  Most of the unfinished projects and parts that we left California with are now done:  for example, we have a new tricolor/anchor/strobe LED light on the masthead (wow, eh?).  The water maker works dependably although the separate drinking water tank still isn’t connected – we’re still storing into jugs. 

But there are always projects.   Some leaky windows need to be taken care of before we store the boat.  Right now I’m supposed to be fixing a floorboard that threatens to crack. The list goes on into perpetuity. 
On a positive note very few of our spare parts inventory have been put into use.  The engine purrs on.  And the sails are still in good shape.  We bought some new lines and had a modification done to the top of the mast to fly the spinnaker better.  The dinghy has new ‘chaps’ (a canvas cover to protect the rubberized fabric from the sun). Our instruments provide the greatest source of amusement – just because one was accurate last week doesn’t mean it will be so today!

Getting work done in Mexico has turned out to be both more professional and less expensive than we were originally warned.  Let’s say about 60% of US labor costs.  Parts, if imported, can take a long time and/or be very expensive.
6.       How do you determine your route?

Molly responds:   It’s sort of like planning a driving trip.  We read up on what we’d like to see and where we’d like to stay, and choose a route based on that.  The differences between our planning and planning a car trip are:
We have limited control over how fast we can go:  Abracadabra travels at a speed determined by the wind or in a worst case scenario our engine and the wind.  Maximum speed for us is about 6 knots per hour (somewhere near 7 MPH or 11 KPH) if the wind is good or about 5.5 KPH if there is no wind and motoring is easy. 

We can’t just stop at the next hotel and call it a day if we’re tired:  We can’t stay anywhere other than one of the few marinas along the Mexican coast, or at an anchorage that is deep enough for Abracadabra’s draft, shallow enough for Abracadabra to anchor and is sheltered from the wind (at least as we know the wind to be when we anchor, and which we hope won’t change while we’re there).   Arriving at a new marina or anchorage after dark is a risk creator, so we also work to avoid that.  Ever been tired and lost trying to find a cabin you’ve rented that is somewhere off the side of a dark mountain road?  Put that in a three dimensional environment (the current is pushing us which direction?), add potential traffic from all points, and lights that may be navigation markers . . . or someone’s car on shore . . . and you have some idea of the complicating factors.      
Bryce responds:  There are several cruising guides and between those and reports from other cruisers one sort of comes up with a route.  It is hard to find a stretch of this coast without some interesting anchorage every 30 or 40 miles but we have done legs of 130 or more miles as well – and they require an overnight or two.  Those legs require more work and planning. 

The general flow seems to be Baja California coastal area, then over to Mazatlan, then down the coast to as far as Manzanillo or even Zihuatanejo before heading north again into the Sea of Cortez.  Others, of course, keep going south to El Salvador or even west to the Marquesas. 
To set our departure time we use a weather forecasting service called  One can also listen in on several morning weather chat networks.  We get a forecast that is favorable (winds conducive to sailing rather than motoring, waves and swells not too huge) and off we go.  Heading ‘downwind’ or with the wind in nicer than ‘upwind’.  The apparent wind feels less strong and therefor warmer.  Waves and swells from behind you feel more rolling and less abrupt.  This style and direction was our experience until last month when we started back north from our furthest southern point in Tenecatita Bay.  Since then there has been more motoring and more waves from in front of us.  And that’s both tiring for the crew and hard on the equipment.

When we’re under way we observe a watch system at night – usually 2 hours on and 2 hours off.  The only way to stop for the night is to find a bay in which to anchor.  We need to be in under- 40 or 50 feet of water in order to anchor and we need shelter from the winds.  So, if we can’t find a bay that meets those criteria, we just keep going.  And going.
Anchoring is the anticlimax to a long passage.  If the crew is still sharp, and the equipment functions well, it is a no brainer to get the hook down.  If the bottom is rocky or weedy and the crew impatient, it can take a couple of attempts.  Being ‘at anchor’ is the best part.  Really.

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