It’s dawn on the 15th of January. I’m wrapped in a blanket savoring the few moments of the day when the thermometer drops below 80 degrees. Thousands of silver fish with neon yellow fins dart behind the aft of The Red Thread. It’s the magical witching hour when the seas seem especially alive, and critters rise from the depths to feed. I’m hoping I’ll see a humpback whale as they’ve been known to come very close to the anchorage, but I’ll happily settle for the good-morning dolphin whose sleek body is arcing through the water not more than 30 feet off our starboard beam.
The earliest minutes of the day represent a time of reprieve for me, a time of solitude and reflection. I rise with the first glow of day break, stirred daily by my body’s desire, rather than the unmelodious command of an alarm clock. This time is peaceful for me, and one of the few moments of the day that will not be occupied by the stress of trying to address tasks and repairs, which has demanded the bulk of our time since we arrived in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle.
The opportunity to take a year off of work and to explore the world by sailboat is a foreign concept among many of those we love, most of whose lives are consumed by demanding responsibilities of a very different sort. We were deeply entangled in the work, work, work—hurry, hurry, hurry rat race not so long ago, and I cannot help but wonder whether the challenges we are experiencing while cruising sometimes sound trivial to others. I find myself hesitating to share our woes, wanting instead to hear about the happenings in others’ lives, rather than sharing the things that are occurring in my own. We’re sailing in Mexico…what could really be so tough, right?
We both knew we would face obstacles during our adventure and that this would not truly be a 365-day vacation, but we did not anticipate some of the frustrations we’ve experienced, particularly the repairs we’ve had to tackle. The reality is that things have been breaking lately. A few things. Things that are expensive to fix. Because our savings is finite, our timeline is not open-ended. We have enough money to survive roughly a year. At least we hope we do.
The balance between relaxation-exploration-fun and breaking-working-fixing has been disproportionately skewed in the direction of the latter, especially sine we arrived in Banderas Bay, and we’re a bit frazzled. We knew that things would break along the way, and we allotted a portion of our monthly budget for repairs (an allowance that actually exceeds our budget for food and fun), but we have been astounded by the number of things that have gone awry and blasted that budget each month. We are grappling with repairs, struggling to identify solutions for some of the problems, and having difficulty getting parts.
Gone are the days of rushing to Fisheries or West Marine to buy boat parts or ordering them online, after which they’d arrive in Seattle in just a few short days. The process now involves long walks and sweaty bus rides that frequently conclude when we discover the item we are seeking is simply not available on the Mexican Riviera, even in the most populous cities. Thankfully, we were able to keep our cell phone through Mexico for only $15 more per month (muchos gracias, Verizon), making the task of calling Customs and various US-based marine parts companies far simpler than it would’ve otherwise been. Unfortunately, shipping goods from the US yields greatly escalated costs and requires the unpleasant and pricey experience of wrangling with Customs to import the goods. We are chewing through our savings cushion far more quickly than we had projected.
Major items that have broken thus far:
- Chartplotters (yes, both of them; we mailed them from San Diego to New Hampshire for repair and used paper charts exclusively for the 1,300 miles from Southern California to Banderas Bay)
- Watermaker (for the time being, we’re jerry jugging our agua – there really are worse things)
- Watermaker seacock (the handle broke off…thankfully in the closed position)
- Wind generator (this tedious, noisy beast has been fixed and is finally whirling with glee)
- Outboard motor (this motor belongs to our dinghy, Miss Sassy, our car for all intents and purposes – thankfully this was a cheap fix)
- Mainsail (our new sail chafed at two batten pockets; I’ve been working on my sewing skills)
- Neil’s scuba regulator (a recreational piece of equipment, yes, but also critical for maintenance of all parts of the boat that are not above the waterline)
In addition to boat repairs was the cost of my emergency department visit in San Diego, which was necessary after I developed a severe, mysterious rash. That little excursion cost a grand total of $2,000 USD (not exaggerating; after roughly 40% discount for being uninsured), leaving us wondering how in the world people who are destitute or earning near minimum wage survive any type of medical emergency. During my visit, I didn’t receive any medication and an IV was not even placed. A physician spoke to me and a few blood tests were run. That’s it.
The irony about the things that have broken on the boat is that most of these items are technically luxuries. Yes, the vast majority of modern cruising boats have watermakers and wind generators, but they are not essential for sailing. They are great, when they are working, but I can’t help but wonder if never having them would be simpler. Not having a watermaker would guarantee our watermaker would not break. I suppose it would also increase our risk of filling our tanks with water of questionable quality in some far flung place on the planet…
Ultimately, owning a boat means fixing a boat, and fixing a boat means that you either tackle repairs with your Visa or American Express or you add skills to your repertoire so that you don’t break the bank. That said, Neil is leading the charge on most of the projects, and he’s convinced he’s working harder out here than he did when he was earning a paycheck. I’m inclined to agree.
The silver lining is that should he decide to forsake a career in business after our voyage, I suspect that he may have promising opportunities as a plumber, electrician, or diesel engine mechanic. He’s rapidly growing in all of these domains, generally out of necessity rather than desire. I’m likely going to return to practicing psychology as recent endeavors have revealed that I demonstrate limited aptitude as a seamstress, lack brute strength, and still get basic concepts of boat system maintenance confused. Traveling food critic and chef on a small ship (that fancies an endless array of canned food concoctions) may still be on the table.
All frustrations, struggles, and uncertainties considered, we continue to agree that we would not want to be anywhere else right now. Like any major life transition, adjusting to this radical change took is taking time. We are each wrestling with unique emotional experiences that come along with the reality of living the dream we worked so hard to bring to fruition. Not to mention that being on a boat with the love of your life can be a bit of a pressure cooker. This voyage is revealing our best and worst attributes as individuals, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of our relationship. Fortunately, unlike our precious watermaker, our relationship continues to prosper.
And… just spotted a humpback beneath the Banderas Bay sunrise.