Thursday, September 29, 2011

Are we 100% comfortable with heading to sea?

Last night after dinner, Chris brought me out into the cockpit where we sat and enjoyed the moonlight. About a month, now, until we shove off and head to sea. For real.  He turned to me and asked with the most profound seriousness:

"I want to make sure that you are completely comfortable with what we are about to do. I promised your father I would take care of you, and I take that responsibility very seriously. I want to make sure that you are 100% sure that you feel safe."

I was sort of shocked. I thought long and hard about my response. First of all, I never feel completely safe, even living here in comfortable SoCal. Life is filled with risks, with dangers, with concerns.

I'm not stupid, however. I realize that sailing to Mexico and the South Pacific does increase our risk quotient. But when I'm anxious about something, I've learned that the best way to deal with my anxiety is with knowledge. Information. Facts.

Lately, I've been studying the blogs of families who are currently sailing the planet. There are thousands of them! My rationale is this: if I think I'm nervous about cruising Mexico and beyond, how does a mother feel doing it with her adorable little toehead children aboard? How do they even sleep at night?

What I've found, surprisingly, is that family after family says that, believe it or not, 99% of the time they do NOT feel vulnerable. They do not feel at risk.

On the contrary, they are having the time of their lives and experiencing a freedom and joy that they never thought possible.

Here are some photos from all over the world, and quotes from family sailing blogs:

Never too young to help Mom and Dad with lookout!

"The biggest challenge is the mental hurdle of getting past all the things that say “you can't do this!”- from family, to friends, to society in general."  -- cruising family

Kids just being kids in Fiji.

A young girl gets some sun and enjoys the best spot on the boat in the South Pacific!

"OK, kids, next time it'll be your turn to reel it in!"

 "At the risk of sounding trite - GO!
Everything, everyone, tells you that you can't… but as long as you have the means to put yourself in a safe boat, and can be patient and slow about a learning curve, anyone can go."  -- cruising family

"There are so many other boats with children out cruising right now, it's easy to find playmates." -- cruising family 

"GET OUT AND DO IT. It is important to realize your dream, and doing it with your kids is something really special. It can be for a year or for 10 years. The most important thing is to try, to face all the challenges, to be proud steering away, and to be out there as a close and united family.
Get out there and enjoy the open ocean and new faces." -- cruising family

Teaching Jr. how to fillet the day's catch.

Photo after photo I've seen shows happy families blending from all different cultures.

"Our biggest challenge was to cast off, at last, after all the preparation, after all the anticipation, after all the worry and commotion of leaving so much we knew and loved. BUT, once our sails filled as we sailed out the breakwater, after our waving goodbye to loved ones on the pier, and the first green water covered the bow, the cobwebs were blown away, the only thing to think about was the next landfall, the next meal, the navigation and the weather!
Our dreams were alive, our fears left behind, and our adventure had begun for all of us!" -- cruising family

These kids are clearly having a terrible time and are fraught with fear in Tonga (NOT).

Never too tiny to don that cute toddler foul-weather gear.

Photo after photo of the cruising community shows that cruising is truly a family affair. There seem to be happy sailing kids all over the planet swimming, building sandcastles and forts with the local kids.

"I truly think after many years of sailing with our children that this was the very BEST thing in the whole world we could do as a family! There is no doubt that both Sammy and Jamie want to do this with their families when they have them. And if that isn’t a testament to the lifestyle, nothing is!" -- cruising family

"At anchor our nights always ended with everyone in the cockpit and Andy teaching all of us about the stars, the planets, the comets, and the moon. The heavenly constellations became our friends and companions. " -- cruising family

  Halloween is clearly as big a deal for the kids in the  cruising world as it is stateside.

 "If you're thinking about doing it in any serious way, then just do it.
Don't dwell overmuch on the fears, what the family back home thinks, what neighbors say. You can never anticipate or plan for every eventuality. At some point you just have to make the decision to plunge in and keep going. Take that scary leap and go.  And trust that you will be joining the world of people/families who've dared to pursue this worthy dream for all the good reasons you will eventually learn for yourself. " -- cruising family

 "Life is this simple. We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through us all the time. This is not a fable or a nice story. It is true. If we abandon ourselves to God, forget ourselves, we see it." -- Thomas Merton

Clearly this is a recurring issue with little landlubber me: (see: "How Safe IS Mexico?"
So. Am I ready? Oh, yes. Ready as I'll ever be, baby! :-)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I Live On A Floating Movie Set

One interesting thing about growing up in Southern California is you are always within close proximity of somebody rich and famous.

I've noticed, though, that we're almost always within TWO degrees of separation from these otherworldy types -- rarely ONE. We're always the proverbial ships that pass in the night when it comes to the famous -- they're more often than not JUST out of reach...

 When we moved into the Cabrillo Marina in San Pedro, we were happily surprised to find out that the end of our dock is a frequent floating movie set.

                                  The Cabrillo Marina, San Pedro, California

They took over our dock for an entire weekend to film Ashton Kutcher in a Nikon commercial.

 We walked next to the boat at 2AM while they were filming, but never caught an actual glimpse of the guy.

  One morning I awoke to find our dock swarming in gaffers and cameramen preparing to film a scene of CSI: Miami. They had to yell "CUT" to let me tiptoe over and through the set in order to get to work.

In the parking lot, I found that David Caruso had stolen my parking spot with his giant trailer. I would have given him a piece of my mind but he didn't even come out to apologize. The nerve! (LOL)...

 Another day we came home from work to find Jack Sparrow's Black Pearl floating a couple of hundred feet away from our deck. As the sun was setting, we could see that they were filming the latest Pirates of the Caribbean episode on her decks.

Naturally we jumped into our kayaks and paddled over to the floating set, careful to stay just out of shooting range so they wouldn't lob us with (fake?) cannonballs if we got too close. There were dozens of cast and crew on the deck, but again, we couldn't quite make out Johnny Depp or Orlando Bloom. Two degrees of separation.

Another time I came home from work to see a large fancy yacht tied up to the floating movie set. I wondered: "Who or what are they filming today?" My husband told me that earlier he was watching them film, and he walked up to three young guys hanging out on the edge of the set and asked about it. Turns out it was The Jonas Brothers filming their TV show.

And the three young guys hanging out were the Jonas Brothers. SO OK, my husband was the one who got the ONE degree of separation from the young heartthrobs. Touch him the next time you see him, and that Jonas Brothers magic just might rub off on you. (LOL).

  One of the few TV dramas I've been truly addicted to in recent years is Mad Men. One day at work I read online that they were filming an episode right there in San Pedro! In fact, they had filmed several episodes in our humble harbor town! OK, now this is where I finally got a little bit starstruck and mildly excited at the possibility of actually running into Jon Hamm.

Needless to say, I remained a solid TWO degrees separated from Mr. Hamm, who filmed several scenes driving along Harbor Boulevard in his red t-bird, including the one above. How DARE they film these scenes during in the middle of the day during a work-week, when I'm stuck in my cubie 25 miles away?   :-(

 Other TV shows and movies which have filmed in our harbor or on our dock in the year since we've lived here include:

                        It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, starring Danny DeVito

                                      90210 starring Tori Spelling

                                      Law and Order, Los Angeles

                                 X-Men First Class, starring James McAvoy, Oliver Platt and January Jones. Of course since Kevin Bacon was in this one, this is a good time to point out that we were again TWO degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon and the rest of the crew, as we never actually saw the actors.  But we did hear and see the explosions lighting up the night sky around the WWII ship at the other end of our harbor.

                              Showtime's Shameless, starring William H. Macy

The last story I'll share is this: one morning yet another fancy mega-yacht had tied up to our dock in preparation for filming of an Adidas commercial starring soccer star David Beckham. As usual, as I walked through the set on the way to work, there was no Mr. Beckham in sight -- just the now perennial crew and equipment.

Upon returning home from work, there was a large limousine parked at the entrance to the marina, with the driver standing at the back door holding it open, in anticipation of a rich and famous passenger's impending arrival to enter.

Mr. Beckham must be preparing to leave the set and drive home to that pouty Victoria!

Finally, my ONE degree of separation with one of these damn celebrities was going to happen. I was going to have my star sighting if it killed me!

I slowed my steps and did the famous "hum de dum dum, la la la" whistling thing one does when they're trying to not look like they're staring. I waited. Still no Mr. Beckham. The driver still stood there waiting with the opened door...

...still nothing.

I quickly went to the bathroom to kill 30 seconds. Upon emerging: nothing.

Finally, I had to give up. I walked past the open limo door, walked through the film set which was breaking down and past the mega-yacht which clearly still contained Mr. Beckham, and into my floating home.

So, my TWO degrees of separation record has remained intact in my year and a half living aboard our little floating film dock. Ah, well...

None of this MEANS anything, by the way. It's just been a sort of silly, entertaining diversion. Life is funny. You never know how your world changes, just around the corner. Who knows what adventures will come?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Living and Cooking Aboard In My Floating Malibu Barbie Kitchen

The topic of food is close to everyone's heart, whether you live on land or sea.

In planning for our great adventure, Chris and I have been living aboard Espiritu, our Newport 41, for the last year and a half in San Pedro, California. Living aboard is essentially "practice" for the cruising life. It's "cruising LITE."

A big fear I had when we first moved aboard was living without a microwave oven. Happily, this hasn't been the great adjustment that I feared. On land, my major microwave use was for my nightly cup of chamomile tea which I would take to bed with me every evening. Aboard Espiritu, I have let that longstanding ritual fall away for the simple reason that our v-berth, while extremely comfortable and cozy once you are wrapped up in its loving arms, is not easy to enter and exit...which means I want to limit my fluids in the evening before bed, if you get my drift... :-)

As a liveaboard, the major change in my cooking routine has been I bake less. In fact, I don't really bake at all on the boat -- YET. You see, I've got this little Malibu Barbie floating kitchen. Every component is smaller than in a typical American "real-life" kitchen. And the fact that I'm a 6 foot tall "Viking Warrior Princess" (family nickname) makes it seem that much tinier.

 The sensation is similar to eating a meal on an airplane: you know how you get the cute little plate, and the cute little cup, and the cute little tray, with the adorable little utensils?

 Well, this is my culinary life aboard Espiritu.

My "excuse" (read: rationalization) for not baking aboard YET is the fact that I have a longer commute to work since moving aboard and by the time I get home in the evening it's simply too late to bake. Instead, I cook. I saute. On the stovetop, thank you very much.

But the real reason I haven't really baked aboard yet is I admit I'm still sort of afraid of that tiny little oven. It's not much bigger than my EZ Bake Oven I had when I was 9 -- but in a way that one was superior because at least my EZ Bake Oven had a light!

My floating fears of propane and rogue explosions start rearing their ugly head. And I've gotta practically get on my hands and knees to use the thing -- and it's so dark in there (LOL...). And don't get me started on lighting the broiler...

Anyway, once we are underway baking will become a necessity. Also, obviously, I will have time to bake as my 40+ hour desk job will be a memory. We plan on cruising economically and simply which means rare restaurants and eating aboard Espiritu three times daily.

Yes, I have big baking plans for me and my Malibu Barbie Kitchen, with it's EZ Bake Oven. We will bake whole wheat bread twice a week, enchiladas, lasagne, cornbread, homemade crackers, oatmeal cookies...

But that's still just a dream....

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Top 10 Things I'll Miss When We Head To Sea

About 40 days 'til we up anchor and head to sea. Thoughts naturally turn to things on land -- American land -- that I will miss during our travels:

10) The Matinee

Ya gotta love the ritual of it: The planning. The reading of reviews. The fact that you must always wear a sweatshirt even in the middle of summer because the air condioning is so luxuriously strong. The "let's not eat for 3 hours before the movie so we can really LOOOOOVE that popcorn!" The post movie breakdown and discussion. I realize there will be movie theaters in other countries -- and I imagine we'll see the names "Brad Pitt," Reese Witherspoon," and "Ryan Gostling" up on the marquis. But do they even serve popcorn at the movies in Mexico or Tonga? And will Meryl Streep's latest impassioned role be just as powerful badly dubbed in Spanish? Don't answer that... :-/

9) Christmas Cards

In these wireless times, there are few things in modern life which are as tactile a reminder of my youth as Christmas cards. They are nostalgia personified. May they never go out of style (and may the Post Office never go bankrupt! :-/). Don't even try to send us one during our travels. It will never arrive...

8) Wheels

OK. I'll admit it. I'll miss my car -- and the freedom she provides me. When Chris and I arrive in a new port, we'll be strapping on our backpacks and walking to the market. Or we might take the bus, with the ubiquitous chickens running up and down the aisle. Our plan is to return to the states in the best physical condition of our lives. This will all be good. But there's something about your own wheels...

7) Ice

Even in the year 2011, something as simple as ice remains a modern pleasure out of the financial reach of many around the world. And they say it's not safe to partake of it in Mexico. Lord knows when I'll have it again after November 1st. Our best shot is to befriend a couple in a really super-phat megayacht anchored in Cabo and hope they invite us aboard to wet our whistle with a chilled Diet Pepsi and fresh cubes from their sub-zero. But then, I guess we'd actually have to TALK to them (sorry, my prejudice against ultra rich, ultra-snobby megayacht owners just flashed its ugly head...).

6) The Local Hangout

Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer had Monks. Ours currently is the Lighthouse Cafe in San Pedro. It's got everything: comfortable seating, really good food, a friendly staff, excellent prices. Of course we will encounter quality restaurants throughout our travels, but by the nature of travel, each place is a new find. The pleasure and comfort of The Local Hangout will be out of our reach, as long as we are away from home.

5) My Bathtub

Men, this is something you just won't understand. There is nothing like a bath. It is luxury personified. We will be showering (Boooooo!) either on the boat or as a guest in marinas. But now that I think about it, our plan once we get into the tropics will be to actually jump into the warm, clear water and bathe right in there with biodegradable soap. Which I suppose means the worlds oceans will BE my bathtub. You can't read a book in there, though...also, shaving my legs will be hard, not to mention dangerous, as I tread water...well, I guess we'll have to work out those details when we get there...

4) Work

I know, I know. Crazy. By the very nature of the sailing/cruising life, we will be working. Always. Cleaning. Maintaining. Hauling water. Cooking. But I will miss the ritual -- the routine -- of going into my job every day, sitting at my desk, turning on my computer and DOING something. Being productive. Earning my keep. I'm hoping that within 48 hours of entering Mexican waters I will look back in shock and disbelief at the "old me" that was such a tool that she could have ever written these ridiculous words... :-)

3) Snow

Again, there is nothing like it. The past 7 winters at Green Valley Lake (elevation 7,000 feet -- or 2134 meters -- since we're leaving the US I need to leave behind our ridiculous system and join the civilized world with the metric system) have been magical. For whatever reason, we as humans are programmed to see white as pure and sacred. The great thing about walking in the forest after a fresh dumping is there is often no sound, except for your breathing and the crunch of your snowshoes digging into the twinkling drifts. This I will miss.

2) My Fireplace

I know, I know, burning wood is now politically incorrect (modern science proves it is just as toxic and polluting as my belching SUV, which is on my list to unload when we get back). But there is no denying its power to fascinate, comfort and entrance. It is even more packed with nostalgic meaning than those damn Christmas Cards -- but now that I think about it, is there any scene more symbolic of home and family than the burning hearth, with Christmas cards hanging from the fireplace? Which brings me to...

1) You People

Sigh. All of this talk of home and hearth and Christmas cards and bathtubs is making me miss you guys already. What am I going to do without you? Your hugs, your smiles, your laughter? Your irritated calls after I've gone to bed to complain about something I haven't done? (LOL -- kidding. KIDDING!) The gift you can give me, for me to have the trip of a lifetime, is for you to treat each other well and with kindness while I'm gone. Be nice to each other. Take a bath together. Well, maybe not that. Go for a walk in the snow together, then take in a matinee, then enjoy an icy drink around the fireplace for me, OK?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

How safe IS Mexico?

It's about 6 weeks until Chris and I shove off and sail south into Mexico. Seems like a good time to ask the question: How safe IS Mexico?

It's pretty entertaining to observe the wide variety of differing responses we get when we share our travel plans. It usually includes some combination of raised eyebrows, shocked utterances ("Oh really?") and pregnant pauses, followed by a smattering of well meaning questions from our landlubber friends and family:

"What about tsunamis?"

"Don't you worry about storms at sea?"

"What about pirates?"

"Will you have, uh, radar, and stuff like that?"

And the most common:

"Isn't Mexico dangerous?"

Sigh. Look, I'm as shocked and horrified by photos of beheaded Mexicans as the next person. And the news media has shown us plenty of them in recent years. We can tell ourselves that 95% of the violence is between drug cartels and the police, and is confined to the Northeastern border of Mexico (far from the Pacific coast).  But it's still scary.

So here's where it's a good idea to apply my Rule #1 in decision making:

Try to make decisions with equal parts heart and head.

Clearly, photos of beheaded people cuts right to the heart -- emotions like repulsion and especially fear spring to the forefront. We've got the "heart" part down (emotion). Now what about the head (reason and intellect)?

In researching this topic a few months ago I searched State Department and travel websites and found several entries akin to the following:

"Use caution with ATMs and be aware that burglary and identity theft are not uncommon..."

"Women in particular should not be in bars or dangerous areas alone, especially at night..."

"Use caution and realize that communicable diseases such as AIDS, hepatitis B and C, tuberculosis and the Hanta Virus are prevalant in many areas..."

"Avoid crime prone areas, especially at night. Do local research and stay near safe tourist zones. Avoid bars, back alleys, and do not buy drugs..."

"Lock your car when driving, especially at night...."

"Do not leave valuables unlocked either in your car or your hotel room as burglary is a problem. Always use a hotel safe whenever possible..."

"Do not flash large wads of cash or credit cards..."

And the list goes on and on. Scary, right?

What would you say if I told you that the websites from which I gleaned the above warnings were for citizens of Australia, England and New Zealand who were planning travel to the United States? It's true.

I think we Americans are in a little bit of a bubble sometimes when it comes to our perception of the relative safety of the United States.  In the greater Los Angeles area where we live, there were thousands of murders in the last calendar year alone.

Meanwhile, south of the border, for every one Mexican drug dealer murdered, there are hundreds of thousands of Mexican citizens quietly going about their business, taking care of their families and just trying to get through the day as you and I are.

Let me ask you: if a loved one was coming to the U.S. on vacation, what safety advice would you give them?  Would you advise them to avoid dangerous areas, especially at night? To lock their valuables? To not buy drugs or hang out in seedy bars at 2AM? To not flash wads of cash, and be careful and alert when using ATMs?

This common sense advice is just as true in Los Angeles, California as it is in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico or Bogota, Columbia.

My experience is that Mexican people are some of the warmest, gentlest and most welcoming people on the planet.

 Although I haven't traveled there (yet), I'm told that South Pacific Islanders are even MORE so -- a thought which fills me great expectation.

So our plan is to do what we do here in the states: lock our boat, be safe and sane, make smart decisions based on our current surroundings, and realize that most human beings, while certainly flawed, are basically good and don't set out to hurt others. Most people, in my experience, practice the golden rule most of the time.

So, please don't hesitate to come visit us in Mexico. We look forward to welcoming you with a hug and a big "Bienvenidos!"