Reflections by Kirk
18 July 2015
It has been quite awhile since I have reflected; and many different feelings, both of the body and of the mind, have transpired in the interim. Since then, we have travelled back to the Seattle area, done some more work on the boat, and have left La Paz for a summertime journey up into the Sea of Cortez.
Think I will start with feelings of the body. The predominant one now is of heat. We were very aware that it gets hot in lowland areas of Mexico in the summer. I grew up in the state of New Jersey and Kris grew up in Massachusetts. Summertime weather would often include hot days with very high humidity making for a low comfort index. I have described the feeling of hot humidity to many people, not from that region, as working up a good sweat whilst drying off after a shower. It seems that air conditioned homes and automobiles were not the norm back in the days of my youth. Most people had what we called 255 or in really nice cars 455 air conditioning, which was either two or four windows rolled down at 55 miles an hour. We had relatives in Florida who had swamp coolers, which was basically a fan blowing air over a tub of water into the window. Folks who had good steady jobs may have had one or even more window unit air conditioners. That’s just the way it was. We lived with it. The intervening half-century has obviously brought great changes in the availability of personal comfort, particularly in the United States. Most new cars have “climate control” systems and many homes have “central” air conditioning. Personal comfort has become big business and is mostly taken for granted, with at least one glaring exception, that being boats. I know that many of the larger powerboats, especially in the Southeast of the United States, are purposely built with large generators that allow for big refrigerators, electric stoves and air conditioning and some of the larger sailboats as well. But boats built for use in many other parts of the country or built in Canada are more likely to be built for the inclusion of heating systems rather than cooling systems. Our boat was built in Canada and has a really fine heating system, which has not been turned on in awhile. It is getting really hot down here in the Sea of Cortez. Daytime high temps always seem to be somewhere between 95 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Nighttime temps usually bottom in the mid to upper eighties. As I said earlier, we were aware that it would get hot and we decided that prior to making any costly and space consuming changes, we would tough out one summer and see how well we would cope. Well, we are not even into the hottest part of the summer and our comfort levels, are at times, abysmal. Consuming copious quantities of water and then just, profusely, sweating it all back out seems to be a way of life. We have found ways to cope, small fans in strategic places throughout the boat, shade covers, minimal clothing, time in the water, and timing activities to coincide with appropriate times of the day all help.
Fortunately, we have a reverse osmosis watermaker and can afford the extravagance of nightly showers. At night, we cannot even cover ourselves with the lightest of cotton sheets because then the breeze from the fan won’t blow over our bodies to help cool us. A nice cold drink would be awfully nice, but the water in our tanks is basically whatever the seawater temperature is and that has been around 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit. We keep a bottle or two of water in the refrigerator and that is very refreshing. Our refrigerator is working overtime trying to keep cool and our power usage has been increasing correspondingly. Where just a few weeks ago our solar panels and wind generator could bring our batteries to a full charge every day, we now find ourselves running the motor once every few days just to top off the batteries. We are hoping against hope that we will become better acclimated. Living in Seattle for the past 35 years did not help as a starting point in the acclimation process. I don’t quite understand why I was able to live with this heat thing as a youth and seem to be having difficulty now. Maybe age is a factor. Maybe I just got used to living in an era of personal comfort. We are now thinking that we may need to find a different type of climate, at least in the summer or retrofit the boat for some type of “climate control” system. Will know better when it starts to cool off in the fall how our plans mat be affected.
One of the benefits of the heat is that we do spend more time in the water. Snorkeling down here can be stunning. The water is warm probably averaging 87 degrees. This may not sound terribly refreshing, but compared to 90 plus degrees in the air, it is great. The profusion of life under the water is prodigious. Different sizes, shapes and colors of marine life abound. I can’t begin to name all of the things we have seen, but we have seen spotted rays, mobula rays, black and white stripped eels, yellow and black stripped Sargent Majors, Giant Angels, Parrot fish, Trigger Fish, Trumpet Fish and a host of other burrowing, slithering, walking or swimming creatures. It is like being inside one of those big aquariums that tend to inhabit medical facilities, only much better. Sometimes we tether a boogie board to the stern of the boat to serve as a beverage platform, stick one of those foam noodles between our legs and just float around complete with wide brimmed hats and sunglasses. We tend to stay close to the boogie board and if we are in the water long enough, one of us will have to go through the process of getting back onto the boat, drying off enough to stop dripping and then go down below and refresh the beverages. Cold beverages are at a premium. Ice is a high priority item for us. We have discovered that standard ice cube tray ice melts too fast. Kris discovered that filling little cup shaped plastic containers, like plastic baby food containers, make big ice cubes that take much longer to melt. Necessity is the mother of invention.
So far we have been lucky with other feelings of the body. We have reasonably good tans and were not unreasonably admonished during a recent visit with our dermatologist. Even our toes are tan. I generally wear little more than a bathing suit while on the boat and Kris adds a bathing suit top to her shorts. Our diet has changed for the better. We eat much less as the heat seems to diminish appetites. What we do eat is usually some type of fresh produce or seafood. We do tend to drink a bit more beer and vodka tonics than previously and I suppose this is not so good for the body but does enhance the spirit and quench the thirst. We also consume many times the amount of plain old water than ever before in our lives even though it is not always refreshing.
We will have to become a bit more diligent about exercise. Most of our time is spent on the boat and that does not encourage exercise. Snorkeling seems to be our primary source of exercise at present. In the winter we would often take walks on the beaches or in towns that we visited. It really is quite hot for us to contemplate long walks. There are some younger folks with whom we have shared anchorages that will walk, following trails or going up into the hills. I may work myself up to this, but don’t hold your breath.
Feelings of the mind have been through a few gyrations. For the most part these feelings have been good to extraordinarily good. Some maybe not so good, which is where I will start. As “Captain” of our vessel, part of my job, is to insure the safety of the vessel and its occupants. I believe that the northern Sea of Cortez will present the biggest challenge to our boating ability yet. This means that I worry a bit. I worry that we will select a good anchorage, that our anchor will be properly set, that we will be prepared for whatever happens during the night. I worry that we will be ready in the event that we must ride out a hurricane while at anchor and that I have selected the best place for us to be in that event. I worry that I have adequately performed boat maintenance and inspection tasks so that we can avoid breakdowns or malfunctions at inopportune times or places. I worry that I can receive and properly interpret weather information. I don’t worry all of the time, but it really is part of the job.
One of the other not-so-good feelings has been saying goodbye. Over the past two months or so I have also learned a lot about friendship. You would think that six decades or so of living would already have taught me quite a bit about such a basic part of living and it has. However, we have experienced different aspects of friendship than in other eras of our life. We’ve recently visited with close friends that, for practical purposes we abandoned when we left Seattle. These are people that we have known and valued intimately for a long time. The reuniting with these folks produced something akin to a spiritual feeling, a feeling that my world is right and at great peace. No worries about saying the right or wrong things, about acting foolishly. Friendships that time has built can transcend many things. I guess that I did not realize this until I left and then returned to my friends. I learned that real friends are one of the most valuable things that life has to offer. This cruising lifestyle has also offered a kind of friendship that is a new to me. We meet a lot of people from varying backgrounds, with different cultures, from different countries, even different continents. As people who live on boats far from what we used to call home, we all have a unique commonality with one another. So there is the chance for an almost instant bond. But sometimes there are the people who just seem to plant roots in my heart. Maybe we have said hello a few times and then get an opportunity to sit down and talk a bit. And before you know it that good feeling grows. These have become people that really matter to me and I’d like to believe that I matter to them. This process can happen amazingly fast. We know that many of these folks will cross our path again and the bonds between us will grow. And this is good. I know that I have touched on the issue of friendship in other editions of these “Reflections,” but I guess that is because it is a subject that continues to fascinate me.
Some of the great experiences about living on the water are the things that we see. We see porpoises with some frequency; have seen whales of different varieties more than we saw in British Columbia and Alaska. We have seen whale sharks, the largest fish in the ocean. But the best are the rays. We first saw rays jumping out of the water in the early spring while approaching Mazatlan. Since then, unless we are in a marina, jumping rays are a daily occurrence. This happens so often that we can now differentiate between rays and fish jumping at night when we cannot see them. Their splash has a different sound. I don’t really know that the water down here is any clearer than the water up in the northwest; but since so much of the bottom down here is sand, we can usually see to the bottom while at anchor. We can see our anchor chain and the interesting patterns that it weaves on the bottom as the boat drifts around in response to changing winds or currents. We can also see what is swimming around underneath us and this is just fascinating.
Another not-so-good feeling of the mind is uncertainty. We are now well into what I think will be the most challenging part of our two plus year journey. The Sea of Cortez is not a totally barren desert, but it really can be remote with a full day or a couple of days between the very small towns that do exist. Soon we will be stopping at the small village of Santa Rosalia. Once north of there, things apparently get even more remote. There will be no banks, no hardware stores, no boat parts, and probably no cellular or WIFI access. There are people up there and where there are people there will be food, so we will not starve. It is said that the fishing up there is much better. I sure hope there are a lot of stupid fish up there, because the ones where we have been so far are obviously smarter than I and have thwarted my best efforts to catch them. The weather in this region is a brand new thing for me of which I do not have a great understanding. There is the chance of enduring a hurricane; and that uncertainty, contains an element of fear for both of us. There are other wind events that are said to occur up in the Sea that also give us some anxiety. Chubascos are relatively brief but potentially powerful thunderstorms. They can occur with little warning and winds can go from calm to 30, 40 or 60 miles per hour in minutes. There are also “Elephantes” which are winds that come down from the mountains. These can also be very powerful, may last for a few hours, and can occur with little warning. People who have been up here before say that it just happens and you deal with it. Well, since I have never dealt with Chubascos or Elephantes, the fear of what is yet unknown to me rules. In the hundreds of nights that we have spent at anchor and during the passages out at sea or through narrow rock filled passes, we have learned that the fear of doing something is usually much worse than actually doing it. So I guess that I am hoping to experience maybe some of the less powerful Chubascos and Elephantes just to get the fear of the unknown out of the way. While living in the Seattle area, figuring the weather was not a terribly great challenge. If the wind came from the north, the weather was likely to be nice and if the wind came from the south, we would have at least some chance of rain. I have not yet figured out the weather patterns down here. In general, winter winds come from a northerly direction and summer winds normally come from a southerly direction. In the summer, the heat creates conditions conducive to thunderstorms. That is about all I know so far, so my weather prediction skills are limited. Weather prognostication comes solely from individuals who have access to the Internet. They study different charts and weather models and give us their best guess of what will happen. This all occurs via either VHF or SSB/HAM radio. A little different than watching the five o’clock news. Speaking of the news. We do not tend to get lots of it, most often little bits at a time with maybe days or weeks before the next little bit. With very few exceptions it seems that the news is always the same, bad things happening, just to different peoples in different places.
Overall, we are having a great time and enjoying our adventure even more than we might have anticipated. We are learning much about ourselves, our surroundings, other people and another culture. The few rough spots are really necessary for us to realize how good this lifestyle is. Not sure that I could recommend this for everyone, but I do think it is a good thing to step outside of your comfort zone from time to time.