Reflections by Kirk
09 July 2016
Photo: Mom during her last month.
Sailors have many superstitions - don't carry bananas aboard, whistle for wind, have an all male crew and so on. We have never been terribly beholden to these superstitions so we left for a passage on a Friday, which is another superstition no-no. We will never leave on a Friday again. The passage was from La Cruz in Banderas Bay (home to Puerto Vallarta) to La Paz, over three hundred miles away, across the huge opening to the Sea of Cortez. This is a trip that takes us three days and two nights when everything is working in our favor. Things were not working in our favor on this trip. Wind and currents did not hurt us much, but neither did they help us. There were a few, new to us, mechanical issues. More inconvenience issues than something more serious, but still caused time spent to slow down and sort them out. With our navigational skills, we determined at least a day out from La Paz, that we could not make it there in daylight hours so we decided to spend a night in Bahia de los Muertos (Bay of the Dead) about 60 miles or so from La Paz. For us, entering a harbor after dark, especially one with lots of background lights obscuring the navigation lights, is only done as a last resort kind of thing. So there we were, with the anchor down in Bahia de los Muertos, having safely, albeit with some difficulties, made another crossing of the Sea of Cortez with only another ten or twelve hours of travel before we would tie up in one of the marinas of La Paz.
Let me go back in time three weeks. About every six months, since we have been in Mexico, we go north and cross the border as required in order to renew our Mexican visas. We have used this excuse to visit Seattle and San Diego so far. Our six months were up again and this time we decided to go back to the places of our growing up years, southern New Jersey for me and the Boston, Massachusetts area for Kris. It would be good to spend some time with our respective families. My Mom had recently moved from independent living in an apartment into a nursing home. Her health had taken a dramatic downturn over the course of the past four months. She was despondent over the death of her best friend, her sister, and her heart was growing weaker. She looked different from the last time I had seen her, confined to a wheelchair, hooked up to an oxygen bottle, legs swollen with water while the rest of her was almost down to skin and bones. It was tough seeing my Mom looking so frail, a vacant look sometimes occupying her eyes. But she still smiled and laughed and it was good. She still shared the customary shot of tequila with Kris. The doctor said that she was failing, but may possibly live another two years or so. Dad is still OK with the exception of advancing dementia. He is not so bad yet and is still quite the happy camper. For me, having lived away from "home" for the past forty years or so, visiting with family, Mom, Dad, brothers and sister, nieces and nephews is always a happy and cherished time. This was a little different though. I had always stayed at my Dad's house until he went into an assisted living facility and then I stayed at my Mom's. Well she was now in a nursing home, so now I stay with my brother or sister, alternating back and forth several times during our visit. This is a good thing. My sister has a lively household with LOTS of laughter and my brother lives at the Jersey shore, two blocks from the bay and three blocks from the ocean. I have always had a particularly fond spot for the Jersey shore and time at my brother's house is like a great pacifier for the soul. There are many things that are difficult or impossible to obtain in Mexico. When we first walked into my sister's house, part of the living room area looked like a mini warehouse with all of the stuff we had ordered and shipped to her house. A cross between Sanford and Son and the Beverly Hillbillies would best describe our traveling appearance from then on, until we were back to the boat.
Following our visit in New Jersey, we flew up to Massachusetts. I have always liked Kris' family and it had been way too long since we had seen them. This was also a great visit filled with food and wine and laughter. Kris even paid a surprise visit to a 103 year-old friend with whom she had worked well over forty years ago. Soon it was time to get back on a plane to Puerto Vallarta to get ready for our trip across the Sea of Cortez to La Paz.
Back to Bahia de los Muertos (Bay of the Dead). I'm not sure why Kris even tried to get a cell signal in such an out of the way place, but in the morning she did and there was one bar. The phone rang almost right away. Kris answered and handed me the phone for my brother to tell me that Mom had passed away a few hours ago. I'm certain there are many who understand the grief, but for me, this is the first immediate family member that I have lost. It hurts. There is no way that I will ever leave on a passage again on a Friday. We made it to La Paz and were on a plane back to southern New Jersey a day later. Thank you, whomever the spirit is that looks over me, for family and friends. My siblings and I tempered our grief with reminiscences. All of the things that needed to happen in a hurry for the funeral helped to distract us, but those sudden moments of emotional overload could not be avoided. One of the nice things about a funeral is the gathering of so many people not seen in a very long time. I know that I had always loved my Mom, but was surprised and gratified to find that so many other people loved her as well. In the Irish tradition, a wake, a gathering of those close to the deceased with abundant food and beverages to celebrate the passing to a better place, followed the funeral. This is a time for the sharing of good stories about Mom as well as catching up on lives from which I have been removed for a long time. The next day, I went to the place that always offers solace for my soul - my brothers place at the Jersey shore. New Jersey really has some great beaches and Long Beach Island (LBI) has some of the best of the best. The weather was sunny and warm with a nice breeze. A long walk on the beach, the sand so soft, and the rollers beating the shore from the Atlantic Ocean is maybe the best thing that I could have done. There is still grief to deal with, but long walks on that beach over the course of the next three weeks, were better therapy than any doctor could ever offer me. I made some peace with myself and it felt good.
Although I have been back home many times over the years, it seems to have been a long while since spending so much time there in the spring, which is quite nice in southern New Jersey. Four things dominate the landscape - rich farmland, deciduous forests, the "Pine Barrens," and the Jersey shore. It takes just over an hour to make the drive from my sister's to my brother's house and the trip takes me through all of these landscapes. Windows down, music blasting along two-lane roads, witnessing the visual cornucopia helped to not only take my mind away from our loss, but also rekindled the knowledge that I grew up in a really good place. Gastronomic distractions also helped. Like most places, south Jersey has some foods that are unique to the area. I gorged on cheese steaks, Tastycakes, Pork Roll, Scrapple, righteous thin crust pizzas, deli meats and cheese, and good Italian food. The opportunity to sample some of the many microbrew beers also helped add dimension to my waistline.
Kris had preceded me back to the boat in La Paz. My duties to Mom's estate had been carried about as far as I could get them, so it was time to go back to Kris and begin the next phase of our adventure. Nothing terribly new. We intend to do a repeat of the trip up into the northern Sea of Cortez, hopefully north of places where hurricanes are likely to occur. There are many anchorages still to visit that we missed last summer. The vast majority of cruisers down here are reluctant to spend summer aboard their boats due to the high temperatures. Most put the boats away for a few months and go north, some stay at marinas where the AC power is available at the docks to run air conditioners and a small minority chooses to do as we will do. The heat is problematic, but the opportunity to stay in remote anchorages, the abundant variety sea life, excellent fishing, clear warm water, and sharing the special camaraderie with other crazies like us, is just too tempting. Besides, we really don't have anywhere else to go.
S/V Linger Longer