Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Southern Migration

We rolled in to Guaymas yesterday after an overnight bus ride from Tucson.  I was a little nervous about crossing the border with eight bags of gear plus a stroller and carry-on items but, surprisingly, we cruised right through customs without a hitch.  We're now sitting comfortably in a hotel room, where we plan to stay until the boat is ready to go back in the water.  I'll be working hard this week to get a few necessary projects done before Christmas.

We spent our last few days in Bend with Denny and Dawn.  The temperature dropped to zero on the morning we left Oregon, which only seemed to reinforce our decision to move south.  By the time we reached mom and dad's house in Magalia snow flurries were beginning to fall.  We woke the next morning to a winter wonderland with six inches of snow covering everything.  Colin got to ride a sled and build a snowman for the first time.  He also got to throw snowballs at dad for the first time, which made him giggle uncontrollably.

From there we drove to the Bay Area for a quick visit with old friends.  Todd and Antoinette were gracious enough to offer us a room at their place in San Ramon, and we got the crew back together for one more night out in Oakland.  Thanks Mike, Colleen, Julie, David, Maria, Lee Ann, and Miguelito for taking time to see us off.

We picked up our rental car last Monday and drove two SUV's to Ron and Colleen's house in Elk Grove, where I helped him work out a little drama involving a nosey neighbor and a tow-truck.  Mom and dad met us in the morning to take our car back to Magalia, and we said goodbye once again before continuing south to Templeton where we moved in with Ricky and Maria for a couple days.  Thanks Paul for organizing an impromptu barbeque.  And, thanks Cassy, Uncle, Tina, and Ron for coming over on short notice.

Before leaving the next day we walked across the street to visit with my grandmother.  She's a very special lady and loved dearly by her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  She shared her lunch with Colin and we all shared a relaxing afternoon together.

Later that day we drove to Santa Barbara to spend a night with Monica, who I don't get to see nearly enough.  We had just enough time for a couple of meals, a bottle of wine, and a lot of laughs.  Thanks, Mon.

We got a late start from SB and had the agonizing misfortune of driving through LA on a Friday evening.  Bad idea.  I've spent enough time in Bay Area traffic to know better.  So, our three-hour drive to Hemet turned in to a torturous five-hours.  Fortunately, we won't need to do that again...ever.

We did, however, have a great time visiting my uncle Bill and aunt Keckie.  It was our first time down that way and we're glad we made the stop.  Thanks for letting us invade your home for the night.

And, then, after a long drive through the desert, we made our way to Tucson, dropped off the rental car and caught the late bus to Guaymas.  One journey ends and another begins. 

We want to thank everyone who took the time to visit and gave us a place to rest.  It meant a lot to us, and we enjoyed every day and every stop along the way.  It was particularly special since, at this point, we're not quite sure when we'll be back in the US.  Traveling always feels a little bittersweet -- excited to be on the move but missing loved ones already.  We'll definitely be in touch.
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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Season Three

To be honest, when we left Guaymas in June I wasn't sure when we'd be back in Mexico.  To say our first two seasons did not go as planned would be an enormous understatement.  The long months in Barra and then Mazatlan dealing with engine problems took it's toll on captain and crew.  I promised Millie when we left Alameda way back in October 2011 that if she wasn't enjoying the cruising life after two years, we'd give it up and try something else.  Living, stationary, on a boat for months on end in the sweltering heat of a Mexican marina is not much fun.  And, so, when we put the boat away in that hot dusty yard back in June I was, therefore, a little uncertain of our return.

Spending the winter here in central Oregon, I have to admit, is appealing.  I haven't been skiing in three years now and Mt. Bachelor is only a half-hour drive away.  We both found jobs near our house that we enjoyed and were discovering new restaurants every week.  Colin was getting excited about going to school (the morning sob-sessions had finally ceased).  And, all the work on the house was done.  We played in the leaves as the big maple turned with the season.  We watched movies by the fireplace as the first snow fell over the yard.  Our house was beginning to feel like our home.  Did I really want to hand the keys over to renters again?

But, for me anyway, Mexico was unfinished business.  I felt we had started down the road less traveled and needed to see where it took us.  The work was done, the money was spent, the time was lost, there's nothing we can do about that now.  We have a great boat with a strong, if yet untested, engine.  We have to see this through.  I wasn't deterred just yet.

And, fortunately, neither was my wife.  Millie agreed give it all up again for one more season in Mexico and, if all goes well, a Pacific crossing in March.  Months of emailing white-sand postcard photos of French Polynesian anchorages had finally paid off.  Perhaps I'm a better salesman than I thought I was.  The truth is (and I know this) Millie has a gypsy soul and an adventurers heart, which is one of the reasons I fell in love with her.  Even though the idea of spending three-weeks at sea to get there is terrifying, the allure of the islands and the people and the culture is powerful.

So, once again, it's time to say goodbye to our beloved Bend.  The past six months went by in a blur, and we depart with mixed emotions as we were both beginning to feel very much at home here.  Tomorrow we'll spend the day packing the car and saying our goodbyes, and Thursday morning we'll begin the long journey south.  The plan is to drive down to the Bay Area, rent an SUV, drive it to Tucson, and then catch the Executivo bus for a five-hour ride to Guaymas.  This seemed like the least painful way to get us and our many duffel bags to the boat.  We'll be visiting a lot of our friends and family along the way, but I'm hoping to be in Mexico two weeks from now.

And, at some point in the unforeseeable future we'll be back here in Bend.  We've moved out of the house and have a new renter moving in this week.  I hired a property management company to handle all the messy details this time.  We considered that a prudent decision.  There's nothing else to do now...except go.
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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Giving Thanks

This Thanksgiving is a special one, which may seem like an odd revelation considering I'm sitting home alone while my family enjoys a turkey dinner without me some three-thousand miles away. No, it's not a celebration in the traditional sense, but I still feel thankful none the less.

How many of us are lucky enough to marry someone with the courage and selfless enthusiasm to quit their job and give up everything they own to sail a 40-foot boat across an ocean to unknown destinations with an infant child and an aging lap dog?  Crazy, I know.  But, traveling the world by sailboat has been a dream of mine for a very long time, and I spent many years before marriage preparing for such a journey.

But, it was always just that -- my dream.  Before she met me, Millie knew nothing of sailing.  She didn't stay up late with her nose buried in sea stories, visualizing perfect sail trim in trade-wind conditions.  It wasn't her ambition to cross an ocean under sail and drop anchor between coral heads in the white sand of some South Pacific island.  She didn't hunger for the challenge and personal sacrifice required to live and travel on a small boat. 

No, those were my aspirations, my goals.  But, she embraced all of these things when she agreed to marry me, and, although reluctant at times, she set aside her own dreams to live mine for a while.  And, for that, I will always be thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving and a very happy birthday to my loving wife.
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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Pic of the Day

School is fun!

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013





Joshua Radin at the Bend Athletic Club
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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Millie (Half) Marathoner

Way back in May, while on the boat in Mazatlan, Millie started getting up early to run.  Colin and I would sleep in, make banana pancakes, and watch The Lion King as Millie was out jogging.  She found a website online for the annual Haulin’ Aspen Trail Marathon and Half Marathon in Bend and, in a moment of spontaneity, signed up to run the half marathon.

Over the next three months, as we slowly made our way north to central Oregon, Millie continued to train for the race.  When we were putting the boat away in the heat of Guaymas, she would run.  When we spent a week visiting family in California, she would run.  And, when we finally made our way to Bend, she picked up the pace, getting up early to put in eight miles before breakfast.  Colin and I slept in, made blueberry waffles, and watched Dora the Explorer.

Of course, we encouraged her.  I offered my congratulations as she made steady improvement in both distance and time.  I handed out upbeat praise and gratuitous high-fives as she came in from her runs.  I made her waffles.  And, I had confidence in her.  As the big day of the race approached I knew she was ready.

That big day came on Sunday.  We all got up early to get Mom to the starting line by 8 o'clock.  Colin and I cheered as the horn sounded and she strode out of view with a few hundred other runners.  The course started out on a paved bike path that led to a dirt trail through the beautiful wooded Shevlin park before climbing up a steep hill and looping back to the start -- a nice 13 1/2 mile stroll on a gorgeous sunny day.

Two-and-a-half hours later and we waited at the finish line as Millie's bright pink tank-top came in to view.  She crossed the line holding the same steady pace she started with, and her proud family showered her with hugs and kisses.  Then we all made our way to the concession stands where Mom drank her weight in water and Dad enjoyed the free beer and burritos.  We should do this more often.

Good job, Mom!
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Friday, August 9, 2013

School Daze

Change has been the constant since leaving Alameda, and that reality hasn't changed with our location.  Even though we're now settled in to our house in Bend we still find ourselves adapting to new challenges and opportunities. 

This week was a big one for the Wilson family.  Yesterday Millie started her new job as an oncology nurse at an outpatient clinic just a short drive from our house.  It's a perfect fit for her skills in a position almost identical to the one she last held in the Bay Area.  She's excited and eager to go back to work.  I'm excited for her.  Colin's just excited.

Both of us working full-time jobs, however, presented a new challenge -- finding daycare for Colin.  Millie started researching local preschools weeks ago, and set up appointments to check out a few of them.  After careful deliberation we chose a well-established school near Millie's work with a fun, structured program and a great staff.

So, on Thursday, before dropping Millie off at her new job, we dropped Colin off at his new school.  We'd been dreading this day for months.  I had images of a sobbing, inconsolable toddler in the corner weeping all day and wondering why mommy and daddy abandoned him.  Colin was just a few months old when we sailed south, and we've been together as a family unit since.  He's never been apart from Millie for more than an hour or so.  Preschool represented a big step for all of us.

On the other hand, two years in Mexico have allowed us the opportunity to develop lasting friendships with many wonderful and interesting people.  Traveling at such a young age has exposed him to a different culture, language, and values, and that has helped shape his young mind in a very positive way.  He seems to be a very intelligent, well-adjusted little boy -- with us, anyway.  How will he behave without mom and dad in the room?

Well, after two full days of school, I'm happy to report Colin has received high marks in class.  They all love him there, and he seems to love going there.  He cried a little in the morning, but was soon distracted by all the children, the games, and the toys.  At the end of the first day we walked in to the room expecting hugs and tears but he didn't even notice us at first.  I considered that a good sign.  By the time he finished his dinner and bath the little guy could barely stay awake.  "Colin, did you have fun today?", I asked.  "Yeth", he replied.  "Do you want to go back tomorrow?".  "Yeth!".  I think we're going to be OK.
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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Joining the Workforce

I've always considered unemployment to be terribly underrated.  There's a lot to be said for the slacker lifestyle, and I encourage everyone to give it a try at least once in your life.  Spending our entire adult lives in an endless 9-to-5 pursuit of disposable income and two-week vacations seems an absurd waste of precious time.  I say that after spending a good chunk of my adult life doing just that.  It took many years and two brushes with cancer to finally cut the lines and cast off.  And, even though the past two years included more than a few setbacks, I never thought to myself "I'd rather be working".
But, the vacation can't last forever.  We're not retired and we didn't win the lottery.  Sooner or later, we have to go back to work.  So, back in April, while waiting around for our engine repairs in Mazatlan, I started checking Craigslist and sending out resumes.  Knowing that the software industry in central Oregon is somewhat limited and my two-year-old-high-tech resume is somewhat stale, I didn't have high hopes for finding employment in Bend. 
Apparently our luck isn't all bad, though.  After a few long-distance phone interviews, I managed to land a job with a small software company a few miles from our home and am now gainfully employed once again.  And, I'm actually enjoying it -- building websites, both small and large, for many different organizations around the country.  It's been a real challenge coming up to speed on all the technology changes over the past two years and dusting off the mental cobwebs from my programming past.  But, a two-year vacation is a great way to re-energize a complacent work life.  I highly recommend it.
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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Renting to Junkies

It's funny how a single bad decision can set in motion a domino-like chain of distressing events, leaving an irreversible wake of destruction in it's path.  OK, that statement may be a little melodramatic but it certainly describes how we felt on returning to our house in Bend.

We left our home in October of last year after spending the summer working down a long list of repair and renovation projects.  The idea was to give the old house a makeover in an effort to generate maximum rental income while we were cruising Mexico.  With new paint inside and out, a 6-ft cedar fence, and a landscaped yard the property never looked better.  Then the tenants moved in.

My brother, Denny, agreed to manage the property for us while we were out of the country.  He has two rentals of his own and understands the process.  I put an add in Craigslist and quickly received a few responses.  We met with one particular young woman who was very interested.  She worked as a waitress and was looking for a place to rent with her boyfriend and his cousin, a manager at the Starbucks in downtown Bend.  We liked the woman and the cousin -- they came across as sincere individuals with steady income.  I did a background check on all three using an online tenant screening service which came back clean.  Their combined income was right at the minimum required for a year lease, so they agreed to sign a 6-month lease instead that would be renewed if all rents were paid on time.

Our only hesitation was with the boyfriend.  And, in retrospect, the biggest lesson learned here is to always trust your instinct.  He talked fast and seemed to answer each question by simply saying what we wanted to hear.  My initial reaction was the same as Denny's -- that dude's a tweeker.  We should have tossed out the application right there.

Instead, flawed reasoning overcame better judgment.  It was getting late in the season.  We would be back in Mexico soon and I wanted to have a rental agreement in place before we left.  They had the money to move in and two out of the three seemed like good tenants.  So, we took a chance and gave them the keys.  And, they paid the rent on time...for three months.

By mid-January we were in Mazatlan on Jean Marie dealing with our never-ending engine problem.  I called Denny to find out why there was no deposit for the month's rent.  That's when the drama began to unfold.  Apparently, the boyfriend went off on a drug-induced rage and beat up the girl.  At some point, the cousin attempted to intervene and was slashed across the arm with a large knife.  The wound was so severe it almost severed his arm.  It turns out, the boyfriend already had a felony record  for attempted murder -- an important little nugget of information that I expected to see on the tenant screening report.

So, the boyfriend goes to jail, the girl moves to Arizona to live with her mother, and the cousin remains in the house with a surgically-repaired arm, living on disability checks.  Needless to say, the lease is terminated.

The cousin would like to stay in the house, though, and offers to pay his share for the month and find new roommates to cover the rest.  Our ongoing engine problems require us to spend another season in Mexico and another summer in Oregon.  So, Denny agrees to allow subletting the house for the next three months until we arrive.  Another ad is placed in Craigslist and two guys, who seem normal, pay for the first month and move in.

These two "normal" guys turn out to be heroin users.  The little drama has now become a mini-series.  Over the next three months our house is turned in to a heroin den.  My new tenants refuse to pay rent and refuse to leave.  Denny serves eviction papers and the cousin spends most of his time locked in his room.  A dealer/friend of the two tenants is spending a lot of time at the house which gets the attention of the local Bend police, who are following this guy.

One day in early April Denny goes over to check the property, looks in a bedroom window, and sees a guy with a needle in his arm.  He calls the police and is asked to come to the station, where he soon learns that the cops have been surveilling the house for some time and are planning a raid.  They ask Denny to be patient.  His response is, understandably, less than patient.  By this time, the eviction date has passed and the sheriff's office is scheduled to remove the tenants within a couple days.  So, the drug force, not wanting to miss out on a bust, issue an immediate arrest warrant (apparently by waking a judge in the middle of the night).  Denny gives them the key to the front door and asks that they not damage the property.  What he doesn't know is the tenants have changed the locks.  No, I am not making this up.

So, the next day the Bend police raid our home.  After unsuccessfully trying to use the key, they smash the front door in with a battering ram, handcuff the occupants, and haul them off the jail, confiscating a stash of heroin and an undisclosed amount of cash in the process.  The cousin, fearing for his safety, had already moved out.  End scene!  We finally get our house back, although, not quite in the same condition.

My brother then spent April and May cleaning up the mess.  Walls were repaired and painted, carpets steam cleaned, and the whole house disinfected.  Three interior doors, as well as the front door, were destroyed and the beautiful cedar fence in the back yard was damaged.  Fortunately, our homeowners insurance stepped up and by the time we arrived most of the repairs were done and we were spared the ugly details.  Thanks, bro!

We finally made it to Bend two weeks ago, after enduring an 18-hour bus ride from Guaymas to LA and then hitching a ride with my uncle to Templeton, where we picked up our car.  We then spent the next two weeks visiting our family and friends as we drove north through California and Oregon.  I'm now, once again, working down a list of home repair projects as we settle in for the summer.  I should have the place back in pristine condition by the end of the month, and ready for new tenants again.  This time we may go with a management company.
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Saturday, June 8, 2013


We are now enjoying an air-conditioned hotel room in the working port city of Guaymas.  After a week and a half living in a hot and dusty boat yard this place seems like a resort.  Mostly we're just happy to have access to a working shower and mosquito-free bathroom.  It's getting hotter every day now.  But, as sweltering as it seems, we realize it's just beginning to heat up here.  The next few months will be intolerable, at least to gringos like us, which is why we've been working hard to get the boat put away and get back to the U.S. and more moderate temps.  I'm hoping Jean Marie survives with little or no ill-effects.

"Why would anyone leave their boat in a sun-baked desert in northern Mexico?", would be a reasonable question to ask.  For us, however, there are a few compelling reasons to do this.  The first being hurricane danger, the second being cost, and the third being access to the Sea of Cortez.

San Carlos and Guaymas are the primary locations for cruisers who want to leave their boats in Mexico and avoid the hurricane zone further south.  Most boats travel up through the Sea of Cortez in the spring to put their boats in dry storage for the summer.  A few courageous sailors brave the heat and spend the summer on the boat, but most take a bus north to Tucson or Phoenix and fly home to wait for the fall before returning.

And, the cost of dry storage here is significantly less than leaving the boat in a marina in Mazatlan or Puerto Vallarta or even Barra, where Jean Marie spent last summer.  We can park the boat here in a dry and dusty yard for about a quarter of the cost of a marina slip.

But, the best part is that we can sail down through the Sea of Cortez in the fall and finally spend some time checking out the anchorages we've been trying to get to for the past two years now, which is the main justification for enduring life in a dirty boat yard and June temps.

At this point the boat is all buttoned up and covered in tarps.  We spent nearly two weeks getting her cleaned up and put away for the summer and then moved in to our current digs in town.  Tomorrow we'll embark on a long bus ride to LA where we'll hitch a ride with my uncle for the rest of our journey to central California.  From there we'll be driving up through California and Oregon to our house in Bend, where I plan to catch up on a lot of sleep.

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Saturday, May 18, 2013

San Carlos

Yes, the rumors are true.  We are no longer working on our engine in Mazatlan.  We are now working on our engine in San Carlos.  At least the scenery has changed.

To be fair to Total Yacht Works, our engine is running great and we motored most of the 400-plus miles up the coast to San Carlos without any mechanical-related issues.  The problem we're facing now is with the charging system.  After five months of inactivity our regulator and/or battery combiner has decided to pack it in.  Or, it could be a wire running through the engine compartment was pulled the wrong way or simply shorted out after 30 years of service.  Whatever the cause, it needs attention if we want to preserve our batteries.  So, that's what I'll be working on over the next few days.

But, a little charging problem can't overshadow the fact that we have our engine back and are on the move again.   We said goodbye to our friends on Katie G and Bangorang on Sunday as we pulled away from the dock in Mazatlan for the last time.  We felt an overdue sense of liberation as we motored out the channel and set the sails for the first time in months.  A steady westerly breeze filled in and we managed to sail the entire afternoon in company with our friends on Cricket.  The wind faded with the light so we fired up the diesel and motor-sailed under a brilliant clear night sky.

By Tuesday we were weaving our way through the long winding channel to the little working town of Topolobampo where we planned to fill the fuel tank and hit the mercado.  The channel runs through a breaking reef, across a large shallow bay, to the edge of town where a couple new marinas are now operating.  We only managed to run aground once on the way in.  Luckily for us we hit soft mud and not any hard pointy things.  Colin found this to be a hilarious event and burst out in uncontrollable laughter when the boat came to an abrupt halt.  The captain was somewhat less amused.

A couple days in Topolobampo was enough for us so we motored back out the channel on Thursday with our friends on Dream Catcher just ahead and turned north again for another two-day sail to San Carlos under glorious sunny skies.  We discovered along the way that we needed to spend this time learning to sail again.  The rust had set in on our sailing skills after so many months of sitting in a marina and it took a few days to knock it loose.  After some time, though, we began to find a rhythm and adjust to the motion of a passage.  I even managed to catch a Dorado, my first one since sailing down last year.  Fish tacos for dinner.

This morning we sailed in to the anchorage in San Carlos where we plan to spend a few days before moving to Guaymas where we'll haul the boat out and store it for the summer.  It's tempting to linger here a little longer to check out the inviting anchorages along the coast.  But, home is calling and we're looking forward to seeing family and friends in the States again.  The Sea of Cortez will have to wait for the fall.  It seems the season has come to an end for us just as it was getting started.
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