Feliz Año Nuevo (Happy New Year) from La Paz, the capital city of the Mexican state of Baja California Sur! We left San Diego, California on November 22nd with Aaron’s dad, Jim Stagg, and our 10-year-old grandson, Cody Wood, and our Chiweenie, Tiki, and arrived in San Jose del Cabo on Mon., December 5th. It was more often a rough ride than not, but was also filled with memories that we all will treasure forever. (More details in a future post.)
From San Jose del Cabo, Aaron and I headed north, up the Sea of Cortez, arriving at La Paz on Fri., December 23rd. The journey held unexpected delays due to weather and we were both a bit shell-shocked from transitioning to this new lifestyle. It’s not all rainbows and sunshine, but also a lot of work to get to where you want to go!
We have a berth in Marina de La Paz until the end of March. Berths are difficult to attain in the winter and there are long waiting lists at all marinas. We had been on a waiting list for over six months and got lucky when someone cancelled. Otherwise, we would be at anchor in Bahia La Paz and having to dinghy to and from shore and deal with making water and electricity. We won’t be in the marina the entire time, but will use it as our home base as we explore the nearby islands and anchorages and hopefully entice our family and friends to come for a visit.
We’ve come to realize that we are not quite ready to completely let go of the ties to land and commit to being full-time sea gypsies just yet! Going with the flow (and winds and waves) is the motto of cruisers, and this is what feels good to us at this point in our new lifestyle.
So, now that we’re stable for a few months and I have the time and internet connection to write, I’ll go back to the beginning of this journey and share some of the highlights and challenges in detail.
Before we cut the docklines at Marina Village Yacht Harbor in Alameda, California, on October 10th, 2022, we had a TON of preparation to do to become self-sufficient. Being a live-aboard in a marina is a far cry from living at sea and anchor.
Here is a sample of the projects that had to be accomplished for us to be safe and comfortable before leaving the dock (in no particular order):
- Installing an auto pilot that drives the boat so we don’t have to hand-steer for hours on end and sometimes 24/7 when we are doing long overnight passages. This was a huge project but so worth it. Thanks to Mike Scheck and Scanmar International for the awesome product and personal help! It has made our journey very comfortable and enjoyable.
- Installing solar panels to generate electricity. It’s quite shocking how much electricity is needed to power electronics, the stove, the fridge and freezer, etc. We can also run our engine to charge the batteries, but that uses fuel (and is noisy), and we have to make sure that we have enough diesel to get us from port to port.
- Installing a Spectra watermaker to convert salt water to fresh water via reverse osmosis. This allows us to make as much freshwater as needed for cooking, drinking, cleaning and showering, a convenience that landlubbers take for granted. Our dear friends from Fundango, Scott & Joanne, visited us from Mexico and spent two solid days setting us up.
- Installing all new electronics: GPS (similar to a car’s system), AIS (for tracking and identifying vessel traffic), radar (for identifying objects in the dark), depth and wind indicators, and Starlink (Elon Musk’s WiFi satellite). The old radar was taken down from midway up the mast (and was the size of child’s plastic pool) and a new, compact one was installed by Scott and Aaron.
- Inspecting and tuning the rigging and installing a new tri-light at the mast for night travel so other vessels can see us. Thanks to Ryan with Rogue Rigging for doing the initial work on Sonho 12 years ago when we bought her and giving her a tune-up before we headed south, and to Ian Ferguson for going up our stick twice to do the installation.
- Re-rigging the mainsheet from a cockpit traveler system to mid-boom. Another multi-day project that was designed and installed by Aaron and his dad, Jim. This was essential to our ability to sail with the enclosure in place and also had made it safer for us to double-hand.
- Inspecting and tuning the engine (which ended up being a very big deal as the brand new engine that was installed eight years ago was not done with ocean-going parts). Massive kudos to Eric Mashbir and Patrick of Mashbir Marine Engine Services for working magic in a very short timeframe. (Also, thanks to Ryan Steele for referring us!) This was an incredibly stressful time for us as when the engine was being worked on, the entire floor had to be opened up for access, which meant we had to be off the boat and nothing else could be done. But it is absolutely essential to have a reliable engine as the wind doesn’t always blow hard enough (and sometimes too hard) or in the direction you need to go.
- Installing an electronic windlass so we don’t have to hand-set and raise the anchor. Since we will be spending a great deal of our time at anchor, this is another essential element of boat life. Aaron and his dad spent hours pulling out the massive manual windlass, fitting the new one and running the wiring, dragging the chain onto the dock and color coding the lengths in 50 ft increments, then taking it in and out, and in and out, and in and out, of the anchor lockers to figure out how to make it lay correctly without heaping up and jamming. Since setting and weighing anchor from the bow is my job, I appreciate the care they took to make it work effortlessly! Aaron still wasn’t pleased with our old anchor chain, so while we were in San Diego, he pulled out the old chain, bought new, painted the lengths and re-installed it. A very tough job to do alone!
- Repairing our shaft/stuffing box/cutlass. This was an unexpected repair that we discovered as we entered San Diego harbor after hundreds of miles on the ocean. I’ll go into more detail in a future post, but suffice to say that if we had not found and fixed this problem, we could have sunk. Sun Coast Marine Services performed the repairs professionally and on a very fast track to get us on our way to Mexico and we are extremely grateful.
- Installing a stand-alone freezer. Living at the marina, I shopped two or three times a week with easy access to stores so we didn’t have a freezer. We’ll need to be able to provision for a week or more when on long passages or in anchorages/ports with no stores so the ability to freeze food will extend our menus beyond canned and boxed items.
- Installing a macerator (basically a garbage disposal for human waste) to grind and pump overboard on ocean passages. Aaron also installed a brand new head and hoses, which is a crappy job. LOL! Our waste goes into holding tanks when we are in anchorages/ports and then we empty when we are at sea. Yes, this is legal. And for those worrying that we are filling the ocean with poop, go ahead and Google what a single whale poop looks like!!! Our waste is literally a drop in the ocean.
- Fixing the shower, which had developed a leak in the shower pan. This included a complete redesign of the system, installation of Corian around the head, on the floor and a wall, and moving the waterheater to under our bunk (adjacent to the head), creating more space, and carefully sealing all joints and the pan.
- Removing our dinghy dock (which was custom made for our slip) and finding new homes for the “toys” we stored there and all the stuff in our dockboxes (three of them!). We couldn’t have done this without the help of Barney Brickner. He poured out sweat and love to man-handle multiple dockcart loads and then adopted our Walker Bay sailing dinghy.
- Reorganizing every single inch of space in the boat. Every item we owned was touched, assessed of it’s use and then decided if it would stay or go and put in a space based on how often it would be used. I created an inventory so we don’t forget where I put what! (It’s actually quite amazing how much storage this 42 ft boat has … enough for 32 pairs of my favorite shoes as well as lots and lots of stuff that I jut couldn’t bear to live without!) I also bought and stored items that we particularly love and were ‘t sure if we could get in Mexico (organic cleaners, personal care items, etc.).
- Finding stowage for extra parts and stuff that we’d normally keep in our storage loft but needed to take (all of our holiday décor, spare foulies, our sewing machine, lots of wine, dog food, snorkels and fins, etc.).
- Having new interior upholstery and cockpit cushions made (for the first time). Special thanks to my dear friend, Kimberly Reyes of Kimberly Reyes Interiors, for the exceptional design and fabric help, and to Gina of Sew Far, Sew Good, for the beautiful handiwork.
- Paperwork! Holy cow, there is a ton of paperwork that’s involved in living away from land: change of address to dad’s house, cancellation of services not needed (cable, subscriptions, etc.), and so many forms to fill out before entering Mexico. We had to ensure that our USCG Certificate of Documentation was up to date (it wasn’t, which was a total fiasco that was handled with great care by Jason Davis of Vessel Documentation Service in Plymouth, MA), then apply for a Temporary Import Permit (TIP) that allows us to have our vessel in Mexican waters for 10 years. We also were required to have Mexican liability insurance in addition to our regular coverage. Then there was fishing licenses for each person on board (whether they fish or not).
- I’m sure I’m missing something, but this should give you a decent idea of what we needed to do before leaving. I’m exhausted just reading back over what seemed like an insurmountable project at the time.
We started a good portion of this long list in the summer of 2022, ordering the products to be installed and starting the paperwork, but Aaron didn’t really get into the thick of things until he retired in mid-August and recovered from his second bout of Covid. We ended up cramming about a year of projects into six weeks, put our marriage to the test, and basically left with our hair on fire, but leave we did on October 10th.
Next up: Taking the first bite of the fruits of our labors. Our journey from Alameda, California to Catalina Island, California.