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cruising prep

Interview With a Cruiser Project: our turn!

The Johnson Family 2017

I must interrupt my blogging sabbatical to bring you some exciting news! When our friend Livia Gilstrap of The Interview With a Cruiser Project asked us if we’d like to answer a few questions we said HELL YES. Michael and I have been getting ready for, actively cruising, or recovering from since 1999 and we’ve formed a few thoughts and opinions in that time. Head over to the site to read our interview. And if you do, you’ll find out what exactly it is we’re doing in the photo above.

Ready for the big old Pacific Ocean

Our friend and crewmember Matt, along with his wife Kristin, arrived in La Paz last weekend. This means several things: (1) the cockpit finally got cleaned out so they have a place to sleep, (2) the girls adore them both which has left Michael and I more time to prepare for the crossing, and (3) it’s nearly time for us to start our life-changing passage across the Pacific Ocean.

Kristin and Matt, our crew

Kristin will travel with us over the next week to San Jose del Cabo where we will check out of Mexico, complete a run to Costco, and load up our fresh produce. Matt will stay onboard with us for the next 2700 or so nautical miles to Hiva Oa. Having our friend along will be an enormous help, as each of us will take only one 4-hour watch at night, allowing us to get at least 8 hours of sleep a day for ample energy to cook, sail and take care of and enjoy time with our girls. Matt also likes to cook, splice and he is a much better fisherman than we are so we plan to put his skills to use. He is also hilarious and we already enjoy his (and Kristin’s) fresh company onboard.

Yesterday afternoon we motored out of La Paz in calm waters. We’d had a slip at the dock for the past two weeks while we got the boat ready and piled on six heaping grocery cartloads of food. It was quite like the day we left Olympia over eight months ago; we knew we were ready to go but kept feeling like we’d forgotten something, along with the knowing that we were starting out on something really really big. Our friends on Del Viento tossed our docklines onboard and I was torn between the sadness of not wanting to leave our good friends who we shared so many fantastic times with over the past few months and the excitement of us each going off on our own adventures and meeting up to share our stories in another year or two.

A few packages awaited us at our friends’ home in San Diego

We are now anchored one last time at Bahia San Gabriel at Isla Espiritu Santo showing our friends one of our favorite beaches ever. There are a few things remaining on our list of things to do before we step off the continent but today we are enjoying the chance to wind down after a truly whirlwind last three weeks of final preparations. At the end of February, we flew to San Diego for the weekend to pick up a number of items we didn’t trust to ship across the border (i.e. a new autopilot, our repaired HAM radio as well as a used spare purchased on ebay, a New Found Metals portlight to install at the end of our bed which opens into the cockpit, South Pacific guidebooks and charts, and most importantly: pounds and pounds of Trader Joes dark chocolate).

Back in La Paz we checked the boat over from top to bottom, installed the new autopilot and portlight, fixed loose stitches on our sails, got dental cleanings, fillings, a crown, and an eye exam, enjoyed five crazy days of Carnaval, filled the propane and dive tanks, went to meetings with the other La Paz Puddle Jumpers, helped with the girls’ bake sale for Baja Dogs, picked up more clean, dried and folded laundry, shopped for, piled on and stowed food, food, and more food, paper towels, toilet paper and sunscreen.

Even so, we definitely found ourselves on Mexican time: by 5 pm every day we’d wrap up our work, go and find Leah who was off playing with her girlfriends, and meander down the malecon to our favorite beach restaurant. Here, the margaritas were excellent and, more importantly, had an impressive playground right in the sand for the kids to run around in while their parents unwound.

It was sitting here two nights ago that I realized how truly much we are going to miss warm, easy Mexico. We’ll be back. But for now the Pacific is calling and we’re on our way.

Stella’s in La Paz: a restuarant in Mexico that serves amazing Italian food and wicked margaritas, complete with a playground on the beach. It does not get any better than this.

Leah and Frances, being 6. Leah is going to miss her good friend and so are we.

It took me three days to stow six grocery carts of food. And we haven’t even been to Costco yet.

Two Months.

how we hope to spend next week

We left Olympia two months ago today. In some ways it seems like we left E dock yesterday, but the heavy weight of our buckets of memories makes it feel like years ago.

Our friend and crewmember Garth will join us on Friday. If the weather forecast is still clear we will sail due south from Ucluelet towards San Francisco. Our plan is to stick to the inshore route, that is, 10-20 miles off the coast. This area typically has lighter winds although we will have to contend with more shipping traffic and possibly more fog. However should the forecast turn unfavorable we can easily stop in Grays Harbor, Newport, Coos Bay, Crescent City, Eureka.

We’re extremely grateful that we decided to sail down the west coast of Vancouver Island after all; the trip has given the girls and us valuable experience sailing in ocean swells and much greater confidence in sailing together as a family. It’s going to be a whole different ballgame sailing 24/7 for six or seven or eight days straight though without the chance to stretch our legs. I’m thinking it will be like our other long days off the coast have been with lots of naps and much of my time just spent preparing food and cleaning up the aftermath of meals. And hanging on.

For weeks I’ve been quite nervous about our upcoming passage, to the point where I’d be nearly shaking with anxious chills. This is my third trip down this coast and I know how ugly it can get out there. But as the time to depart has come closer I (we) have gotten more and more excited about simply being in California and all the new and old friends we are anxious to meet up with. Weather forecasting has gotten a lot better in the past 10 years and we’ve certainly gotten better at reading it. And after navigating around all these treacherous rocks and islets off Vancouver Island the past few weeks I’m truly looking forward to being out in clear open water for a while.

It’s been becoming more and more of a struggle to stay focused on the present, to savor these last days in the Northwest. At least five times an hour I think of the upcoming trip and what’s on our to-do list before we depart on Saturday and get a little shiver of nervousness and a flutter of excitement about the long glorious hours of sailing ahead and our landfall in an entirely new landscape.

So, today, two months after leaving in Olympia, we pulled back into Ucluelet which is our last Canadian port. We’ll do laundry again, buy some provisions, sew up some leecloths for the girl’s bunks, inspect the rigging, restock our ditch bag, button up down below, and head to the playground in town a few more times. The shakedown is over, now it’s time to sail.

Countdown to cruising: 1 day to go

That’s it. Our final full day in town is done. Last items have been put into our 5’x5′ storage unit, trip to Trader Joes complete (I had no idea you could even haul $400 worth of food in one of those tiny carts! Must be all the chocolate I stocked up on). We also picked up a netbook to use for navigation so our main laptop won’t have to carry all the computing duties. Leah and I got haircuts, we visited some treasured friends in our old neighborhood, made one last trip to West Marine, hauled home a 15 lb. bag of cat food (that should last our 8 lb. cat a while at least), ran through the car wash, unloaded the car one last time, delivered our dear old Subaru to her new owner, visited with some dock neighbors, tucked our exhausted girls into bed, and I headed out for one final Mom’s Night Out at our favorite pub.

I came home to this:

I’ll get on it in the morning.

Countdown to cruising: 2 days to go

Today was provisioning day (well, provisioning day #1 since it continues tomorrow too). Completed today were my trips to Fred Meyer and Costco. Tomorrow I hit Trader Joes for all our true favorites. We are expecting food up on Vancouver Island to carry a hefty price tag since it’s 1. an island and 2. the exchange rate is pretty poor right now for us Americans. While I know that we’ll be gathering fresh bits here and there I am trying to fit as much as I can on the boat now since it’s so much cheaper to buy it down here.

I’m not a meal planning type of person, and my strategy is simply to stock up on the things we use normally that are easily stored onboard: diced tomatoes, onions, beans, ground turkey, tofu, oatmeal, soy milk, cornmeal, Cholula hot sauce, white and wheat flour, white and brown sugar, rice, dried fruit, nuts, pasta sauces, ramen noodles, coffee, Good Earth tea, and of course, Annie’s Mac & Cheese. And on and on.

Earlier today, I was on hour three, or maybe four, and pushing a 500 lb. cart past the pasta sauces in Costco when fatigue really started to set in. I thought: I don’t think I’m going to make it to the checkout counter. But then I remembered what I was doing: I wasn’t just grocery shopping. I was provisioning. As in, we are leaving with this food (unlikely put away yet) in two days on the trip we’ve been dreaming about for years and years. The cart felt a lot lighter after that illumination.

Countdown to cruising: 3 days to go

We spent today not doing a lick of work, but rather saying see-you-later to many family and friends who stopped by our dock to say hello and tour our little home. It was a good day for sure.

Countdown to cruising: 4 days to go

A few months ago I came across the blog of another family of four getting ready to go cruising. Like us, they have two daughters less than three years apart in age. Like us, they are planning on cruising their sailboat in Mexico this winter. Not only that, the parents also cruised as a couple in Mexico before their kids were born as we did. Always excited to keep tabs on other soon-to-be-cruising families I bookmarked their blog to keep up on their pre-departure activities. We soon had “met” online and were looking forward to possibly meeting up in Mexico this winter.

However, this family is getting their boat to Mexico a little differently than we are: it’s already there. A really good idea, I’m thinking at this point in time. Not only that, they had lived in Washington D.C. for the past 10 years or so. In order to get to their boat, they sold just about everything they owned, including their house, packed everything up in a small trailer pulled by their Ford Escort wagon and have been traveling for the past month cross country, visiting friends and family on their way westward, and then southward, as they get closer to their new floating home.

When I read that they would be passing through Washington, I got in touch and told them we’d love to have them stop by if it was in the cards. Indeed it was; yesterday they emailed that they would be passing through Olympia today and so we made plans to have them visit us onboard Wondertime.

This is what we love about cruising folks: just minutes after we’d invited this delightful family aboard we were all, adults and kids alike, talking like old friends. Leah gave their girls a tour of our boat as they were a little mystified by what life afloat is like. I think they like it because all four girls were busy playing right away with squeals of joy floating up from below.

After only two hours or so of getting to know each other, Leah and Frances especially (both 5-and-a-HALF) were fast friends. When it was time for the Del Viento crew to hit the road again, they reluctantly hugged each other good-bye.

“See you in Mexico!” the girls called out to each other as our new friends drove away.

Countdown to cruising: 5 days to go

It’s 12:30 am and we are about to drop into bed. But first, a few things we’ve learned today:

  • when you are too exhausted to cook, you can bake a store-bought pizza in a tiny boat oven provided it’s cut in half
  • just because you give Visio drawing of mast tangs you need made to a local metal shop doesn’t mean that they are actually going to make your parts to match said drawings
  • don’t go to Costco on payday Friday
  • when word gets out that you are getting rid of loads of junk as it can’t all possibly fit on your boat, your neighbors will start hanging around chit chatting a lot more (“Hey, you taking that with you?”)
  • but we don’t mind, giving away free stuff is just as fun as ever.

Countdown to cruising: 6 days to go


Where's the baby?

P.S. Our family was featured today in Three Sheets Northwest Cruising Class of 2011 series. Check it out for a great writeup by Deborah Bach of how we got where we are today!


Countdown to cruising: 7 days to go

Yesterday, Leah began cutting strips of paper (orange, “because the Mexican flag has orange in it”). She asked for a hole punch and some ribbon to string them on. I asked her what she was making and she told me:

“Departure flags. No, wait: friendship flags.”

I’ve asked her how she feels about leaving Olympia next week. Is she excited? A little sad? Leah just shrugs. She is unable to put into words how she feels about what is ahead, and what we are leaving behind. So she creates.

I know how she feels. I am excited. And a little sad too. Along with all the busyness of getting ready, it’s an incredibly emotional time. For our children, this is the biggest change they’ve had to face so far. For Michael and I, well, it’s certainly up there with our biggest too. We are all feeling the enormity of it in our own ways. Tension runs high between all of us. The sibling bickering has reached epic levels. Then five minutes later laughing fits erupt. Then someone falls down and the crying starts. And on and on.

After Leah strung up her bright orange friendship flags, we hung them across the cabin. She ended up with so many that they have barely an inch between them. A fitting reminder of how many good friends both in Olympia and all over the Northwest we have made here over the years, not to mention so many treasured family members. We’ve been so excited about our upcoming trip that it hasn’t fully hit until now what we are going to have to give up to make the journey. It’s a lot, really.