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Wondertime Visits Isla Isabel

Blue-footed Booby Birds (photo by Leah)

After nearly five weeks in Banderas Bay we’ve been craving some island time. Badly. So we pointed our bow north to one of our very favorite islands of all time, Isla Isabel, which lies about 18 miles west of the mainland coast, 90 miles or so south of Mazatlan. The weather forecast was perfect for a visit (10  knots or less of wind) since the anchorages are completely exposed and the bottom so rocky that the anchor’s grip on it is tenuous at best. We dropped our Rocna just south of the Los Monas rock sculptures on the east side of the island and it seemed to hold on the edge of a steep shelf that drops back into the sea.

Isla Isabel is home to millions of nesting birds, mainly blue-footed boobies and frigatebirds. Other than visiting yacht crews, the occasional motivated traveller, a handful of fishermen and research students, the island is relatively free from human intervention. As the birds have no predators on the island they are comfortable to nest literally anywhere and everywhere on the 2-mile square ex-volcano.

Leah, being a lover of both birds and wild islands, was enamored with the place. “I call this ‘Bird Island’!” she declared soon after setting off down the trail. She does not exaggerate: you literally have to watch your step at all times as you tiptoe amongst literally thousands and thousands of booby birds nesting right on the ground. It’s hard not to get too close and sometimes they are frightened off, squawking and waddling, leaving their two dusty blue eggs alone in their nests of dirt until they return a few minutes later, the coast clear.

Then you walk down paths through low shrubby trees that are finally clear of whistling boobies. Until you hear the cackling overhead that is the frigatebirds. You peer through the leaves and there they are, right above, in nests precariously balanced in the branches just a few feet over your head. The males have enormous red throat pouches that they inflate to impress a female; if she likes what she sees she caresses it deeply with her beak, and then her whole head. Suddenly you feel like a voyeur and continue walking, being careful now to not step on the large green iguanas that are lying in the grass in the sun.

It is the wild places we tiptoe through like Isla Isabel, places still owned by nature, that we observe with grateful eyes and we’ll always remember and hope our girls do too. I’m pretty sure Bird Island won’t be forgotten.

La Cruz: Where the Kids Are

We have been in La Cruz in Banderas Bay for nearly four weeks now. We had planned to leave a week ago — no matter what — with the goal to be in Barra de Navidad for Christmas (naturally!). But then the kids began to gather. There were four other kid boats here when we arrived, more than we’d encountered in one spot this past six months of cruising. Now, five days before Christmas there are at least 10 boats with kids onboard with more on the way.

So, we’ve stayed here in La Cruz so the girls can savor some major kid-time. Which gives their parents time to mingle with other sailing parents and chat about the challenges and thrills of cruising with little people. And, ahem, enjoy a cold happy hour margarita while our young crews play tag in the grass. We’ve known that cruisers are a tight bunch and friendships form quickly, especially in a foreign place. But we’ve also found here that cruising parents are attracted to each other just as quickly as our kids are. Maybe it’s because we all know how to eat quickly and understand each others stories even though it’s only every fourth sentence that gets finished.

While Holly is the youngest of the bunch she doesn’t mind tagging along with her big sister one bit. Leah currently has two other girlfriends with birthdays within weeks of hers and is in heaven. We’ve recognized the importance of just staying still for a while and letting Leah nuture her friendships. For nearly five months it felt like we were constantly on the move and it’s been nice to stop here for a bit and nurture our own as well. And to finally have time to simply let the kids run with their friends and just be kids, with games of tag, sleepovers, playing in the water. It’s like a Christmas summer camp here and it’s marvelous.

The La Cruz Kids Club (yes, it's really an official club!) holds a bake/book/smoothie sale at the cruiser's swap meet

Leah and Frances hold a swap meet of their own out of dock box treasures

Time for a little preschool, kindergarten and second grade in the (air conditioned!) La Cruz marina lounge

The sailing kids of La Cruz decorated a tree for the marina lounge

La Cruz Kids Club heads to the grass to play "What time is it, Mr. Fox?"


Boatschool Kindergarten

When we landed in Sausalito last month after our trip down the coast and I logged onto Facebook for the first time in many days I was bombarded with all the adorable photos of our friends’ children’s first days of school. It hit me that Leah was officially a kindergartener herself and I should probably get busy with a little schooling. I felt a little sad that I won’t ever be dressing Leah up in her new kindergarten outfit and sending her off to her first day of school with tears in my eyes. Although she doesn’t know how to put it in words, I think Leah knows she is missing out on some things too and remembers all the good times she had at our wonderful Coop preschool in Olympia. When I mention school at all, she crosses her arms and closes her eyes, her way of saying she just doesn’t want to talk about it. But the other day, I overheard her telling another adult proudly “I am homeschooled!” when she was asked about where she went to school. With a field trip just about every day, I think she sees the countless advantages of our boatschool kindergarten too.

A little geography and oceanography at the (free!) San Francisco Bay Model in Sausalito

Experiencing other cultures (Dim Sum in Chinatown)

Art appreciation in Sausalito

Marine biology at Monterey Bay Aquarium

Seatwork aboard

Recess, Santa Cruz style

Swimming on the Sunshine Coast (Garden Bay, Pender Harbour)

P.S. Loads of photos just uploaded to our Flickr account!

A cruising kid’s dream anchorage

While Holly was napping today Michael, Leah and I were enjoying the afternoon sun in the cockpit. Michael was spying around our anchorage here in Cadboro Bay with the binoculars. He stops his scanning suddenly in the far end of the bay.

“A playground!”

The dinghy is launched and when Holly is up a shoreside excursion commences.

The girls of s/v Wondertime rate Cadboro anchorage as one of the best ever.

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: 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.

Interview with a (soon to be) cruiser: Leah

In case you haven’t seen the Interview With a Cruiser Project website do head over there (after reading this post of course!) and check it out. Livia of Estrellita 5.10b maintains this collection of interviews with cruisers who have/had been out there for at least two years with a new interview posted each Monday. It is fascinating; what strikes me is how differently we all do the same thing.

Another family, currently on the east coast but setting out any day on a looong drive to their new-to-them boat Del Viento down south  in Mexico, posted a couple of interviews with their soon-to-be-cruising two daughters. To add to the little collection of soon-to-be-cruiser interviews, here’s Leah’s take on our whole endeavor:

How old are you?


What is the name of your boat?


What are you going to be doing this summer?


What is your favorite part about living on a boat?

Looking for sea creatures.

What is your favorite thing to do on the boat?

Playing horse!

Is there anything you are afraid of about being on the boat?

The dark.

What don’t you like about living on the boat?

There’s nothing I don’t like.

What are you going to do when we get to Mexico?

I would like to go ashore and look for sea creatures. But I don’t know because I haven’t been there yet.

What is school going to be like next year?

I don’t know.

What are some of the rules that you need to follow on the boat?

Don’t go on the deck without a life jacket. No playing on the steps!

What is your room like?

Lots of stuffed animals. And anchor chain.

What will you do when you are bored?

Play with My Little Ponies.

What are you most excited about traveling on the boat?


The Ship’s Cat

Over 12 years ago, Michael and I were spending a Saturday morning browsing the cat department of the Seattle Animal Shelter (always a dangerous thing to do) when this small, brown and white tabby striped kitten reached her little snowy paw out of her cage, hooked Michael’s arm with her delicate claws, looked up at him and mewed.

We named our new cat Xena and she settled into our small Fremont apartment rather well, joining our other cat Precious (who was not entirely thrilled about the new family member but soon grew fond of her anyway). Our small warrior cat proved to be quite the adventurer: we would find her clinging to the tops of doors on a regular basis and she could leap nearly five feet into the air to catch a toy birdie.

So when a few months later we moved aboard our first boat, Jenny P, Xena was in cat heaven. She took to boat life right away, loving all the fresh sea air, bird watching, cozy spots to snuggle into and nap, soaking up the rays of sun on deck, and plenty of leaping and climbing. Sure, we’ve lost her a few times (like when she ran off the night before we left for Alaska and we finally found her the next morning three docks away) and she’s gone overboard too many times to count. I’m pretty sure Xena is living her current life on credit but she’s still here with us, now aboard Wondertime and no doubt looking forward to adding more stamps to her passport.

On the other hand, we have not been so sure. Having a cat on board, and a geriatric insanely talkative one at that, is a lot more work than, well, not. You throw in two small children and you pretty much have the potential for mind-reeling chaos at any moment. There is cat litter, food, shots, vet visits to deal with. Hairballs. Yowling. There is being awakened at 5 am by a whirling snarling hissing sound up on deck, which is what happens when the neighbor cat down the dock tries to sneak aboard and Xena finds out. When we are sailing, Xena insists, without fail, that she be sitting upon a human’s lap. She is growing more and more nervous in her old age, taking to pacing the boat, yoooooowling. My pillow is her favorite place to sleep but it’s also her favorite place to clean her butt. She has invented this game which she must call Travel Around the Boat Without Stepping Upon the Floor (basically leaping from table to counter top to stairs and back again) but she is just not as agile as she once was and there are claw marks everywhere where she has tried to save herself from, gasp, touching the floor.

Besides the day to day annoyances of having a boat cat, there is also the question of what we’ll do with her when we want to travel inland in Mexico and elsewhere. It would sure be nice to not have to worry about procuring a catsitter. If she is still around when we sail to New Zealand, we are just not convinced it’s worth paying the thousands of dollars it currently costs to import a foreign cat — and likely a 15 year-old one — onto Kiwi soil.

A month or so ago we made the final decision, after hemming and hawing for months, that this time we’d be sailing cat-free. We had started talking with some friends and family members and had a couple possibilities for a nice quiet place for Xena to stay to live out her senior years. It really was the sanest, best decision.

Then just a few days ago, the girls and I were walking down the dock back to the boat after an outing. Xena came running out to meet us and started rolling at our feet on the dock in greeting. Holly leaned down to give her a hug, and in her adorable 2-1/2 year-old voice said: “I love you Xena!”

My heart darn near burst.

Well, that’s it then. We are suckers for our furry friends as always and as inconvenient as having feline crew is, Xena is part of our family and our girls simply adore her and Xena adores them. We can’t imagine not having her along. She’d be pretty upset if she found out we were heading for the sun, anyway. Mexico was always her favorite country.