The following pages chronicle the journey of the sailing vessel Pelagic and her crew. We are a family of 5; Michael, Amy, Zander, Porter and Anakena, taking our 42' Hallberg Rassy as far as we can comfortably go in three years. We left Oregon in September 2014, participated in the 2014 Baja Haha, continued on through the Panama Canal, into the Caribbean, up the coast of the US to Maritime Canada and from there crossed the Atlantic. After an arrival in Ireland we toured Scotland, then sailed down to France, Portugal and on to Morocco. In January of 2016 we slowed down considerably and enrolled the kids in a local Spanish school in Sanlucar de Guadiana for a few months. In the spring of 2016 we crossed the Atlantic towards the Caribbean. We are now in the Pacific, officially on our way home, albeit via a very circuitous path. We are currently in French Polynesia and looking at weather windows to Hawaii before finally making landfall back in the Pacific Northwest.

Currently our exact location is not available. Our spot coverage will pick us back up in Hawaii towards the end of May, 2017.

Our favorite sailing quote:

"If anythings gonna happen, it's gonna happen out there boss!" Captain Ron

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

San Blas, more of the same, December 1

As we move our way west along the coast of Panama, we continue to move within Kuna Yala land. All the while we learn more and more about the Kuna, trying to appreciate their cultural complexities and try stay within their laws (which are numerous and ever changing). Historically the Kuna's have been a matrilineal society with women controlling who they marry and the money, but today when we ask permission to anchor near a village, we have to visit the male chief. I mentioned that coconuts are Kuna currency and that is still true today. They trade the Colombian traders for a few dollars, but from what we saw, they are mostly a subsistence society and probably don't have a need for much money. Interestingly, the Kuna traditional dress includes a gold hoop through the women's nose and often gold earrings. The rivers in this area of Panama are known to have gold, but the Kuna, by self-imposed rule, do not pan for gold, but instead use their earnings to buy gold in Colon or Panama city. They recognize that every time, in the past, Kuna's have dealt with miners it has ended badly fom them and they deem it (mining) an evil process. They recognize the greed and corruption that is often associated with mining and have the self control to avoid it entirely. Some of the villages have water towers and have water piped from the mainland (usually less then 400 meters from the island), but those near rivers often do not. In the far eastern island we were not allowed to explore on the mainland, but further west we have been permitted. Locals go up river to collect water, wash clothes and bathe. In a few areas we've been permitted to do the same and it is a luxury to swim in fresh water.

Also, the further West we go, the more sailboats there are and the less traditional the villages and villagers are. We only saw one other sailboat for the first 2 weeks of our stay in the eastern section of the Comarca (Kuna waters) and now we are in an area where it is unlikely we will get another anchorage to ourselves. The Kuna embrace tourism, but very much on their own terms. They have rejected any mass tourism that the Panamanian Government has proposed in the past. Instead, they allow some camping on their islands and a few of the islands host small hostels (hammocks hung in a thatched hut). In the less traditional villages of the West many of the boats have outboards and a handful of people service the sailboats, bringing them petrol, fruit and goods from the closest village. Things have changed quite substantially in the Western islands from the time we were here in 2002, but the Eastern island have retained most of their indigenous culture.

Another new thing since our last visit is that the Western islands can now be reached by road from Panama city. It takes up to 8 hours by four wheel drive in the rainy season, but goods and people move back and forth now. As usual we have provisioned for a nuclear holocaust, but there are a few villages with small shops carrying some dry goods, if we were to run low. We are out of fresh fruit, so it has been nice to get a few pineapples and bananas here and there.

Now that we aren't spending as much time in the villages (they aren't nearly as charming in the western islands), we keep ourselves busy snorkeling, beach combing, fishing and exploring by dinghy. Our mornings are still taken up with home-schooling and boat chores, but our afternoons are usually free. While there are villages on many of the larger islands throughout the Comarca, there also many uninhabited cay's. If you are lucky, you can tuck behind a small cay in beautiful turquoise water and snorkel right from the boat. The setting is idyllic with palm tree lined islets, white sand and dazzling water. We've enjoyed drift wood bonfires on the beach and aside from the ever present plastic flotsam, the islands are often devoid of any traces of humans. We've explored a few rivers when permitted. In the anchorages the crystal clear waters are very inviting and the kids snorkel under the boat or we all pile in the dinghy and motor out to a reef. We've inflated all the toys and we have a small flotilla trailing behind us as we move between anchorages; sailing dinghy, inflatable kayak, hard kayak and paddleboard. Its been a while since we've stayed in one place long enough to merit pulling them all out. It has been a relaxing few weeks of low mile days.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Weather update, November 29

I mentioned in an earlier post that we had weathered a small hurricane. Although the eye of the storm was just 50 miles northwest of us, we tucked ourselves so close to land that we only saw gusts of 15 mph winds. Most of the time it was perfectly still. Now that we have made our way west a little and we are encountering other sailboats we have learned that we were lucky compared to many. In Portobella, which is only about 30 miles from where we are now, and about 50 miles from where we sat out the hurricane, 19 boats were lost. We don't know if they are full losses, we know they broke away from their moorings and were blown up against the city breakwater, but we've had conflicting reports on how many sank or were total losses. It is very sad, especially since Panama is supposed to be out of the hurricane zone. I don't think it did much damage elsewhere, but this localized area was hit really hard. It was a small hurricane, but it packed a punch if you were in the wrong place.

If you wonder how we get weather out here, away from wifi, we have several sources. Through our High Frequency radio we can download (through radio waves) grib files that give us weather where ever we are. It is much easier than is used to be when we just had a map of isobars to interpret. Now, we have the map with little arrows on it for wind direction and strength. It is pretty easy to interpret! When we are passage making we check the weather twice daily. Before Otto went through I was looking at the weather charts (one of my jobs), but not every day, and only zoomed in to our local area. At one point I checked and the prediction was for strong non prevailing direction winds. I kept zooming out more and more and pulling in more weather. Eventually I mentioned to Michael that the low pressure system above us looked awfully cyclonic. Duh! At that point, Otto wasn't predicted to be a hurricane, but we started turning on the HF radio and listening to the weather predictions more regularly. In addition to using our HF radio as a modem to check email and get weather, there are many frequencies we can tune into to get news or listen to weather, real time from an actual human. In addition there are several radio nets, on at specific times, where boaters check in and chat about all things boating, which can usually be summed up with weather and security issues. In addition, if we ever were in trouble, there are several frequencies monitored both by the US coast guard, but also amateur radio controllers, that are there just to help boaters in distress. Anyway,unbeknownst to us, while we were poking around the eastern San Blas, everyone was chatting about this out of season low in a "hurricane free zone". There are some really bright weather gurus out there that forecast their predictions and its nice to listen in and hear real people talking. One particular router, Chris Parker, is well known in the Caribbean and everyone listens to his predictions. The other option we have, although we've only used it once, is to pay for professional help in determining weather and helping with routing. Mike's bible is Jimmy Cornell's "Cruising Routes and Weather", so usually I fee comfortable with his "expertise". I'll never admit it to him, but Mike is really pretty knowledgeable about all things sailing! We used Commander Weather to help us predict a departure day when we crossed the North Atlantic and although they suggested the same window of time we would have predicted, it was comforting to get a second opinion. We also could have asked for their help, any time mid crossing, if some weather looked dicey. It was a nice option to have in the middle of an ocean.

Anyway, we are obviously fine and we are thoroughly enjoying our slower than normal speed through the beautiful San Blas Islands.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Hurricane Otto to the north of us, November 23

Surprisingly enough, in just over two years of cruising we are witnessing, and being affected by our second out of season hurricane. First we encountered Vance going down the Baja coast, and it changed the entire Baja Haha rally schedule, splitting the fleet up. It was more of an inconvenience than a worry, but it was out of season and not expected. Now, we are sitting just 45 miles south of Category 1 hurricane Otto, which is expected to make land fall in Costa Rica, and if the predictions are correct, it will be the first hurricane to hit Costa Rica in recorded history. Is it the effects of global warming, or simply better record keeping? Vance stayed out at sea and didn't do any damage, and Otto isn't predicted to stick around long either and probably won't do much damage, if any. Maybe before good record keeping these two storms wouldn't have been registered as hurricanes. Although Otto is small, it does give us pause when routing, the hurricanes don't seem to be getting the memos about when the season is over. Otto covers a very small area and although at the eye there are hurricane strength winds, the winds dissipate quickly. We are in a very safe place. The winds are from the south and west and they have to go over land before they hit us, so they lessen in strength before hitting us and we have very little wind. We've been playing it safe, and staying put, but it is hard to believe there is a hurricane so close.

While we wait out the weather we have been getting caught up with homework, hiking on the mainland, watching the Kuna fish all around us, snorkeling and today we explored up a mangrove river. The dinghy barely fits going up river and we have to duck out of the way of dangling mangrove shoots. We don't mind the shoots, its the spiders and crabs that fall off on you when you move them out of the way. We've been watching several men hunt for octopus near our boat and Zander is convinced he can make a go of it (I think the Octopus are pretty safe). The dugouts visit us regularly, sometime selling a little fruit or some lobster, but often just to chat. Mostly we get visits from the men, but in the village we see many of the women. About half of the women are still in traditional dress; beaded ankle and wrist bracelets, blouses with molas (sewn panels with intricate designs) stitched to them and colorful sarong type dresses. The real traditional ones paint their cheeks red to ward off the evil spirits. It is prohibited to take pictures of the Kuna, but hopefully in the less traditional villages, I can snap a few photos. Anyway, we are entertaining ourselves and it isn't a bad place to get stuck and sit out weather.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

hunkered down, November 20

It seems we have some weather coming our way. There is a low predicted to settle in just north of us, starting tonight, bringing possible 45 knots winds. Apparently it is pretty localized, but the grib files show angry cyclonic features, and it will keep us hunkered down for the next few days. We found a safe place in the lee of some islands just off shore that we will spend as much time as we need to. Hopefully the storm won't stick around too long. I don't relish the idea of being cooped up on the boat for three days in the wind and rain. We are in 30 feet of water with lots of room to swing. We are protected from ocean swell and close enough to the mainland that the fetch shouldn't be too bad. I think boredom will be our biggest concern in the next few days. That and driving each other crazy!

San Blas, week 2, November 20

We have been in the San Blas Islands for just over a week now and after our official initiation, things have been going substantially better. After our visit to Ustupu, where we received our fine, we visited two other villages that have been extremely friendly. We wandered around their village, we talked to the adults and we got giggled at by all the children. The Kuna are a small race of people, so our clan appears to be giants in comparison. Zander has always been big, but they are all amazed by his height and his age and he continually gets stares, which of course mortifies him. It is a little disconcerting at times, being giggled at, but I remind the kids they are laughing with us, not necessarily at us (usually). In the traditional villages there are little naked kids everywhere and they scatter as we walk through, hiding behind their mother's skirts or behind a stick wall. Once we pass, the smallest kids come out and yell greetings to us. They are shy at first, but they warm up fast and have a million questions. The boys make small soccer pitches between the thatched huts and we have encountered multiple Messi's and numerous Ronaldo's. Even at five years old and younger, and in a village without TV, they know all the great soccer players and emulate them. They also love to fist bump and high five you as you walk by. Eventually, after walking through the village for a while, we have a small parade gathered behind us, giggling, pointing and running circles around us. It is nothing less than adorable, and its good to see young kids so obviously happy. They have very little in the way of material things, but they always have a crew of kids to play with and all my kids have mentioned that, in some ways, it would be fun to grow up like that. Small kids are out fishing by themselves, they are swimming without adult supervision and they pretty much have the run of the island. The Kuna have a relatively easy life and I think they know it, so they don't necessarily encourage the encroachment of Western ideas. Most Kuna have a pretty simple life. They paddle their dugouts over to the mainland every morning to tend their gardens. They are back at about 2pm with a boat load of produce and coconuts, (the coconuts are like Kuna currency) the latter they sell to the Colombian trading boats. Those that don't tend gardens take their sailing dugouts to the reefs and fish for lobster and other fish. They often stop by our boat on their way in to the villages and offer us a variety of seafood. Sometime we pay them, sometimes they want things like old magazines and books.
On the islands the cane and thatch huts are all built right next to each other and there is often zero free land left. The outhouses are all located on the leeward side of the island and they also have self cleaning pig pens located on stilts over the water. Life is simple, but it appears very pleasant and they fight hard to keep their culture intact. I applaud their efforts.

Friday, November 18, 2016

November 18, San Blas and our good luck comes to a end!

They say there are two types of sailors: the sailor that runs aground, and the sailor that lies about running aground. We have been quite lucky about such things, that is until we arrived in the San Blas. The San Blas are known for their uncharted waters, their reefs and for the fact that many boats hit the reefs every year. Ha, we laugh in the face of such obstacles! Correction, we used to laugh in the face of such obstacles. Now we have much more respect for uncharted areas! Seriously, we have always been pretty cautious, but we will now employ a new level of cautiousness. The caption for the first bay we wanted to explore, off the main track, "Bahia de Masargandi: unexplored, unsurveyed, uninhabited, all yours." Sounds fantastic right.....very wrong! First we hit sand and decided we had gone in far enough. We'd explore the rest by dinghy. Mike backed down quickly and we were fine. The danger of hitting sand, is getting stuck on a high tide and having to wait until the tide changes to get off. Considering the 14th showed the moon as being at its closest point in 70 years, we certainly didn't want to get stuck on a high tide in those conditions. Fortunately we did not. We anchored nearby and meandered around the bay by dinghy. I've mentioned with all of us in the dinghy, we don't move fast and it was a slow ride around, but it was fun. After a few hours we were headed back in the direction of the boat, but we wanted to stop on a small island on the way back. Half way there we saw a speed boat approaching Pelagic, about a mile away. Most likely they were there to collect an anchoring fee, but since we left the boat open, we were a little nervous. Theft is almost non existent in the San Blas, but we realized we had left everything out; cameras, ipads, etc. (we weren't expecting to be gone so long). We didn't think they could see us, so we wanted to get back quickly. Mike decided to drop us off on the small island and then speed over to the boat. In his haste, he went into the island on a rocky section and before we knew it we had hit a hard piece of coral and the tube in the dinghy punctured. Shit, now what? Again, 2 second decisions were made and Mike decided our best option would be for him to race to Pelagic, keeping the bow portion of the dinghy as much out of water as possible (the site of the 2 inch puncture). The dinghy was deflating rapidly, but as he started to plane, he was able to move through the water quite quickly. Approaching Pelagic, the last of the air was almost gone from one tube of the dinghy and it started to sink. While the outboard started to go under he was able to swim to Pelagic and reach for a block and tackle, attached to the mizzen, which is our makeshift crane. He quickly secured the line from the Mizzen boom to the outboard and was able to save the outboard from going completely under. 30 seconds more and we would be without an outboard. Now we have a punctured dinghy that we are hoping to patch. The speed boat circled Mike the whole time and offered the assistance of picking up his family stranded on the small island a mile away. We were thankful for that. Thankful that we didn't lose the dinghy and motor entirely. Turns out the speed boat was from a nearby village and they came over with 5 men (two armed) to tell us we could not anchor in the bay, but we would need to move to the village. No big deal, we would retrace our route in exactly, and get out of the shoal filled bay without further incident. Wrong again. Somehow, in the distance it took us to turn the boat around and get back on our original track, we hit a huge rock. Fortunately not going very fast, but the boat shuddered under the impact nonetheless. Flakes of red paint floated to the surface and our day just seemed to be getting worse by the minute. Pelagic has a huge, thick, sturdy keel, so we were confident the boat was fine, but we were disappointed in our luck and our judgment.
Later, after we had re-anchored in front of the village, to add insult to injury, we were asked to pay a $200 fine for anchoring in a spot that was prohibited. All our literature says the San Blas are open to visitors, but expect to pay small fees to anchor. Apparently they have just passed new rules, in the last 6 months, yet there was no way for us to have any of the new information. We aren't sure what that means for the rest of our trip here, but we are hopeful we will be free to visit. The chief told us that now that we have paid the fine we were free to anchor anywhere, but we don't know if he means locally, or all the way up the island chain. At this point we aren't sure what to expect. Mike argued valiantly for our case, that we had no way of knowing their rules and once we learned of them we quickly tried to comply, but without luck. Normally he can talk his way out of a lot of things, but this time he ended up having to go before the village congress and they did not budge. Mike mentioned that boats won't come with those kind of fees/fines and although he put forth a reasonable defense, when you are dealing with people that have a different system of economics, fiscal reason goes out the window. To their defense, they have managed to keep their culture mostly intact longer than most tribes in the Americas, so they are doing something right and they are a very proud people, and don't back down. In fact, we appealed to the Panamanian police that were stationed on the island (border police), and even they have to pay fines for everything; if they cross to the mainland, if they look at a woman wrong, if they are on the island after hours. The Kunas are tough, and good for them, but they won't get visiting yachts that way. Maybe that is for the best anyway. The Kunas will keep us on our toes and we will be infinitely more careful in the future. This day cannot end fast enough!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Cartagena's version of Carnival, November 17

Not all of my pictures are in perfect focus, and I apologize for that.  The sights and colors and sounds were amazing and I tried to snap away without missing the experience myself.  I'm not a photographer, but I wanted to show the amazingly elaborate costumes the people were wearing for the cities version of carnival.  It was fun to be a part of it.  We watched from the city walls at a small restaurant (good call since the parade was 2 hours late, or rather perfectly on Latin time). Afterwards we wandered and got to see the costumes and the dancers up close.  Stunning!


Watching the parade from the old city wall (modern Cartagena in the background)

traditional shaving cream fights during the parade

old city wall

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Tips on jump starting your cruising dreams.

Porter the photographer.  Headed to a dock potluck.

How do you make the cruising dream become a reality?   I don't claim to be an expert in anything, but we have been out here for two years now and we may be able to pass along a few sage words of advice for anyone that wants to join us in this vagabond lifestyle. The big question is how do we afford this lifestyle?  No, we aren’t trust fund kids, no we didn’t win the lotto, nor did we ever have a huge income.  Cruising is doable by anyone with some imagination.  Yes, you do have to plan it out for quite some time, yes, you generally have to give up some luxuries and yes, if you visited us on our boat you’d know we aren’t vacationing on the QEII. 

  1. Have a plan.  I’m sure there are some people that quit their jobs, buy a boat and head out in a short time frame, but for most of us, this is a life we have been planning for many years.  For the retirees, maybe most of their working lives.  We had a 10 year goal, and probably about 6 or 7 years of serious planning.  It’s not just squirreling away money for that amount of time, every major decision we made for 6 or 7 years we first asked ourselves how will this affect our chances to go cruising?  Is this a house we can easily sell or rent?  Do we have an exit plan with this job?  Will the kids be good ages to cruise?  Will this pet still be alive 7 years from now (we failed this one and had to re-home our dog, but we found the best foster home ever, so we lucked out there).
  2. Start Saving.  The independently wealthy can skip this step, but for us we needed to create a budget for cruising and start actively saving.  We started eliminating big purchases.  We both drove old cars and swanky vacays were out of the question.  We love traveling but our last big trip happened 7 years before we set sail.  In the interim we certainly didn’t sit at home the whole time, but our vacations were timeshares offered by family members, visiting relatives and camping trips.  Mike has always been able to work away from home, so we have been lucky to still manage extended work/vacations in Maine.   When we were only a few years out, we started cutting out smaller things out of our budget.  We watched our weekend away, our meals out and our discretionary spending.  In the last year on land we started selling anything we could that didn’t have sentimental value.  We had an awkward dinner party when our dinning room table sold faster than we planned and we had company eating Indian style on the floor.  We purged everything we could, everything we didn’t want to store or we couldn’t buy back.   Since we were only going to be gone for 2-3 years the tricky part was not getting rid of everything, but enough to lighten the storage load.  We were able to build a 300 square foot storage room in our basement and we left what we didn’t want to part with down there.  
  3. Buy a boat.  This is sort of the deal breaker, you do have to come up with money somewhere for this one.  There are several options out there.  1.  The boat loan is common if you aren’t cruising as a lifestyle.  2. Sell the house and buy the boat.  Great if you are sailing away and cruising will be a life style. 3. Buy a fixer upper and put sweat equity into it. We opted to buy an older boat, fully depreciated, and try to pay it off.  While a boat certainly doesn't appreciate like a house, our old boat will probably be worth the same amount in 5 years as it did when we bought it. Here again we didn’t practice what we preached.  While Mike loved the idea of an old boat, he didn’t really like the “old” features an old boat has.  In the end, we probably replaced almost everything on the boat including replacing our teak deck with fiberglass, replacing our fuel tank, replacing almost all of our electronics, almost all of our standing rigging, some of our sails and adding some cruising equipment (new water maker, self steering vane, and new liferaft).  I think the rule of thumb is buy your boat and then add %25 to cruise it out.   We’ve all heard those references to a boat being a hole in the water in which to throw money.  This isn’t always true for a cruising boat.  For one thing, most cruisers do many of their own repairs.  You can’t take off and cross an ocean without not being handy and able to do most of your own repairs.  Another rule of thumb is that you will spend about 10% of the cost of your boat annually to keep up with the maintenance. Many of us do so much prep work before we leave the dock, we often don’t have any major repairs to do for the first couple years of cruising. We’ve spent about 10K in the first 18 months of cruising.  Less then the 10%, but certainly not chump change (2K new prop, 2K new autopilot, 3K haul-outs and painting, 3K whisker pole, spinnaker bag, new stern anchor and a few misc smaller repairs). Lastly, this is home.  No mortgage to pay, no rent or hotel bills.  Yes, we have annual maintenance, but hey, we had some big maintenance bills with our house on land. 
  4. What do I do with the house?  Generally this is one of the first things you deal with.  We had always planned to buy a house we could unload easily.  Again we broke our own rule.  We fell in love with a high maintenance house.  We didn’t go into it blind. We knew it would be a pain, but serendipitously (pure plain dumb luck) we sold our old home at the market high (2007)and bought 2 years later at the low (2009), and we felt like we could have a renter pay our mortgage and come out even.  That is always the risk, but in our case we liked having the income and we were able to buy the boat without selling the house.  Again, we have so far lucked out with great renters.  
  5. Ditch the job.  No, we can’t retire, oh wouldn’t that be lovely!  Instead we’ve decided we’d rather work a little longer and take the time off now, while we are physically able and while our kids still want to hang out with us.  We all know there are no guarantees in life, who knows if Mike and I will still be kicking around in our golden years.  Ten days before we left the dock in Portland, Mike had neck surgery to remove cancerous thyroid tissue that had resurfaced.  Life is short, work will always be there!  You may also have to make other sacrifices on the work front.  Maybe a job with an exit plan is a better move than a big corporate ladder move.  We’ve worked for ourselves for the last handful of years and it was convenient for many reasons, but the biggest was because it gave us an exit out when we wanted and hopefully an entry back in when we return.  I can’t say I had the most soul satisfying position the last 5 years or so, I worked for an ogre of a supervisor (my husband), but we figured if we could work together, we could probably hang out together on a 42 foot boat for several years!

OK, now we’ve discussed how to exit from a shore based life; how to buy the boat, deal with the home and save.  The big expense is definitely the boat, but obviously it cost something once you leave the dock.  This is again where you have such a spread in budgets.  There are families that spend less, and certainly those that spend more and my guess is that we are somewhere in the middle.  Some of the variables to cruising are:

  1. Where do you want to cruise? Mexico is cheap if you stay out of marinas (reasonable even in most of the marinas), in contrast in the Med there are few places to anchor and marinas and moorage is expensive.  
  2. How often do you want to stay on the hook and how often do you want to be in a marina.  This again is dependent on the type of cruiser you are.  If you want to go the South Pacific, be prepared to be self sufficient and stay on anchor.  If you want to cruise the Med. you may not have many choices but to be in marinas. 
  3. Do you intend to push your boat and how serious are you about safety gear?  This isn’t meant to imply some people are more careless, but if you are not voyaging far, you can get away with not only a cheaper boat (coastal vs blue water), but less bells and whistles on the boat (forget the windvane, watermaker, reduntant systems, etc).  If I was going to hang out in the Caribbean or coastal Mexico for years at a time I would have a different priority in boats and with a probable cost savings I could cruise longer. In our case we decided we wanted a boat that we could go anywhere in.  We wanted to be able to go to Anatarctica if we got the urge (or Iceland, the Shetlands, South Georgia, the Falklands, Patagonia, high latitude sailing calls to us, but that is another blog post).  Mike is also Mr. Fixit.  Although we have an older boat, there isn’t much on the boat that is original.  We’ve replaced almost everything. Some sailors don’t fix something until it breaks, Mike fixes things when he first detects wear.  That can get expensive, on the other hand we are crossing oceans and when I’m in the middle of an ocean I’m happy he had the foresight to do so much preventive maintenance.  
  4. How much inland travel to you want to do?  This is often our biggest budget buster.  Sailing brings you to so many out of the way places, but it would be a shame to miss the inland sights when you have come so far from home.  That said, if you had a smaller budget, you could stay on the boat all the time and save money.
  5. Lastly, what is your normal expenditure pattern?  Do you want to go out to eat often, do you prefer taxi’s over local buses, do you buy your food in local markets or at the import markets and do you take your cocktails in the cockpit or in the watering holes.  

Generally speaking, cruising can be pretty economical if you want it to be.  Your boat is your transportation and your accommodation, which is often the most expensive part of traveling.  Unlike traditional traveling, with a galley on board you can shop locally and limit your restaurant costs.  Imagine getting rid of most of your land based expenditures.  Ditch the water, garbage, gas and electrical bills.  Get rid of the cable, cell phone and internet bill.  You no longer have house insurance and taxes, you no longer have car insurance and maintenance.  You do have boat insurance, but it is significantly less. Even health insurance is significantly less traveling abroad.  Obamacare has shaken things up a little in that department; but many people go without insurance entirely, some stick with accident and evacuation insurance and others go with traditional insurance (high deductibles keep the costs down a little). In most countries a hospital visit is still reasonable. Sure, we do buy things along the way, but our misc. expenses don’t add up to near what they do on land.  When I add up the money we spend at home on kids sports, kids activities, friends birthday presents, ski trips, clothing bills, entertainment costs and eating out it is 10 times what we spend in that same category now.

You generally don't take your family sailing on a whim, it is a lifestyle you have chosen early on.  The question is not usually can you cruise, it is usually how will you make it happen.  With everything accounted for, we spend about 25-35% of what we spend on land.  With our investments and the money we get from rent every month we break about even.  We run into quite a few people that have figured out a way to either work from the boat, or work occasionally from the boat.  It is amazing how creative people can be.

For us, the question wasn't so much, how can we afford this, but rather how can we afford not to do this.

Visiting Cartagena, November 16 scheduled post

We spent a week in Cartagena. The undisputed most celebrated city on the Caribbean coast of the South American continent. The old town of Cartagena was like a living museum. The balcony lined streets were all covered with colorful Bougenvillae (have I mentioned I love Bougenvillae?), the street vendors were dressed in vibrant traditional dress, carrying their wares on their heads. The streets were clean, there were boutique hotels, cafes and souvenir shops in all the historic buildings. The whole of old town is a UNESCO site and money is obviously funneled there to protect it. It is almost too perfectly preserved. It doesn't seem real. After you tour the Palace of the Inquisition you can shop next door for Colombian Emeralds, taste some coffee from Juan Valdez, buy a souvenir Pablo Escabar T- shirt (he is literally revered here in Colombia by many) and window shop for some swanky designer shoes. We did find a few neat old barber shops and some hole in the wall places to eat, but as a whole the old town seemed a little too polished for our liking. When the cruise ships were in town, it even felt a little Disneyesque. On our very last day we were there for, what the locals were telling us was "Independence Day". The official Independence is celebrated in July but apparently this was a similar local celebration. We were lucky enough to witness a parade that rivaled those of Carnival (or so the tourist office said) and true to the claim the costumes were amazing! We watched fire breathers on stilts (take a swig of gasoline, blow on a torch and viola), we We watched colorful floats pass by and flamboyant dancers all from our lofty perch on the ramparts. In the evening we wandered around with the crowds and got in the middle of shaving cream fights (a traditional activity the kids embraced with a gusto), sampled more street food (skewers of unknown meats) and took some (possibly blurry) photos of the elaborate costumes. Every costume was more impressive than the last and as I was trying to get it all in the frame of a camera I was hardly taking time to focus. I don't usually like taking pictures of people while we travel (unless we've really developed a relationship with them). It seems like an invasion of privacy to snap away and I know some cultures are afraid of it. Although I love seeing the traditional colors and dress and wish I could preserve those images, I hesitate to put them in the frame of a lens. Normally I would rather enjoy the experience and leave the camera at home. Hence, there are websites with far better pictures than ours and many more with photos of traditional people that are sadly absent in our photos. As the parade passed, I was free to take as many photos as I wanted of people and locals, and I even got some people to pose for me. It was a fabulous experience. Photos to follow on the next scheduled post.

While old town was slightly sterile, on the edges of the old town you could find the locals and the local merchants, the street food and the every day hustle and bustle. At night everyone was in the streets or in the squares. It was very reminiscent of old town Havana for us, only less run down. The music was loud, the kids were running around everywhere, street food was fantastic and it was a fun place to wander and people watch. This was the part of Cartagena we really enjoyed.

We visited all the requisite sites the city had to offer; the Castillo do San Felipe de Barajas, the largest fort the Spanish empire every built in one of the Spanish colonies, we explored a few museums, walked the ramparts and meandered around the municipal markets. The markets do not cater to the tourist and they are very real. The smells are real too and its an assault on the senses, but fun to explore. The produce is fantastic, but it is often crawling with cockroaches so we were extremely selective with our purchases.

I'm not sure Cartagena is best by boat. We were anchored in a very rolly, dirty bay the whole time, but the marina wasn't much better. At night there was a strong smell of diesel on the water and you could see the refinery blazing in the distance. We couldn't swim and the boat was stifling hot (although we did have a handful of showers and some overcast days to cool things down a little). The anchorage was very rolly as big power boats sped around at top speeds completely oblivious to the small dinghy's moving around at a snails pace. Walking around town was fun, but the kids were interested in the museums, the forts and urban exploring for just so long. For my birthday we rented a AB&B condo in one of the high rises for two days to get a break from the boat. We sat by the pool, luxuriated in the cool air conditioning and enjoyed the convenient wifi. We had a fantastic view of the Caribbean Ocean from 24 floors up on our balcony and yet I'm not sure anyone ever went out. We see plenty of ocean on a regular basis, our jonse was for wifi, TV and AC!

Our next stop is the San Blas Islands. The San Blas Islands, an autonomous area of Panama, are inhabited by Kuna Indians. The Kunas are known for having preserved their indigenous culture when many other tribes of the Americas could not. My memories of the area from 15 years ago are not fond ones. I was sick as a dog in the midst of pregnancy and could not get away from the islands fast enough (or the boat for that matter). In fact, I flew out of a small island with a grass runway after only two weeks in the San Blas. No issue with small planes, I've flown in many small planes in Alaska in my lifetime. At this particular runway there was a plan crashed into the side of the administrative building and even that sight didn't deter me from getting away. Death by airplane seemed a small price to pay for getting off our rolly boat. I'm sure the island will be far more enjoyable this time around. We expect to have almost a month to travel through the 120 mile stretch of Archipelago islands.