Afloat Once More

Life on a boat with a baby, Round Two! We recently returned to Velella velella for our fifth season living aboard our sailboat in Mexico, this time with a walking, babbling fourteen-month-old. A few weeks in and it’s already looking like this season will knock last season out of the water! (Pun intended.) Last year I remember reading lots of books and journaling, as I lay nursing baby Etolin serenely in our v-berth. Can it possibly be true that he used to take 3 or 4 naps a day!? On the boat, in the Ergo carrier, on our laps in restaurants and in our arms on the bus. Now it’s just one nap a day, on the boat, giving us a brief respite before his eyes pop open and it’s Go Time again. It’s like having a dog who needs a LOT of walks. (A very opinionated dog with impressive vocal chords.) We are currently in the La Cruz marina so it’s not hard to get to places where he can zigzag about, like the town plaza or the malecon (boardwalk) along the water. Once we head out to the anchorage however, we will have to get creative. Build a swing and jungle gym out of block and tackle (pulleys and line)? Fashion a slide out of sail cloth? Or just go for daily, family swims around the boat? I’m guessing the most likely solution will be daily, family dinghy rides to shore. That’s fine! More opportunities to see our friends and meet new cruisers and locals.

I’m happy to report the general Mexican populace still thinks Etolin is adorable, yay! He continues to be an effective ice breaker and language teacher. I spent half an hour in the plaza the other evening, stalking E. while listening to a 9-year-old girl tell me about her life in Spanish. It was freeform but I think I got the gist of it. She kept asking what Etolin’s name would be in Spanish and I had to shrug helplessly at her and say, “Eh-toe-leeen?” Most people don’t have trouble with it and it’s fun to tell them about its origins. “Es el nombre de una isla en Alaska.” Throughout the day, we alternate between speaking English and Spanish with E. If it’s confusing the heck out of him, he shows no signs. In addition to Dada/Papa, Mama, Baba (Baby? Or Grandma?), Up, Ball and Hot (pronounced “Hhhhhaaaaaatttttttt” in a hushed, serious tone), he now says Apple. Will Agua (Water) be next?

Oh, did you want to hear about Rob or me or the boat? I can’t remember what I used to blog about pre-baby, I’ll have to go back and read some old posts. Just kidding. Vv is great, she was lonely but floating when we returned to the Paradise Marina where we left her in Nuevo Vallarta. Due to a drier than usual summer down here (insert expletive regarding climate change) she had more wear on her natural teak but no mold below. Rob put the booms back on, hung the sails, re-rigged all the lines and cleaned the masts (which meant extended trips aloft, his least favorite thing), scrubbed and inflated the dinghy, serviced the outboard and the main engine so they’re running like champs, installed a new battery charger and trouble shot the solar panels, that were acting finicky. And he did it all with minimal help from the nanny, I mean me. When he needed a second pair of hands we stuck E. in his stroller, safely secured it on deck, rigged up some shade with a sarong, and occupied his attention with slices of pear and Mexican Cheerios (same as American ones but sweeter). This generally bought us about 10-15 minutes of time, with me running over every 2-5 minutes to refill his sticky hands.

When Rob didn’t need my help, or a neighboring cruiser took pity on us and offered to help him, I took E. to the adjacent Paradise Village resort and played in the baby pool. One thing I learned there is, with a few exceptions, people on vacation for one week do NOT want to hear that you’re down here until April. I swear, I never brought it up on my own but it was impossible to avoid the two most common vacation small-talk questions, “Where are you from?” and “How long are you here for?” I contemplated lying (“We leave tomorrow!”) but opted instead to try to focus on the first question and then quickly deflect the attention back to the party asking. “We’re from Washington. And you’re from Florida! What part? We were just there last spring” etc. I know I ask those very same questions daily when I’m working on the whale watching boats in the Puget Sound but I promise, I never glare if the tourist from Germany says, “I’m here for six months.”

Once we/Rob got the boat supremely livable, we moved the boat over to La Cruz to escape the crushing tyranny of resort living (yes, that is to be read facetiously) and reunite with the community we’ve built over the past four seasons. Many have just returned from jobs up North, like us. Some are retired and live on their boats all year. And some, gasp, live on dry land! Our teacher friends informed us they don’t take kindly to being called ‘landlubbers’ (I suppose they detected a note of condescension in the term?) and have re-dubbed themselves ‘landlivers.’ Can’t argue with that. Some of our other ‘landliver’ friends are from the weekly baby group I was a part of last year and it is fabulous to see how their littles have grown. Time to plan some beach days and play dates!

But first it needs to cool down. The Banderas Bay winter weather is slow to arrive this year (another angry fist shake at climate change) and it’s regularly 92+ degrees Fahrenheit by afternoon on our boat. We become grumpy puddles of sweat when that happens and have to force each other to eat something and dump buckets of water over our heads. When sweat droplets begin to form on Etolins’s eyelids, we pull out his collapsible bathtub and fill it in the shaded cockpit. Everyone gets soaked while he splashes and we all become rational human beings again. Still, we will be extremely happy to welcome the Seventies and Eighties back to our thermometer.

We hope this finds you well and cozy! Etolin says “Dis?”, Rob says “Lots more to do on the boat but first, I think I’ll go surfing…” And I say, “Time to go to Writer’s Group!”

We love you and miss you! Keep in touch! To see our recent photos, visit our Picasa page by clicking here (or by clicking on the photos below or to the right, depending on your device.)

xoxoLOVE! The Velellaz

P.S. We also had a close call with a hurricane (less worrisome since we were at the dock), enjoyed a lovely visit with my aunt and uncle, and experienced Etolin’s first Montezuma’s Revenge. He and Rob both got it, poor guys. E. couldn’t even keep his beloved pears and Cheerios down. Luckily it passed in a few days. All healthy now!


Time, Slow Down

Whack. Whack-whack. Whack. As the boat rolls slowly side to side, little arms and feet pummel my body in a rhythmic pattern. “Coooo-wheeee! Phfewt.” Someone is awake.

The open hatch over our bed frames a light blue sky, with soft streaks of pink and yellow. I crack open an eye to confer with the clock. 7:28 am. Not too bad, later than yesterday. I glance at the other pillow and confirm that Rob is still asleep or at least pretending to be. “Ooooooo-umph. Thhhhheck.” Whack-whack. Decision time: Scoot away from the flailing limbs and pretend to be asleep as well? Or peek over at my baby and admit defeat. I always lose at this morning game. Etolin’s wake up noises are too funny, I start laughing and then his big eyes find me, peeking over the blanket. A massive smile breaks out over his face as he registers my presence, and his arms flap up and down in quick succession. When Rob admits defeat too and leans over my shoulder to say “Good morning Big Guy,” Etolin almost loses it, pumping his legs dramatically and letting out a loud eagle-like shriek that tapers into a coo. He looks back and forth between us with a wide dimpled grin, then abruptly turns his head up towards the hatch to return to the business of greeting the day.

We’re anchored in Punta de Mita, the swell has dropped for a few days and the boat is pleasantly becalmed. When I climb out of bed and poke my head above deck, here is what I see: A dozen other sailboats anchored a comfortable distance around us. Low clouds waiting to burn off the dark jungle mountains on the opposite side of the bay. Flocks of Herman gulls and pelicans pestering fishermen as they drift by us, cleaning their catch from the night before. A lone paddle boarder, racing no one out to sea.

Back aboard our floating universe I see surf wax and dingy fuel and our tiller draped in rash guards and salty towels. There are small drool rags of various colors tucked in handy nooks, like under the dodger and from hanging coils off the mizzen mast. A long row of rinsed cloth diapers are clipped to our starboard lifelines and wave like surrender flags in the breeze. A faint odor rises up from damp flip flops.

I tuck my head below and survey the interior of our 38’ by 12’ home. A small rack of clean dishes sit by the sink where Rob placed them to dry last night after washing up from the tofu peanut stir fry he made for dinner. The portside quarter berth cradles instruments- guitar, ukulele, drum, baby rattles. The starboard berth holds dry goods and fruit- limes getting squished by grapefruits, apples and bananas, separated by type for freshness. Rob ducks out of the forward cabin with Etolin in his arms, headed for the changing table. While they debate, using mostly body language, the merits of wearing clothes vs. spending the day in the nude, I put on water for oatmeal. Eventually Etolin concedes to Rob’s persuasive arguments and removes his foot from his mouth, allowing the proper placement of his diaper followed by a onesie. Rob takes over breakfast preparations and I carry Etolin up to the cockpit to look for whales.

We knew this year would be different but some of the ways have surprised us. We sleep less overall but take more naps. We argue less and laugh more often, usually at Etolin. Our friends have kindly adapted to our new, baby-centric worldview and in return we try not to bring up just how cute, amazing and extra brilliant he is every 5 seconds.

Our laundry situation has taken a turn for the embarrassing. Our simple ship doesn’t have pressurized water, much less a washing machine so we schlep our dirty clothes to a lavanderia, where nice people wash it for us. In past seasons, we darkened the doorway of a lavanderia about once a month. Now, our laundry basket fills at an alarming rate, even though the contents, individually, are miniscule, and we are forced to go weekly. At first we went to a different lavanderia each time, to mask the ridiculous frequency. Now we admit that we can’t let drool, sweat, spit up and urine get the best of us so we resign ourselves to regular trips to “Cowboys”, our preferred place of laundry business. On laundry day Rob rounds up the tiny pjs and itsy bitsy socks while I gather the cloth diapers off the lifelines. These lucky diapers have already experienced a warm ocean rinse off, a brisk dry in the tropical zephyrs and a long bake in the Mexican sun. All they need now is a final round in freshwater, a resource that is in short supply aboard Velella velella. Thank you Cowboys for keeping us clean!

A few things are the same this year. We still swim regularly and host cockpit potlucks and beach bonfires and surf and read and write and go on adventures with friends. And our family still loves to visit us! We had a wonderful time when my mom was here. We went to Sayulita, the La Cruz Sunday Market, my writer’s group and paddle boarding and also managed to take Big E. swimming almost every day. She and Etolin bonded over their love of water, making funny faces and bright shiny objects. A friend loaned us a stroller so Abuelita Juanita was able to parade her grandson along the cobblestone streets and enjoy all the attention lavished on babies in this baby-loving country. Our Spanish improves with every conversation about our grande guapo gordito con ojos azules.

Etolin at just over 5 months is a warm, happy, alert, pensive, curious, waving, active baby who sits and stands with support but still mostly stays in our lap when we want him to. I’m both excited and sad when I think about all the changes to come in the next few months. We want him to be healthy so we hope that scooting will lead to crawling and then walking and gurgles and trills will shape themselves into words. He’s already zoning in on our plates and even grabbed a stick of celery out of my hand the other day and tried to bite it. He doesn’t have any teeth yet so we swapped it for a chew toy but I know solid foods are not far away. Breastfeeding less will be liberating but it’s also his first big step away from me. All of the major milestones are essentially leaps out of our arms. I know it is our job as parents to lovingly let our children go over and over again but part of me is already dreading it. But it is not up to me and besides, I tell myself, how can we build forts and sandcastles and surf and play on boats and explore the world together if he stays a baby forever? So I hold him tight and cover him in kisses and then gradually, bit by bit, let him go.

xoK. R. and E.

[To view our photos on your computer, go to our homepage and click on the photo icons on the right side of the screen. On your phone or mobile device, go to our homepage and scroll down to the bottom of the page. You should see them. Good luck!]


Happy Valentine’s Day (a day late)

Thinking of friends and family around the globe this weekend and hoping everyone is feeling lots of love, expressed with ample pink hearts and lacy doilies. We are good, pretty settled into our routine now with boat and baby. Etolin’s life jacket and baby carrier continue to be our most used and useful possessions. They provide safety and mobility, two essentials in this lifestyle!

We finally sailed to Punta de Mita and Rob got back into the waves while I got back into my writing. I am going to my Writer’s Group every Saturday, like last season, which is a treat. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to swing it with Etolin but so far, the group has enjoyed his contributions. (Big smiles, coos, squeals, and his latest boast, phenomenal raspberry spitting sounds.) We found an excellent bilingual doctor in Puerto Vallarta and she gave E. a clean big of health at his four month check-up. The medical care down here is excellent! And much easier on the wallet.

Other highlights of January included a beach bonfire, meeting new baby friends, and a lovely visit with Rob’s Grandma Beverly and Grandpa Bob, who passed through on their Mexican cruise. We met them in front of their ship and enjoyed a meal of tacos while they played with Etolin. We love getting to see family down here! My mom just left after a wonderful visit, those pictures will be posted with my next post.

Lots of love to all! Feliz dia del amor y amistad!


Baby Onboard

Ahoy from Velella velella! We are back aboard our dear floating home in Banderas Bay, Mexico and guess who we brought with us? Our new baby! After a summer working on whale watching boats around Port Townsend and the San Juan Islands, Rob and I welcomed Etolin Ocean Wallin Sanderson into the world in late September. We spent two months getting to know him on land and then flew south to introduce him to his nautical home! Adjusting to life with this new tiny crew member has been a big adventure so far. As you can see from our photos (click the link on the right side of our homepage to view them) we are officially a Kid Boat now! That’s what they call cruisers down here who have little ones aboard. We are extremely happy to say Etolin is taking to life on anchor very well. When he can tear himself away from chewing on his hands he seems to enjoy watching the water slosh and sparkle around us and the frigates and terns wheel above us. Not to say the three of us don’t have our moments of frustration and confusion but we have that on land as well. Parenting is MUCH more all-consuming than we ever could have imagined but it is usually a good kind of consuming, I suppose because there’s little else we want to be consumed by! This little guy has cast a spell over us.

Velella velella looks a little different these days with a baby swing on the setee, a changing station where tools used to be and a hammock loaded with baby books, toys and colorful blankets. But this old boat has raised children before so we know she’s up for the task! When we arrived in Puerto Vallarta in early December, we spent a little longer in the marina than usual getting the boat put back together but we made it back to the La Cruz anchorage in time for Etolin’s first Christmas and New Year’s. In case you were wondering, yes, Santa does come to sailboats. Especially if one parent braves the Christmas Eve crowds and stays up late wrestling with wrapping paper. Three cheers for Santa Rob! Christmas dinner was a grand affair aboard Lungta, a ferro-cement boat big enough to roast a turkey and bake apple pies on! To ring in the New Year we organized a beach bonfire and to prove we “still got it” we stayed up till midnight to count down with our friends and watch the dozens of firework shows that happened simultaneously around the Bay. Etolin slept in his carrier or friends’ arms most of the night, awakening briefly to gaze into the fire, listen to the waves, cry, coo and watch the fireworks explode in the dark sky.

We meant to spend only a week or two in La Cruz before sailing to nearby Punta de Mita but we have been having so much fun reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones (thanks to Etolin, our baby-magnet) that so far we have ignored our self-imposed schedule. Mostly our days on anchor are filled with Raffi songs, diaper changes, nursing, and bouncing around the cockpit trying to get the little darling to fall asleep but we’ve had boat work to do too including removing and cleaning out our soft bladder water tanks that got fouled with stinky algae growth. Above all we are loving being parents of this adorable, noisy, needy, heart melting, sweet, smart new addition to our family!

There’s more to share about this major life transition but the baby calls (insistently and persuasively) so that’s all for now!

Sending lots of love,
Kai, Rob and Etolin

Season Wrap Up and Some News…

End of another Mexico sailing season already?! Where does the time go?

We flipped the calendar to April, which makes it officially time to wrap up our life down here and head back North. By the end of this month, we will have completed our third season living aboard Velella velella in Mexico. Que suerte! We feel so lucky. While we are excited to get back to the States to begin our summer season of work and reconnect with friends and family, it’s always sad to say farewell to the boat and our world down here, even temporarily.

This season was all about deepening our relationship with the rich community that surrounds Banderas Bay. Opting not to sail farther south for the third year in a row because we love it so much here, we embraced our “liveaboard” status and hoped others would accept that we were “sticking around.” They did! We not only deepened our friendships with other cruisers who live down here half the year, like us, but we made new friends both afloat and on terra firma.

Choosing to spend most of our time anchored off the smaller surf town of Punta de Mita this year allowed us to meet more locals in town and in the surf break. Now that we’ve been in the area for multiple winters, people are starting to recognize and chat with us more. Our Spanish has improved greatly but we’re eager to keep improving. We greet everyone with a smile and a friendly greeting in Spanish and it’s always reciprocated. We’ve begun to have more beach bonfires with a mix of local and cruiser friends and next season hope to expand into bilingual music nights and sailing trips. Many of our local friends run wildlife-watching tour boats, just like Rob and I have in AK and HI, so we’ve had some good talks in Spanish about the different types of whales and their behaviors in the dramatically contrasting climates. Happily, humpbacks are increasing in numbers down here, just like in other parts of the Pacific. Conservation measures and anti-whaling campaigns as well as habitat preservation of both whales and their prey has gradually helped them on their way to recovery. With all the sad news about the plastic ocean garbage patches around the world, it’s nice to hear some good marine news.

Besides making new friends and catching up with old ones, a big highlight for me this year has been joining a weekly writer’s group. Every Saturday morning Rob dinghies me to shore and drops me on the beach so I can hustle up the hill and catch a bus to La Cruz. I love the solitude and beauty of the twenty-minute bumpy ride through hills and valleys of jungle and chaparral with occasional peaks of the ocean. The writer’s group has been a wonderful place to meet smart, kind, fascinating people and it has encouraged me to begin exploring in writing some of the humorous, testing and life changing experiences I’ve had on the water. I’ve especially enjoyed writing about Alaska and now I’m very inspired to seek out other women writing about their boating experiences. I think it would be a profound undertaking and an incredible honor to partner with other women mariners in the future to publish a book of essays together and I’m looking forward to being back in the Pacific Northwest to start exploring possibilities.

I asked Rob what his highlights were this season and he said surfing, trips to Quimixto and San Pancho with buddies, having our friends and family from the States come for visits, cockpit potlucks and one more thing…what was it? Oh yah, getting pregnant!!! Might as well go public with it, you’d find out soon enough, dear readers, as soon as you viewed our latest Picasa photo albums. (Which I highly recommend you do!) I’m in my fourth month so just starting to “show” and today we were struck speechless watching an ultrasound of our dancing, turning, thumb sucking little baby to be! We are beyond thrilled to be starting a family and we can’t wait to have the baby in Port Townsend in September and then bring him/her back down to Mexico with us next winter! What could be better than a tropical boat baby?? We’ve already been sizing up our ship and making plans for new baby systems including a hanging bassinet next to our v-berth and a DIY dealing-with-cloth-diapers-on-anchor routine. I’m sure we’ll have some funny stories come next season! And a whole boatload of photos. We’re really stoked there are quite a few other new babies and new parents on boats down here, some who are sailing away but a few who are staying, and all are full of great advice and support. Velella velella has already raised one kid (the original owners in the seventies had their daughter onboard from babyhood until school aged) and we think she’s ready to do it again!

Once again, thanks for reading! We hope all is well in your neck of the woods or ocean and we’d love to hear from you!

All the best,
xoxo Kai, Rob and el pan en el horno (the bun in the oven!)