Newly Salted Interview

When Scott proposed that we quit our jobs and go cruising, the site, Interview With A Cruiser, was an invaluable resource to both of us to understand the realities of cruising and to glean lessons learned from those who’ve done it (and, the previous owners of our boat were interviewed back in 2012).  Livia, who founded the Interview With A Cruiser project, also created Newly Salted, so when she reached out to us asking if we’d be interested in an interview, of course we said yes! Below is our interview.

Juniper at Bahia Coyote.

Juniper at 31 months

About Us

We’re Viviane and Scott. We’re in our mid-forties and we left San Francisco and our jobs in November 2015 to go cruising aboard Juniper, a 1999 Pacific Seacraft 40. We’ve sailed down to Mexico, where we’ve chosen to spend a few seasons exploring the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Mexico. We have some idea where we want to go next, but our long-term plans have yet to be determined. We’ve been blogging about our adventures on sailingjuniper.com.

At anchor in La Cruz

What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?

Viv: That you don’t have to circumnavigate. The previous owners of our boat circumnavigated, I read a lot of blogs, read Interview with a Cruiser, and I thought circumnavigation was just what cruisers do. It’s certainly what our friends and family thought we had in mind when we told them what we were doing and it’s also what strangers assume is our long-term plan. However, it’s not what we’re planning.

Scott: When we left San Francisco, all we were committed to was sailing to Mexico and evaluating our next steps from there. It’s likely we’ll sail to the South Pacific, but planning to sail around the world is not our goal. It seems obvious, but there are a bunch of cruisers who don’t circumnavigate. It’s just not what books and popular blogs are about.

What do you enjoy about cruising that you didn’t expect to enjoy?

Viv: I discovered that I love passages. I love night watches and watching the moon rise, catching shooting stars. I love early mornings and watching the sunrise. I love being alone in the cockpit and observing marine life around the boat. It find it meditative and rejuvenating. I can’t get enough of it.

Is there something you wish you had bought or installed before starting out?

We would love to have more solar. Juniper came with two well-worn 80W solar panels. On a good day we might see 8 amps coming for a few hours which, with our refrigeration issues discussed below, means we’ve had to run our engine every day at anchor to top off our batteries. We’ve just replaced these with two 150W panels which should help and we’ll be looking to add more soon.

What do you dislike about cruising that surprised you?

We dislike going into marinas. At first, we disliked it because our boat is hard to back out of a slip, and we had too much stress and anxiety around it, but now we dislike marinas because it’s so easy to get stuck there. Projects start, we get comfortable, and next thing you know we’ve been there for a month. No bueno!

What mistakes did you make as you started cruising?

Viv: Buying and bringing a lot of provisions. It’s important to bring items that are your favorites and that are difficult to find where you’re going, but there’s no reason to go overboard on staples. Even within Mexico, I was over-provisioning as if I would never find rice or refried beans in the next town. I learned to provision for where we’re going for the next month or two, to have extra in case of emergency, and to stop hoarding food.

Scott: Not enough SF Bay Area cruising before we cast off the lines for good. We took Juniper out for day sails often in the years we had her in San Francisco but we always found our way back to our marina at the end of the day. We should have spent more time doing short cruises to the delta, Tomales Bay, etc., to practice our anchoring skills and test out the boat systems that you depend on at anchor. We learned the hard way that many of these systems don’t like to work when they’ve been unused for an extended period.

While cruising, what do you do about health & boat insurance, medical issues, banking and mail delivery?

Health insurance is by far our biggest monthly expense. We’re using our U.S. insurance via the Marketplace and while we’re healthy and would rather self-insure, we’re afraid of letting our U.S. insurance lapse due to the ambiguities surrounding pre-existing conditions, deductibles, and our current administration’s stance on healthcare. We are still trying to figure this one out.

Our mail is being handled by SBI. While our bills are paperless, we still receive paper mail and packages. In addition to receiving all our mail and forwarding packages, they have a service where they will scan our mail and share it with us online.  They also helped us establish residency in the state of Florida. We’re very happy with them.

What is the most difficult aspect of the cruising lifestyle?

Saying goodbye. We’ve met some truly fantastic people who were on different journeys and it’s tough to bond with someone and then have them set sail to French Polynesia or finish cruising! It’s especially hard because we seldom meet cruisers who are around our age and we’re so excited when we do! Thankfully, there’s Facebook and Instagram to keep in touch, but it’s bittersweet.

What are some of your favorite pieces of gear on your boat and why?

Fans. It gets incredibly hot in the Sea of Cortez during the summer and we were really physically uncomfortable our first year. We have several small Hella fans stationed around the boat, but it’s not enough. We recently added a few 12-volt Caframo fans we can clip anywhere, either in our cockpit or down below when the breezes go away, and they really help keep us cool.

Sam needed as many fans as he could get in the Baja summer heat.

What piece of gear seems to break the most often?

Viv: Our refrigeration unit. We haven’t had a proper working freezer since leaving San Francisco. It’s a holding plate system that never gets quite down to freezing even though the compressor runs constantly. It’s frustrating as we’ve been troubleshooting it for 3 years now and it’s forced us to provision differently. We eat mostly vegetarian on the boat, but with our refrigeration woes, I’ve had to get very creative in how we provision and how we eat. While I would rather have a working freezer, I love working within constraints and enjoyed meal planning without refrigeration.

Scott: The refrigeration issues have had the most impact, but we’ve also had a stream of problems with our electronics. The system has spent most of the past decade in the tropics and the wiring is starting to show its age. There’s nothing quite like the adrenaline you feel as you enter an unfamiliar anchorage and your depth sounder and chart plotter stop working! We’re planning on upgrading the system, wiring and all, in the next year.

How would you recommend that someone prepares to cruise?

Be prepared for things to not go as planned. Because if things unexpectedly come to a complete stop, sometimes for a lot longer than you expect, having a good perspective on your situation will make a difference.  We’ve been in a marina in small Mexican town for six months now.  And it’s not because of a lack of preparation or prevention. Sometimes things go wrong all at once. While we have an amazing and trustworthy boat that we carefully maintain along with carrying an overabundance of spares, Juniper is 19 years old and unexpected things need to be replaced and random things break and sometimes they happen in rapid succession. We also had relatives get sick and pass away that required one of us to leave the boat and go home for months. We had our beloved sailing kitty, Sam, get sick and eventually pass away, and we stayed put because there was a vet nearby while we managed his care. None of the things we experienced in 2018 could have been predicted and they really threw us for a loop. Going with the flow and making mental adjustments helps us not be miserable.

What is a tip or a trick you have picked up along the way?

We love our preventer setup. It was important for us to have something that ran from the end of the boom to the bow, was always set up, but didn’t have lines getting in the way when the preventer wasn’t in use. We ended up with something very similar to what’s rigged on Morgan’s Cloud. It’s basically a two part system, with a length of Dyneema running from a padeye at the end of the boom to a cleat near the gooseneck. We then have about 70 feet of Sta-Set running inboard from the cockpit to a block at the bow, then outboard and tied to a stantion. When we want to deploy it we just go up on deck, tie the outboard end of the the line to the end of the Dyneema that’s stored at the gooseneck and we’re all done. Takes about 1 minute.

Preventer detail on run into San Evaristo.

It’s always something

We were all set to go. But you know the saying, “cruising is doing boat work in exotic places?” La Cruz is far from exotic when you’ve been here as long as we have.

Solar was up and running, we provisioned, our slip neighbor Travis on S/V Brighter Days made us some ribs for the passage, and we had a weather window.

Travis’s delicious ribs

And then things started breaking.

We discovered that one of our fuel tanks had a good amount of water in it. The washer in the cap on the deck fill was worn out and I washed the boat a few times since arriving in La Cruz. That would do it! To remove the water would require siphoning out the fuel and running it through some filters (a process called fuel polishing).

With that all sorted out and another good weather window available, we left our slip in Marina La Cruz and headed out of the channel and into the bay. Scott and I couldn’t wait to get the sails up, turn off our engine, and start sailing.

Goodbye, La Cruz!

As we began raising our mainsail it felt like were hitting a wall. It would just not rise more than halfway. We checked all the reef lines, the mainsail cars, but we could not figure out what was happening. Instead of forcing it, we needed to bring it down and give it a good inspection. And then the sail wouldn’t go down! Ok, that’s not good.

Then Scott increased the throttle and a bunch of white smoke came out of the exhaust. Ok, that’s not good.

And then I went downstairs and found the bilge was running nonstop. Ok, that’s really not good.

We quickly did a U-turn, dropped the hook in the anchorage, and started troubleshooting. Once we discovered that our bilge pump was corroded, we knew we had to give up and go back into the marina.

Once safely inside the marina, we order a new bilge pump from the US and begin to troubleshoot the engine. Of course the throttle control mechanisms breaks, requiring another order from the US.

We’re scared to touch the mainsail now.

So there you have it. It’s always something!

New Solar Panels

Power management on a cruising sailboat is a pretty important and sometimes frustrating topic. Since purchasing Juniper we’ve done what we can to reduce our energy usage (e.g. replaced all cabin lighting with LED, etc), but our primary issue has been generating enough power to replenish our batteries each night. We have a wind generator that is fantastic when there’s > 15 knots of wind. The problem is that there’s very little wind here in Baja and Pacific Mexico.

That takes us to solar which should be great since we do have tons and tons of sunlight. Juniper came with two well-used 80 watt solar panels, and that’s not nearly enough. At anchor, we usually have to run the engine at least an hour each day to make enough power.

With Viv flying back to the states for a month earlier this year and Sam being sick, we knew we’d be in La Cruz for a while.  We decided it would be a good time to upgrade our solar. Ordering the panels out of Querétaro City, refurbishing the wiring, and getting the solar panel mounts made and installed took a lot longer than we wanted it to, but we’re really happy with the outcome. We now have a total of 300 watts of solar, which still isn’t enough to support our electricity needs should really help.

Eight Bells for Sam

Sam, our Sailing Kitty, passed away peacefully on Saturday, April 14th. He was 15 years old. Sam was a beloved companion and crew. A world-traveler, a purr monster, a lap cat, a good kitty, our friend, and dearly loved, Sam will be greatly missed.

Eight bells* for Sam, our little friend. You’ll always be in our hearts.

*The practice of using bells stems from the days of the sailing ships. Sailors couldn’t afford to have their own time pieces and relied on the ship’s bells to tell time. The ship’s boy kept time by using a half-hour glass. Each time the sand ran out, he would turn the glass over and ring the appropriate number of bells. Each ship “watch” is four hours, or eight bells, in length.

The tradition of Eight Bells pays respect to deceased mariners and signifies that a sailor’s “watch” is over. Source

Waiting in La Cruz

Spending time in La Cruz hasn’t only been about eating churros. We’ve been here 1) waiting for the weather to shift so that we can go back north to the Sea of Cortez 2) doing some boat work while we wait, and 3) tending to our ailing sailing kitty, Sam.

In the winter and early spring months, cruisers in Mexico tend to do a few things, depending on their plans. Some cruisers stop here in Banderas Bay and continue south, often to Panama. Others do the Pacific Puddle Jump to French Polynesia, and some wait for the weather to shift and go north into the Sea of Cortez. We’re in the latter camp this year, awaiting the shift in winds to sail up north.

Scott went up the mast a few times. First to wash and grease our mainsail track to make it easier to bring our mainsail up and down. Next, he went up and changed our spreader lights from amp-hogging  incandescents to energy-saving LEDs and they’re very nice and bright.  Finally, Scott went up to the very top of the mast to bring down our wind instrument to test it out, confirm that it indeed died on us, and then went back up with a new one. 

We had workers from Marvel Boat Services waxing the topsides and hull and had them give Juniper two coats of varnish. We do not recommend them. They did a very sloppy job on the varnish, left a lot of ripples and holidays, and spilled varnish on Juniper and didn’t properly clean it up. I had to redo our starboard cockpit combing because there were so many ripples. 

In between eating tacos and churros, we fixed our wash down pump, serviced our outboard, cleaned out our food lockers (and rediscovered booze we bought back in SF), defrosted and added new refrigerant to our freezer/refrigerator, and now we need professional help with our next two projects:  installing our new solar panels, and fixing our electric winch. We might have to punt on these projects as the company that works on these things here in La Cruz is slammed.

At this point in April, the weather has shifted, but the main reason we haven’t yet left La Cruz is because Sam is very ill. When we were back in Miami for the summer he was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and he was prescribed medication to manage the disease. Unfortunately, the medication – which is the most popular kind used for treating hyperthyroidism in cats – has some really nasty side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, lethargy, inappetence and Sam has suffered from all of these. Since the summer, he’s lost a lot of weight and since February, he lost even more. It’s been a daily struggle to get Sam to eat food, and we had a smorgasbord going, but what flavors he liked one moment he disliked the next until it reached a point where he stopped eating entirely. Cats can’t go more than a few days without eating and over the Easter weekend, we were pretty certain we were going to lose him. Sam’s condition has since stabilized, but he has not recovered. I’ve been syringe-feeding Sam, because otherwise he won’t eat, and we’re taking it day by day and hoping that he gets well, but his prognosis isn’t very good. Thankfully, there’s a vet in La Cruz and we’ve been taking Sam there once or twice a week for bloodwork, subcutaneous fluids, and exams.

Scott and I have been in crisis mode for a while now, and the mood on Juniper has been pretty subdued. We’re keeping busy with projects, but it’s really heartbreaking to do all we can and see Sam’s health decline. We’re all hoping for a turnaround.

Here’s a cute picture of Sam going cross-eyed for food, from December, just to not end on such a sad note:

La Cruz has the best churros

We’ve walked by this guy making churros over a dozen times and never pulled the trigger but, after a nice dinner with our friends from SV Ingenium, we stopped instead of passing him by and we’re so glad we did! We all just kind of went bonkers after the first bite.

He’s on Calle Langosta, next to the Kiosko, and he’s there in the evenings until 10pm, every day of the week,  I believe. Churros are a legitimately good reason to visit La Cruz!

Mazatlan to La Cruz

The forecast for our passage to La Cruz from Mazatlan called for it to be a wind-filled sailing adventure but aside from a brief moment outside of Mazatlan, it turned out to be one long motor slog through dead calm waters. Not ideal, but it ended up working out because whatever hesitation Scott and I had about running the motor for extended periods of time vanished after 30 hours of motor sailing.

As we left Mazatlan, we were behind SV Full and By and followed by SV Shannon’s Spirit. They were buddy-boating and we were right in between them. We all ended up sticking together the entire passage with Full and By taking the lead at times and Shannon’s Spirit a good distance behind us. It was our first time being close to other boats for a passage, and it was helpful as Full and By repeatedly hailed us to warn of fishing lines they’ve spotted.

The only hitch in all of this was a strong diesel smell a few miles outside of La Cruz. Upon our arrival we found a cracked fuel line spraying a light mist. We had a spare on board so it was easy to replace.

We’ve been here at the La Cruz anchorage since December 12th. We went to the Festival of Guadalupe and spent Christmas with Paul and Judy (former cruisers who’ve settled in Puerto Vallarta), SV Due West, and SV Windcharmer. New Year’s Eve we spent with SV Ingenium and their family and SV Tigress II.

There’s plenty of marine life here in the anchorage. At night, we often hear whale songs (and sometimes, it’s loud enough to wake us up!), and we have a beautiful Dorado fish (aka Mahi Mahi) who likes to swim around Juniper.

For Heidi’s birthday, we went whale watching and hiked up to a waterfall. We had the most incredible whale watching experience when two humpback whales came over to our panga, and just dove all around, watching us and seeming to want the boat to play with them. It was awe inspiring to be so close to these creatures, and such an adrenaline rush when the whales burst out of the water!

We initially planned to leave La Cruz for points south after the new year, but we’re upgrading our solar panels instead. This is our first experience cruising during the winter (we were at the marina all winter last year) and our combined 160 watt solar can’t meet our energy demands, small as it is. So we’re sticking around and upgrading solar vs going south to Tenecatitia and Barra de Navidad. While we’d like to check those anchorages out, better solar would really help us out with our longer term plans.

Sunrise in La Cruz

Delays in Mazatlan

We’re suffering a bit of a delay here in Mazatlan, some of it is the boat yard and some of it us. We were anticipating being out of here by Thanksgiving but it looks like we’ll be lucky if we’re out of here by Christmas.

In kitty news, when we were in Miami we found out that Sam  has hyperthyroidism and needs to take medication for the rest of his kitty life. Unbeknownst to us, his initial dosage was pretty high and he became lethargic and uninterested in eating which gave us quite a scare! We took him to a local vet here in Mazatlan and we’ve adjusted his dosage and he seems to be doing better. Hopefully Sam will be sailing with us for years to come.

Sam at the vet

In the meantime, we’ve:

  • Gone up the mast a few times to inspect the rigging,  wash and grease the mainsail track, repair some deteriorated leather on the rigging, and replace our spreader lights. Unfortunately the screws for the lights are frozen to the spreaders so we’re going to wait to fix that when we have the mast pulled next year.
  • Rigged jib back onto the roller furler (we’re leaving staysail off for repairs when we reach La Cruz)
  • Removed the sunshades from the porthole windows and screwed in the screens
  • Inflated and tested the dinghy for leaks. 3 years in and it’s still good!
  • Ran the outboard (it had been sitting idle for six months)
  • Multiple dingy trips to the fuel dock to top off our tanks and filled our jerry cans with diesel and gasoline.
  • Ran the engine at the dock to further test the prop shaft work we had done over the summer. So far, no leaks!

Active Marine came by last week to ground the prop (there was some electricity discharging from the boat and as a symptom, our zincs were wearing out way faster than they should) and in doing so discovered they made an error in rewiring that resulted in our starter battery being tapped the entire summer and is now completely drained and dead. That sucks.

We still need to:

  • Buy and replace our starter battery
  • Finish re-varnishing the cap rail where the varnish lifted at the scarf joints (Active Marine is doing this but we’ll probably finish up ourselves as it’s taking too long)
  • Replace a broken mainsail car
  • Wash and put away our hurricane lines (oversized docklines we use for storing the boat over the summer)
  • Remove and store the AC
  • Re-install our dodger windows
  • Fill our tanks with drinking water
  • Provision
  • Wash the boat

This time last year: Cruising without refrigeration.

Back in Mazatlan and back on Juniper

After three months away from Mazatlan and Juniper, we returned to find the boat in pretty good shape here at Marina Mazatlan. No mildew, thanks to a small dehumidifier we set up prior to leaving (to which Scott attached a hose to auto-drain into the sink). We discovered some minor issues that we’ll need to take care of such as:

  • Our battery monitor died and needs replacing.
  • The varnish has begun to peel at the joints on both toe rails so we’ll need to have that area sanded down and revarnished (covered under warranty).
  • The head needs to be rebuilt. We did this a couple of years ago and it’s about as unpleasant as you might expect.
  • Replacing a slide on our mainsail.  We won’t be able to raise the sail otherwise.
  • Go up the mast and replace our spreader lights. One went out last year during Hurricane Newton and rather than fix it we’re replacing both of them with LED lights.

Once that’s all sorted we’ll be heading south to some of the places we’ve already been (Matanchen, Chacala, Banderas Bay) and to some we haven’t (Barra de Navidad, Tenacatita).

But first we’re going to test out the major work that we had done by motoring over to Stone Island here in Mazatlan. If everything works well, we’ll anchor out and head south. If not, we’ll head back into the marina for more work.

We’re both a little hesitant about our first passage and want to test out the engine to make sure that it’s working properly. Last thing we want is another issue in the middle of nowhere. We’re chomping at the bit to get out of Mazatlan and we’re really excited to begin cruising again!

Killing time in Mazatlan

It’s been eight weeks since we were towed into Mazatlan and put Juniper on the hard. We have lots of work being done to the boat at Active Marine, including:

  • Replacing the stern tube, cutlass bearing, prop shaft, shaft seal, engine mounts and both aft mounting feet (the main reason we’re here)
  • Replace the engine stop solenoid
  • Servicing our Lighthouse 1501 windlass
  • Replacing the engine room insulation
  • Revarnishing all exterior wood (we’ve neglected this badly since leaving SF)
  • New bottom paint

While Scott did a parts run to San Diego at the end of April, we’re still waiting on one crucial part that should be here later this week (the stern tube). In the meantime, Juniper is getting eight coats of varnish and her bottom painted.

It’s off-season here in Mazatlan and the local net stopped meeting every day and shifted to a Monday, Wednesday, Saturday schedule. Looking out over the balcony towards the marina, traffic in and out of slips has come to a stop and the boats are all prepped for summer storage. Scott and I haven’t met anyone while here, so we’ve been hanging out by ourselves.

I spent most of May going to physical therapy three days a week due to a shoulder impingement. I’ve also spent time reading all of the hard copy books I packed on Juniper so that I can donate them to the marina library and gain precious boat space back. Scott’s been enjoying uninterrupted and fast wifi and working on software projects (more on that in another post down the road). We both have been enjoying regular hot showers, a washer/dryer, regular access to fresh produce, plenty of home cooked meals, and popcorn and a movie either on the sofa or at the “platinum” movie theatre nearby.

We’ve checked out a few restaurants here in Mazatlan and explored Old Town, which we really like. We’ve done most of the touristy things except for visiting El Faro and the aquarium, which we need to get around to doing before it gets exceptionally hot and humid. We’re making the best out of being here. Mazatlan isn’t a bad place, but it’s hard when you’re stuck in a city that you didn’t intend on spending so much time in. We’re really looking forward to Juniper getting back in the water and moving on.

One year ago: La Paz.