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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

7/13 Pink Jobs and Blue Jobs

There is a joke going around the cruisers…it’s a bit vulgar but it humorously sums up the stress that can occur between couples in this cruising life -especially when the heat rises above about 95 degrees:

When a husband and wife are first married the romance and lust is strong -sex in the bedroom, sex in the kitchen, sex on the dining room table. Then when you begin cruising you spend months together in the confines of a mere 40 or 50 feet and the lust begins to wane. By the time the hot, muggy, sticky summer season comes the only kind of sex you’re having is “hall sex.” That’s when, forced to squeeze pass each other in the tiny hallway of your boat both husband and wife spit out a venom filled “screw you.”

But seriously ……the other day I was sitting with a group of cruising couples when one of the husbands said that he thought that the biggest threat to a couple out cruising is not what we all thought it would be. We spent heaps of time, energy and money preparing for and learning about heavy weather, storm tactics and emergency first aid. But in the end it’s not whether or not you can weather the storm it is how you manage to live in harmony for long periods in small spaces virtually an island unto yourselves. According to my (male) friend it’s making your relationship work in spite of us and all of our idiosyncrasies and bad habits.

Somehow his statement caught me by surprise even though I had a similar conversation with a group of cruising wives just a week or so earlier. We had all gone out to dinner in a big group –ten of us- and all the men sat at one end of the table and all the women at the other. The men we assumed were talking about what they always talk about: engines, oil changes, anchors, bad anchoring neighbors and their spouse’s relentless need to make just one more trip to the grocery store for provisions. The women began talking about blue and pink jobs and the division of labor, among other things.

If you’re not familiar with blue vs. pink it’s the tendency to split the jobs aboard a cruising boat into his and her jobs. His type jobs would be engine repair, oil changes, driving the boat, plotting a course, visiting the Port Captain and handling the “paperwork”, various small boat projects involving muscle and cursing, picking the exact anchoring spot, manning the BBQ, hauling in and cleaning fish while underway and rebuilding and or unplugging the plugged heads (boat toilet.)

Her type jobs would be cooking, dishes, counter wiping, bed making, refilling the water bottles and returning them to the fridge, keeping track of the boats official paperwork so it can be found for the blue job trips to the Port Captains office, putting the dirty laundry into a laundry bag, hauling it out of the boat and off the dock up to the machines or to the lavanderia, doing bucket washing of the laundry if away from the dock for extended periods of time, keeping the social calendar straight, scrubbing the smelly heads, cleaning up the mess after the captain unplugs or rebuilds the head, defrosting the freezer (again,) creating something fresh and delicious for yet another potluck out of the last of the food stuffs when you have been at anchor away from civilization for days on end, producing a three course meal when the captain says “hey, I caught this big fish why don’t you join us for dinner? No, you don’t need to bring anything,” all sewing or painting projects, finding the next roll of toilet paper in one of the many lockers, filling the water tanks, replacing the batteries in the autopilot remote, keeping track of the manuals for all the boats inner workings and electronics, finding things in the fridge, hearing (and understanding) the “Captain” when he gives instructions while facing away from you into the wind with the stereo and the engine running, keeping the log, keeping the camera and video camera batteries charged and ready, turning off and on any switches for the engine and electronics, washing the outside of the boat, cleaning the windows of the dodger, picking up after moving the boat (anywhere), tending the sheets and halyards after a sail, hanging the fenders and dock lines when entering a marina, putting away the fenders and dock lines when leaving a marina, fetching and carrying all the little bits and pieces for any of the captains projects, remembering to turn on the anchor light (before you leave the boat in a strange new anchorage and might likely not return until its pitch friggin black out with no moon in sight,) remembering to turn off the anchor light so it doesn’t run the batteries out, keeping track of the cruisers guides, fetching the camera from below whenever a dolphin or whale appears, taking your allotted four hour on four hours off watches while on passages, getting the captain up for his watch, grabbing the captain a cup of tea before you go off watch, keeping track of the binoculars, putting up the sunshade, taking down the sunshade, finding a place to put away all the provisions you just lugged home on the bus, repacking the refrigerator to accommodate all the new groceries you just lugged home on the bus, finding room in the packed refrigerator for the big bloody smelly fish the captain just caught, finding room in the fridge for a garbage bag full of live three foot squid, dividing the trash into organic and non-organic garbage, taking the trash up to the dumpster, burning the trash when appropriate, taking a stroll on deck before the winds come and blow all your bits and pieces overboard, cleaning the entire boat after being in the yard, keeping track of the family back at home, reminding the captain of all those “don't let me forgets”...…being available 24/7 to step in and help with any of the blue jobs and last but certainly not least being responsible for knowing where everything is at any given time in spite of the fact that the Captain never returns anything to its place or puts anything new away that comes on board.

It was reassuring to talk to four other wives and hear that we all had essentially the same list of complaints regardless of how long the couple has been cruising or how long they have been together or how much the whole thing was “his” idea to begin with. Now mind you I really really wanted to come on this adventure and I am not sure I want to hear exactly what those fellas talk about when we are not paying attention. I am sure they have a great many complaints they could throw our way but unless we all have been struck stupid by the heat it seems that there is a bit of an imbalance in the blue vs. pink job base.

One complaint I have heard repeatedly from our side is what happens at the end of a trip. Now let’s just say you did a long passage today. Not an overnight but say a 70nm day trip (at 6mph it’s roughly an 11 ½ hour day.) The captain drove the boat all day save for the times he said “pay attention I am going below.” He plotted the course, steered through any delicate places and kept you safe. If you left early in the morning sometimes he sends you back to sleep for an hour or so.

You on the other hand did nothing but read your book all day. Oh and cook, serve and clean up three meals and a snack, keep the daily log, clean the whole boat so it would be finished and behind you when you arrived so your time at a new place is free and unfettered, fetched the drinks, took the helm when there was something else the captain need attend to, helped put out the fishing lines, brought in the fishing lines before you pulled into the marina so they wouldn’t get tangled in the prop, help put up the sails, help take down the sails, picked up everything as the day moved along, readied the fenders and dock lines and stood by to fend off as you pulled in to the marina, jumped off the deck onto the dock and caught fast a line.

There are a couple of things that can happen next. One is the captain steps off the deck to the dock and immediately begins saying hello and shaking hands and hugging all the friends that come out to say hello while you are suddenly left trying to a) keep the boat from smashing into the dock while the fenders you hung are simply not fending because the dock is either way higher or way lower than you had anticipated or b.) are left scurrying around trying to make fast the other three lines that are just hanging limply off the boat as el Capitan begins telling tales and making plans for dinner which he will expect you to be ready for in five minutes.

The other thing that may happen is the captain who has been busy driving the boat all day will (if he doesn’t have to go to the Port Captains office) suddenly sit down and either a.) Take an instantaneous nap or b.) Grab a book and begin reading.
In the mean time you are left to turn off the key, switch off the electronics and flip the solar back on, switch off all the other pertinent switches, fill in the log, put away the fishing gear, coil the sheets and make fast the halyards, put on the sunshade and the sail cover, cover the dodger windows with sunshades, put away the binoculars, camera, life jackets and cruising guide, switch the VHF to the proper hailing frequency so you can hear your friends calling, put away the books and Kindles, find the fly swatter, take out or put in the bug screens and do a quick load of dishes before finally sitting down to soak up the experience.

Now again I say this all rather tongue in cheek but there does seem to be a pattern emerging. One of the biggest arguments we have had while being out here occurs when I spend time working on “my” projects. The captain often sees those moments as time in which to relax and do nothing. Now remember when the captain is working on a project he expects that he will have help and back up. Someone must fetch and carry, hold this and grab that and someone must decipher what “this” is and exactly what “that” might be. The captain rarely (hah!!!) preplans a job ahead of time in order to gather the things together he will need or prepare a work space. Nor does he talks the project through in order to let the helper know what it is that we are trying to do and how he expects that to be carried out. Reading minds becomes an important job skill to have though one which is rarely possessed.

When the job is through the Captain sits down and either a) takes an instantaneous nap or b.) begins reading a book. Meanwhile the pink jobee is left putting away all the tools and cleaning up any mess “we” made during the project.
To the Captains credit once they know that someone is “having a bad day” they often step in to handle some of the slack. I have even heard of a Captain or two stepping in to do a load of dishes! There is also often a willingness to grab a meal out whenever possible to help lessen the load (though this might be more a reaction to wanting to find the nearest ice cream joint or a halfway decent piece of chocolate cake but valuable none the less.) Most importantly though is that the captain generally take his job of keeping us safe very seriously which is of course priceless.

The women I see who are most comfortable with themselves and their partners and seem to be having a great time out here tend to have one thing in common: they actively sought out opportunities to learn new skills. For my part I’ve invested time in being around other women with similar sailing goals. I did this through new friends, books, classes and seminars, workshops, attendance at monthly meetings of Northwest Women of Boating (a women’s only boating group,) and involvement in “ Womens Day” at The Boat Show. I have tried to both participate fully and actively share my own experiences with other women. I even found myself braving a live audience once while giving a presentation at the Seattle Boat Show.

The women I meet have done their best to learn all they could about the blue jobs around them: diesel engines, 12volt electrical systems, navigation, taking the helm of their own vessel including learning to dock (one skill many women never try and master.) Meanwhile there seems to be a pretty large lack of Captains trying to learn how to master many of the pink jobs aboard.

Regardless of the weight of blue vs. pink most of us are having an amazing time out here. In fact I think most women would agree with me in saying that full time cruising makes a relationship better. In the 14 months we have been cruising fulltime I only know of one woman who called it quits. I think she was overwhelmed and could just never feel safe and secure out here. Despite trying many different options in the end she chose to return home leaving her husband to make his way back to Seattle with their boat.

When we do this thing well we get to experience a very close and intimate relationship. We are forced to learn to truly rely on one another in a way that is not seen so much back in the 9 to 5 world. Handling problems together, making it through a crisis or experiencing moments of amazing natural wonder can leave the two of you, as a couple breathless and filed with gratitude. Which mostly makes up for the times you want to throw them overboard and conveniently forget all those man overboard drills.


7/10 Just how hot is it in Baja?

We’re well into the summer here in Baja and there are plenty of signs showing our numbers have definitely dwindled. First of course was the mass exodus: Americans and Canadians making a quick bee line for the boarder by the plane and car full. Second the fleet is now down to somewhere between 30 and 40 boats. Third, even the Mexicans are complaining of the heat. And lastly, when we attended Baja Geary’s annual 4th of July party half the group was floating around in the shallows of Burro Cove by 1:00pm trying to beat the heat and by 3:00pm even the folks who had neglected to wear their suits were emptying their pockets and going in fully clothed. You just don’t see that happening back in Seattle.

I need to give a big hoorah to Baja Geary our Ham radio weatherman. He’s not even a boater but somehow he got roped into taking over the job of weatherman when the last volunteer bailed out. Every morning for the last eleven years for no pay and little glory Geary rolls out of bed and begins his search through a number of online sources which he then compiles into a highly accurate forecast. Come 7:45 he cheerfully hands out the result of his search via his Ham radio and gives us the information we need to be safe here in the Sea during these lonely summer months.
Things are different in the Sea. Back home we are really quite spoiled with access to near instant news and weather. Here in the Sea we are very isolated from radio, TV, telephone and cell phone coverage. There is no NOAH, no USCG automated reports and no CH5 but we do have Baja Geary to help us avoid Chubasco’s, Elefantes and the biggest weather boogey man of them all hurricanes.

Geary is a huge lifeline for the few boats that choose to summer over in the Sea. Those of us who choose to stay are here for the duration. We can’t change our minds and leave because going south out of the Sea leads us right into the summer storm path. The north end of the Sea is the only (relatively) safe harbor from the annual hurricane season and Baja Geary lets us know if anything is sneaking our way. His hard work and dedication has made him a very important part of our little community and has made it possible for us to safely summer over in the Sea. Plus we get a party to boot!

This cruising stuff is a pretty tight community but timing is everything and though most of us have been following essentially the same route for an entire season amazingly many of us have yet to cross paths. So, the 4th of July party was a great chance to meet some new friends and catch up with some we had lost track of.
The weather for this years’ party was overcast which we were all glad to see after a week of 102, 103 and 104 degree days. We joked with some other Seattle folks that the overcast skies we were under would help us feel like we were back at home for the 4th but the comparison quickly vanished in the heat.
It is hard to adequately describe summertime in Baja for anyone who has not experienced it. Knowing that we planned to spend our whole summer in the Sea many veterans tried describing it for us. Still I don’t think we were able to really appreciate the scope of things to come. We pooh poohed it a bit wondering “just how bad can it be?” and considering things like “well, the Mexicans have been doing it forever and they seem none the worse for wear.” Or “just how hot can it be? We began to get an inkling of what to expect when we met Jerry a few weeks ago. He lives year around in Baja and he bought a second house just to combat the heat! His primary residence is a beautiful custom home near Santispac that overlooks the bay. It is stunning and has everything a man could want- except air conditioning. Because of the lack of AC (and not being set up to ever have it) he retreats to a second home just a few miles away in Mulage` June thru October. In spite of having spent many years here his second home is simply a retreat from the heat.
Then we began noticing more and more that many of the folks who were saying they would be staying for the whole season had AC on their boat. These cruisers were all decked out with big window AC’s cobbled into hatches and many were planning on retreating to marinas if or when the heat get to unbearable. A couple of the marinas here even drum up business by advertising unlimited free electricity which if you have AC (we don’t) equates to no cost air conditioning if you stay at their docks.
We of course came expecting hot. We had heard all the warnings and had spent time and money planning our strategy. I made a four piece sunshade, bought a hammock and sewed shades for all the hatches to help deflect the heat. I also brought along a wind scoop (to hang over our main cabin hatch to catch any bots of breeze) and brought materials and a pattern for making two more.
We had been warned that many cruisers experience refrigeration failures in the tropics so we super fortified our refrigerator before we left Seattle. In fact the refit/rebuild of our refrigeration system held us up for more than a month from our planned Seattle leave date. Our problem in receiving our vacuum panels in a timely manner from Glacier Bay pales at the problems of a few of our friends. One couple we know spent $10,000 on a Glacier Bay top of the line system and then paid another $10,000 to have it installed only to have the system completely give up the ghost once in the heat of Mexico. Having a system failure is always a big problem anywhere out of the states (heck it’s a problem back in the states!) but worse than the failure was the discovery that Glacier Bay has completely withdrawn from supporting their marine systems. They provide no technical support, no parts and no repair. Several other couples we know with Glacier Bay systems are living on the edge aware that if their system fails the problems could be monumental.
Our system is working great. All our delays and troubles in rebuilding our old system literally from the inside out of the old ice box and replacing it with a system that takes far less power than the systems of anyone we know was worth all work we did. Other than a broken thermostat we are replacing this weekend our fridge seems to be handling things better than anyone’s we know.
Again it’s hard to adequately describe the Baja summer. Once we passed the summer solstice in June it has felt like someone flipped a switch. All I can say is WOW! The water here is already almost 90 degrees and the really warm stuff hasn’t even hit yet. When you jump in the water for relief which we do many times each day it doesn’t really cool you down it just rinses off the sweat and gives you the temporary advantage of evaporation.
The wind blows and it feels like you are standing in front of a giant hair dryer turned on high. I wake up in the morning and no matter the time I inevitably roll over to try and get back to sleep searching for just a few more minutes when I can be oblivious to the heat. They tell me that August and September will be nearly unbearable. ~sigh~
For the first time in my life I am sleeping with no covers what so ever, not even a sheet. The first morning I woke up realizing I had slept that way the entire night I was amazed. Even in the hottest weather back home I have always kept a sheet over me in fact I truly didn’t think I could sleep with no covers. Now the top sheet and coverlet aren’t even on the bed, (because for heaven’s sake you can’t have anything bunched up around your toes) both lay folded atop a cabinet nearby hoping against hope that we might actually need them again. You lie in bed at night with your hubby trying not to touch because any added heat feels like a thousand pounds against your skin.
We spend most days lazing away doing nothing but reading and swimming. We look forward to being underway because while underway even if there is no wind we theoretically make our own breeze. Yea right! Yesterday with not a breath of wind we motored along for 13 hours for a crossing from Mulage` to San Carlos. By the time we arrived the heated up engine compartment radiated so much heat I could hardly walk down the corridor past its doors. All the heat had dissipated throughout the boat and when I turned on the cold water taps the water that came out felt warm enough for a Seattle winters bath. On arrival we were both so hot and tired that we couldn’t even rustle up the energy to go in to get something to eat. We dined on cold tuna sandwiches and chilled chocolate pudding.
Everything spoils faster too. Garbage goes gooey and buggy in no time. Potatoes, carrots and cabbage that used to last for weeks stored in the cool of our bilge keeps turning to mush in a matter of days as do the eggs that used to keep unrefrigerated for weeks at a time. Our cockpit which is equipped with a dodger and a bimini now simply doesn’t offer enough shade for two bodies. While the sun clocked around us during our long passage I was constantly shifting to whatever small patch of shade I could find. The small movable side shade I made helps but the cutout between dodger and bimini leaves a wide swath of heat no matter the angle of the sun. While at anchor we have a shade to put in place but while underway it has to be moved in order to drive.
In spite of having done my best to stay out of the sun there was no hiding from the heat and by nightfall I was covered with a tiny blistery heat rash. At least being on the water does offer some relief but I know that once we step off the boat the heat will drip down on us again in force. It makes it hard to look forward to the next few days of provisioning bus trips and sitting around the laundry mat doing the wash. Then again civilization means AA meetings and ice cream, endless cold drinks, dinners out and visits with friends.
In addition to the heat we will soon have the opportunity to experience a few other Baja weather phenomena. There will be thunder storms, lots of them. Lovingly called thunder bumpers by our weather guru Geary. They will come quickly and furiously and each one will threaten to strike our mast and blow out all of our electronics. Then north of us will be the Elefantes: localized katabatic winds carried by clouds that look like elephant trunks. They appear as evening approaches and the cool air from the Pacific Ocean is funneled across the Baja peninsula from west to east through arroyos to the warm waters of the Sea of Cortez. They can carry winds of 40, 50 or even 60 miles per hour in the middle of the night. The unpredictability of Elfantes requiring us to take down our sunshade ever darn night before we go to sleep just to have the privilege of putting it up each morning before the air becomes to unbearable once again. Then there are the Chubascos: the late afternoon to early morning summertime convection storms that come in the form of short lived but fierce squalls. They carry thunder and lightning, high winds and heavy rain. Oh Joy, again another reason to be sure and take down that four piece sun shade and clear off the decks every afternoon.
The hurricanes are something else altogether. Best case scenario is nothing will even develop into a tropical depression much less a names hurricane. The hurricane history of Baja shows that it is highly unlikely for a names storm to make it into the Sea and of those that do very, very few ever move farther north than the 27th parallel. The most likely scenario will be the entire fleet will learn of a developing storm (there is usually at least a four day warning) and in response we will all move as quickly as possible to the nearest hurricane hole in the northern Sea. Once there we will continuously monitor the storm as it develops or dies and begin working like the devil for days preparing for the worst. We will strip all of our sails and then literally take everything off the deck that isn't glued down. When all the work is through we will spend the next hours talking with friends in the fleet, commiserating and considering tactics and anchoring techniques . Then the storm will blow itself out well below the 27th parallel and we will sit in the windy rain slowly putting our boats back together and leave with nothing more than a few stories to tell.
Oh yes I almost forgot the jelly fish. The warmer the water gets the more the jellyfish begin to invade the Sea of Cortez. They relentlessly sting any bit of bare skin they come into contact with and they have no regard at all for me or how hot I am or that I just need to cool off!! We had Lycra jellyfish suits made when we were in Mazatlan for just this problem. They have long sleeved tops, legging type bottoms, booties, gloves and a hood all with tight binding to keep the tentacles out. I still have a couple dozen tiny red welts on my torso where I got my first bit of a tentacle piece trapped under my suit during my daily exercise swim. At first it felt itchy and then like tiny needles poking into me. By the time I made it back to the boat I was scratching all over like a cat with fleas, neck to hip. The only way to stop the itch is to wipe your skin down with urine, ammonia or vinegar. No ammonia on board I chose the vinegar( and smelled like a pickle for two days.)
The cabin is hot. I can’t tell you how hot. As I write this at 8:00am we are under a light cloud cover and there is enough wind in the anchorage to rattle the rigging yet it is already 86 degrees. Bill is wearing Jockey shorts and I am in a light cotton sarong and he just commented that it’s nice and cool this morning! Sheesh, I sweat when I make breakfast –cold cereal and tea. Maybe I don’t really need tea every morning? If you go below anytime during the day it feels like a sauna yet even that becomes a retreat at midday. We have covered the cabin cushions and the bed sheets with towels to soak up the sweat (yea I know ewwww.)
Bill and I were talking a few days ago and I had to laugh, all my life I thought I just simply didn’t sweat much. Surprise! He laughed and called me a wuss and said that after being a lifelong Seattleite I just never have had a chance to practice. Now I climb out of bed, wander around as long as I can with nothing on, take a shower and pull on the lightest clean clothes I can find. The moment I move I am instantly damp all over. I then stay damp for the rest of the day except for any precious minutes in air conditioning when we are out and about. I truly had no idea my body could even act this way. I sweat just thinking about turning on the stove to cook dinner. When I step into the galley –even if I am not going to cook - the sweat starts to roll. My body seems to make a preemptive strike leaving me feeling a bit like one of Dr. Pavlov’s’ dogs. Baking? Ha! Try me in December.
The BBQ now has become worth its weight in gold and I no longer look at the whole men and barbecuing thing the way I used to. As far as I am concerned Bill can keep barbecuing, forever. I’ll plan my meals around it (and cold sandwiches) and I’ll even buy him one of those silly “kiss the cook” aprons if he wants one.
Right now dips in the water and the hot winds are the only things that make this bearable. At least here there are no bugs so we are able to keep all our hatches, port lights and companionways wide open to any hint of wind. If we end up in another buggy anchorage…..well I just can’t imagine it. I do wish we had gotten a couple of blow up air mattresses so we could sleep in the cockpit or on the foredeck in comfort. They are now on the wish list and if I am lucky we will find some before the summer is out. We do already have cockpit cushions that help but it’s not the same good night’s sleep I could be getting on my innerspring mattress.
But it’s truly not all bad. We are having a great time we are just finding that we have to shift priorities a bit and give ourselves permission to stay in siesta mode. I am looking forward to more nights of falling asleep under the amazing Baja night sky and have to remember to do a Google search for summer meteor showers so I will know when the prime viewing nights are due. In the remote anchorages away from the towns and cities with no light or air pollution the sky is utterly amazing. In fact so far the sheer beauty of the place along with the wildlife and the fishing is winning out over the problems with the heat but come August, well we will have to wait and see. I just wish I had packed more swim suits.