2 In la paz/ the journal/ the life/ travel

Baja Road Trip: La Paz to California

In December we hit the dusty trail all the way up the Baja Peninsula for what we thought would be a two week road trip. Little did we know, this trip would lead to a long term change of scenery. (More on that later).

We rented a car and did our best to (over)insure ourselves as we knew we would be taking it into the States. We were honest about our intentions to take the car across the border, and we found Alamo in La Paz to be the most helpful and affordable under those circumstances.

A small portion of the drive was unpaved. Hurricane Odile damaged the highway and repairs were underway.

Only a small portion of the drive was unpaved. Hurricane Odile damaged the main highway and repairs were underway.

Leg One: La Paz to Loreto

Our first leg was a little over a four hour drive to Loreto. Loreto might be the most charming Baja town. Our digs for the night were at La Damiana Inn (for less than $40 USD). La Damiana is a small property of colorful, roomy casitas. The host (I wish I could remember his name!) offered us jamaica tea and cervesa when we arrived, showed us around, and gave us a great dinner recommendation. With that, we made our way to Orlando’s and filled up on margaritas, tortilla soup, and chile rellenos.

 

La Damiana courtyard

La Damiana courtyard

Leg Two: Loreto to El Rosario

We knew the drive from Loreto to El Rosario would be a long one, so we left at sunrise. The rule of thumb when driving the Baja Peninsula is to only drive during daylight hours. Cows are a hazard as they wander onto the roads at night.

Our dock neighbor in La Paz recommended the stop in El Rosario to make the final leg with the border crossing shorter. He also recommended we stay at the Baja Cactus Motel, (again less than $40 USD). Both suggestions turned out to be good ones. The hotel is also right next to the popular Mama Espinoza restaurant where Baja 1000 memorabilia covers the walls. We had a quick and tasty Mexican diner style dinner there.

Final Stretch: El Rosario to Tijuana

From El Rosario, we had a about a four hour drive to Tijuana. We arrived at the border around noon, rolled down the window to purchase short-term car insurance from one of the street vendors ($25), and were visiting with family in Southern California by 2:30 PM. Not too shabby.

0 In la paz/ mexico/ the journal

Muertos to Playa La Bonanza

From Muertos, we intended to head straight to La Paz, With a forecast calling for light conditions, we hauled up the anchor early to catch slack tide through the channel. We motor sailed along in the calm-as-predicted conditions, until out of nowhere the wind picked up to 15, then 20, then 20+ knots. Jeff was at the helm, and within minutes his favorite hat flew off into the ocean. Then the chop started to build. We continued to make progress toward La Paz even though the conditions were making for not-so-fun sailing. My handy (aka: poorly constructed) weather cloths blocked some of the splashes, but when Jeff started taking waves to the face, we decided to consider finding a place to call it a day. We could see Punta Morritos ahead, and with a little help from our cruising guide, we headed in to the white sand beach at Playa La Bonanza.

The 27 nautical miles between Muertos and Bonanza that took longer than we care to admit.

The 27 nautical miles between Muertos and Bonanza that took longer than we care to admit.

 

At anchor at Playa La Balandra

At anchor at Playa La Balandra

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and the water looked like this

The anchorage was completely empty when we arrived in the early afternoon. After the chop, the higher than expected wind speeds, and the much longer than expected day on the water we welcomed the calm turquoise hideaway. A few other boats arrived before sunset, but it was still a wide open beautiful anchorage. We went for swims, took showers, made dinner, and slept well that evening. The next morning we tried again for La Paz (and actually made it!)

 

Have we mentioned how much we love our solar shower

Have we mentioned how much we love our Nemo Helio solar shower?

 

0 In by sail/ mexico/ the journal

Ensendada de los Muertos

At 6am, after about a week in Cabo, we left to begin making our way to La Paz. For many boats headed to La Paz from Cabo, their first stop is Bahia Los Frailes. We decided to put a few more miles under our keel and sail through the night to Ensenada de Los Muertos, which is also known as Bahia de Los Sueños.

We sailed through the day and into the evening in light conditions. I was on watch during sunset, which was to our port side, sinking behind the Baja Peninsula. As our first sail in Mexico apart from the Ha-Ha fleet, there was a different feeling about this leg of our journey. We felt alone. We have felt alone at sea before, but I know I felt it even more so here. Not alone in a bad way, but in an exciting and self-reliant way. To be surrounded by the wild blue, with nothing between you and the deep but your trustworthy little vessel is amazing.

That night the bioluminescence was in full effect, which is probably my favorite thing in the whole world. I always look for it on night watch. I saw what I’m pretty sure was a dolphin swimming beside us. All I could see was the trail of bioluminescence it was leaving as it darted around our port side. There’s no question sailing by he light of a big bright moon is awesome, but a moon-less night sail has its own perks. With glowing glitter organisms in the boat’s wake and the dense blanket of stars above, everything around us sparkled. 

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We arrived before sunrise at Los Muertos, so we hove to until the sun came up before finding a spot to anchor in the bay. Umphrey was eager to get to shore, and we were ready for breakfast. There is one large restaurant, El Cardón Tequila Bar, on the northeast side of the bay. We launched the dinghy and headed in that direction. We enjoyed huevos estrallados at the restaurant, zipped around the bay in the dinghy, then headed back to the boat to rest and clean up.

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There a few boats we recognized in the bay, and we shared some happy hour drinks in the restaurant that evening, then dinghied over to our friends’ boat for a beer. The wind started to pick up as the sun was setting, so we needed to hurry back to Starfire to secure the dinghy on the boat for the evening. The bay was a little choppy and I saw 12 knots on the wind meter. We must have been a comical sight as we wrangled the 95lb dinghy through the breeze back on deck, our spreader lights acting as a spotlight for any viewers interested in our clumsy efforts. We usually haul up our outboard and dinghy with our topping lift and spinnaker pole. Jeff carries the outboard down the deck to it’s mount on the stern of Starfire, followed by the heavy lifting for the dinghy while I guide to it’s place on deck. This daily chore, in anything less that calm conditions, can be a bit of a nail biter. We’ve been known to get creative with the outboard step to make it safer, as we did on this particular evening. It went something like this: Jeff heaves the outboard up to me from the dinghy while I sit with one foot in the cockpit and one the swim ladder. Then he comes up into the cockpit to take it from me and place it on the mount. It sounds simple, but it’s pretty freaking hard. Basically, I function as a temporary outboard holder and end up with grease stains/bruises on my legs. Of course, two minutes after the dinghy and outboard were secure, the wind died to nothing. We laughed and said, “Well, that was easy.”

0 In baja ha-ha/ by sail/ mexico/ the journal

one week in cabo

Upon arrival in Cabo, we learned that Hurricane Odile damaged about 30% of the slips at the marina, and even though we were one of the first twenty boats to sign up in hopes of getting a slip, the damage was such that we ended up sharing. Thankfully, we’re a smaller boat, so it turned out to be no big deal. We were rafted up next to Rick and Cindy of Cool Change, and we were in front of the Ha-Ha mothership Profligate in a 100 foot slip. I did have a mini panic attack in the process of backing and tying up to pristine little Cool Change. We had never done the side-tie maneuver, but Rick and Cindy are a very skilled duo, and they talked us through the whole thing. Captain Jeff’s boat handling skills were on point as well.  We did regret skimping on the fenders though. We have extras, but they’re in the trunk of our car in San Diego. Oops.

Accomodations

We stayed at the IGY Marina. I think we were charged around $50 per night despite sharing a slip and not having access to power or water. Some people balked at this. We really didn’t care. We were just happy to be out of the afternoon roll in the Cabo anchorage. The laundry facilities and shower facilities were good. It was just plain bad luck that the dryers broke the day that I washed four loads of laundry. There was also a thunderstorm that day, which meant four wet loads of laundry strung up all over the inside of our 32 foot boat. It was a sight to behold. The marina staff had the dryers fixed and refunded our quarters in no time.

Festivities

I had personally been looking forward to the famous “Can’t Believe We Cheated Death Again” Ha-Ha dance party at El Squid Roe since San Diego. We didn’t really cut loose at any of the other parties along the way mostly because we wanted to conserve energy (and because we’re senior citizens). However, our arrival in Cabo was a pretty good excuse to celebrate. We boogied down with the rest of the bright orange shirts and happily accepted shots from whistle-blowing, ass-slapping shot girls.

Food

There are plenty of good restaurants and bars within walking distance, but by far, our favorite spot was Cafe Canela just around the corner from the marina. We had at least three awesome meals there.  Our server brought us tequila shots with cinnamon (canela) sprinkled orange slices. Tequila will never be the same. It was so delicious. Icing on the cake: they have the fastest wi-fi in town, but please don’t go just for that. Order drinks, and be nice to the servers. (sorry. rants of a former waitress.)

The week pretty much looked like this.
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There was also some “voyage planning”, which according to the photo below, was my cue to saw logs. After changing our minds about twenty times, Richard aka The Grand Poobah gave us some great advice, so we went with that. We figured he knew what he was talking about.

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0 In mexico/ the journal

Baja Ha-Ha Leg 3 – Bahia Santa Maria to Cabo San Lucas

The 36 hour leg from Bahia Santa Maria to Cabo San Lucas was delightfully uneventful. And pretty much windless. We welcomed the rest and motored for most of the way in flat seas and warm air. I was on watch in the early morning hours as we approached Cabo Falso. The moon was so full, and I watched some of the bigger, faster boats motor-sail right past us on their way to the cape. I was so grateful to have had an early start for this leg. 12 hours of rest in Bahia Santa Maria felt sufficient, and I was so ready to arrive at our destination. I could not wait to drop the anchor and jump in the warm water. And then get a slip, and have a real shower, and do laundry in a machine, and boogie down at Squid Row. All of those things.

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Cabo gave us an enthusiastic welcome that morning.  We saw whales breaching against the pastel sunrise in front of us while a huge full moon set behind us. We made coffee and snapped photos as we rounded the signature Cabo Arch into the anchorage.

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When the anchor was set, we made breakfast, straightened up the boat, then jumped in the bright blue water below us for a swim and a bath. Once we were somewhat presentable for the general public, we grabbed a panga to get Umphrey to shore.

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We can’t believe what a good dog he was the whole trip down. While we had some potty successes on the deck, this guy will really wait it out if he thinks there’s hope of landfall. I’m sure he’s grateful shorter sails are in his future! For more details on our experience anchoring in Cabo, check out our post at anchorage.io.

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0 In the journal

Baja Haha 2014 Leg 2 – Turtle Bay to Bahia Santa Maria

November 3rd – Smooth Sailing

At around 9AM in the morning, we heard the radio announcement from the Grand Poobah that rally was leaving at 10:30 AM. The forecast was for 15 to 20 knots of wind, building to 20 to 25 on second day. This gave us little more than an hour to finish walking Umphrey, put the dinghy away, eat breakfast, and prepare for a brisk sail. After rushing to get the dinghy put away, we finally made it to the starting line a 1/2 hour late and sailed out on a broad reach. As the wind picked up to around 15 knots, we sailed wing-on-wing, averaging more than 6 knots of boat speed. The next few hours would be the most enjoyable sailing conditions that we saw during the entire trip. We blew right past a Hunter 46 that should have been much faster than us in theory.

The rally committee recommended that boats follow a course close to shore to avoid the expected choppy seas. Along with many other boats, we did not take this advice and followed a direct rhumb line course to Bahia Santa Maria that would put us about 50 miles offshore.

Unlike the typical weather pattern in Southern California that sees diminished wind strength at night, the wind during this leg showed a tendency to build up strength at night. This would create some anxiety as the sun went down.

November 4th – Building Seas

Shortly after midnight we started consistently seeing wind speeds beyond 20 knots and seas building to approximately 8-10 feet, with a lot of choppy wind fetch. The wind direction shifted Northeasterly, which made it more difficult to stay on course. We chose to run directly downwind for greater comfort, even though this was pushing us further offshore. With just a reefed mainsail and 50% of our Jib, we were hitting boat speeds of up to 10 knots (highest we’ve ever seen) surfing down the back of the larger waves. Although this is fun sailing, it’s almost impossible to get any sleep with the amount of motion in these conditions.

When I woke up that morning, I remember seeing nothing but whitecaps on the horizon. There were 2 other boats on the horizon that would pop in and out of view with the waves. I enjoyed a nutritious breakfast of saltine crackers and Perrier. The good news is that we were making excellent time and would be anchored in BSM after just one more night of this.

November 5th –  A Quick Break in Bahia Santa Maria

For the first time in over a week, Umphrey was free to run around shore off of his leash. As soon as we set him down, he bolted around large beach, explored its tide pools, and even found a few butts to sniff.

Hurricane Vance put the HAHA behind schedule, so the fleet had minimal time to spare in this beautiful bay. However, Starfire is a small, slow boat and we would have to leave the night before to round the cape in the morning. We chose to leave the anchorage at 7PM the same day, giving us only 11 hours to rest after our exhausting sail.

 

 

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0 In mexico/ photos/ the journal

Baja Haha 2014 Leg 1 – San Diego to Turtle Bay

October 27th – Let the Voyage Begin

It was hard to believe that this day had finally arrived. Breezy whipped up some awesome breakfast burritos con papas, avocado, queso, y huevos to make sure we got started with competitive advantage. We were determined to win first prize in the Enchilada division at all costs. Meanwhile, I turned in our keycards to Cabrillo Isle Marina and made a final inspection of the boat. Umphrey settled in the cockpit – not knowing whether we would be gone for a day sail or a one-way offshore voyage.

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Breezy does some last minute organizing to prepare for the rally.

The rally started in San Diego Bay at 9AM with the fleet taking part in a parade through the harbor. 140+ boats hailing from virtually every harbor the Pacific coast converged together seeking an epic adventure in Mexico. Little did we know that many of souls aboard these boats would become close friends in the coming weeks. In that moment an unexpected realization set in… the preceding years of hard work we put into our boat had finally reached its apex and we could expect nothing but the unknown ahead. ‘The starting line of of the Haha was really the finish line of of our previous life.”

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The 2014 Baja Haha fleets leaves San Diego in light winds.

With almost no wind in San Diego, the rally committee called a rolling start, which allowed the fleet to motor past the starting line without any penalties. We charted a rhumb line course starting on the outside of the Coronado Islands. This course adds about 3 miles to the 340 mile trip, but there was a better chance of catching wind on the outside of the Coronados. Unfortunately, the wind never panned out and we continued to motor at an average speed of 5 Knots. The map below shows our actual course for leg one from our InReach Satellite Tracker – a gadget well worth the $300 expense for this trip.

Our course on leg 1 of the Baja Haha

We chose to take a course on the outside of the San Bonitas Islands to avoid passing near land at night. The blue line shows our tracking points every 10 minutes during the 3 day sail.

As one of the slower boats, we watched the majority of the fleet slowly inch away on the horizon. Nightfall brought on spectacular stars, a sliver of a crescent moon, and the dim glow of Ensenada in the distance. A handful of boats made radio calls in the night with problems (engine problems, family emergencies, etc.) and were forced to divert to Ensenada. As seasickness set in, cutting the trip short in Ensenada seemed like an attractive option, but we pushed on…

October 28th – Barf

By morning we were south of Ensenada, a.k.a. the point of no return. A full 24 hours of motoring with a 4 to 6 foot swell on the beam was taking its toll on the both of us. Diesel fumes, rolly seas, and beating sunlight caused me to get seasick for the first time in my life. Breezy had already thrown up the evening before while I was off watch, so I had to be strong. I tired to eat an oatmeal backpacker’s meal, took one bite, and not 5 seconds later proceeded to ralph over the port side. After fouling up my foul weather bibs, I chose to redirect the heaving over the stern. Needless to say, our Helio pressurized solar shower came in handy for cleaning up the mess. I was extremely impressed by my wife’s ability to hold things together durning this low point in the voyage. Why are we doing this again?

After this ordeal, we had to figure out how to relay our position to to the Baja Ha-Ha rally committee. Since we only have a VHF radio, we have to relay our position to another boat in our line of sight that is equipped with a Single Sideband (SSB) radio. Although we were a couple hours late, we managed to relay our position to the catamaran mothership Profligate. Communicating on the radio can be a tricky task for newbies like us, but it becomes very easy (and fun) after you do it a couple times.

From this point onward, things started to improve. The wind picked up to about 8 knots and seas subsided to around 3 feet. We were able to sail for much of the day on a broad reach. Seasickness faded we were at about the halfway point by the evening. Only 170 miles to go…

October 29th – Umphrey’s Great Relief

We were able to sail intermittently for most of the day. I was extremely impressed at the fuel efficiency of our 20 HP Beta Marine engine. The boat was burning about 1/3 gallon of diesel per hour to push our loaded-down 12,000 pound boat through the Pacific at a respectable 5 knots.

By the afternoon, we could see Cedros Island and the San Bonitas Islands off the port bow. Seeing these islands is an important milestone because it means Turtle Bay is right around the corner.

By this point, the biggest concern was that Umphrey was still holding back from doing his business. Breezy and I took turns taking him on the Starboard deck to use his potty pad. We put pumpkin in his food, “scented” certain spots, and provided enthusiastic encouragement, but he stuck to his guns.

Umphrey Pug Sailing on the Baja Haha

Umphrey sits atop the spinnaker during leg 1, not knowing how long he’s going to be stuck on the boat. We tried to tell him, but he just tilted his head in confusion. 

Finally, at 18:32 on the 29th day of October, a small, yet glorious poop was evacuated by the pug. There was a massive celebration among the crew and Umphrey almost instantly got the clue that it was OK to go potty on the boat. The night followed with several more poops on the deck and about a gallon of pee in the cabin (during which Breezy stood in the puddle cheering him on). We were just glad to see him get some relief after 61 hours of keeping his pride.

October 30th – Buenas Dias Bahia de Tortugas

Another spectacular night sail trying to identify celestial bodies using Sky Guide on the iPad (perhaps the best $1.99 I’ve ever spent), we were closing in on the halfway point of the Ha-Ha. We were finally within view of land again and looking forward to a calm and comfortable anchorage.

Sunrise on approach to turtle bay

Sunrise on approach to Turtle Bay

We entered the nearly circular shaped Bahia de Tortugas at first light around 0600 in the morning. We  counted approximately 80 other boats in the anchorage and were able to get the hook set easily in the massive bay. My first order of business at 0800 was to launch the dinghy and haul ass around the rest of the fleet. I was too excited to get any rest. Breezy’s first order of business was to jump in the warm water and take a relaxing solar shower.

We “had” to spend a few extra days in the Turtle Bay Anchorage due the the threat of Hurricane Vance, but we welcomed the extra rest. The next few days included a “Conga-Only” potluck, paddle board races, and some exploring of the friendly dust-covered village of Turtle Bay.  For most sailors this is just small stop on the road, but for us it seems like a pretty big accomplishment.

Enjoying the view at the potluck in Turtle Bay

Enjoying the view at the potluck in Turtle Bay

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To be continued…

0 In mexico/ the journal/ the life

Hellooo Cabooo

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We have been in Cabo for 5 days. I think. In that time we have busied ourselves with the remaining Ha-Ha festivities, laundry, immigration, reprovisioning, and dinners with new friends. In our typical haphazard blogging style, we will post on the entire Ha-Ha experience leg by leg, but we wanted to take a second to share some photos now, and let everyone know that we survived. It was an awesome experience, and it feels great to have some miles under our keel.

Latitude 38 did a fun little summary of the more interesting aspects of this year’s Baja Ha-Ha

0 In the journal/ the life

Liebster Award

We were Liebster-ed many moons ago, and it’s shameful to the Liebster name that I am just getting around to sharing our answers. Because the circulation has long past, we won’t be Liebster-ing others.

I watched the Liebster Award float around the cruising community with no intention of receiving a nomination, but how awesome is SV Terrapin for including us in the chain letter fun? They are a super cute family who plans on homeschooling their girls while they cruise (how lucky are those kiddos?!). Plus, self-professing “shameless deadheads”. So, obviously.

-What was the defining moment when you knew that you had to set sail?

When we put our house up for rent. Just kidding. When we realized that cruising was suited our values and the kind of lifestyle we wanted, we just started going for it. We gathered information, took ASA 101 on a lake in Arizona, and we were hooked.

-What’s the one comfort you wish you had while cruising?

Is it wrong that a million things are coming to mind right now? But for me, the one thing I want the most is frivolously long showers!

-How long to you plan to be out?  Is it until the money runs out or are your plans finite?

The truth is, we have no idea.That’s one of the things we love most about this. We plan to cruise the Sea of Cortez, or maybe farther south a for the next 6 months. After that, who knows? If we like it, we can keep going. Maybe it will suck, and we’ll do something else.

-What is the most awesome place you have visited so far?

This feels like kind of a lame answer because it’s right in our backyard, but SO cool nonetheless. Also, we haven’t been to very many places yet. Santa Cruz Island is rad. It’s secluded, wild, and stunning. Just you and the elements. We have literally seen hundreds and hundreds of dolphins on our way there. It’s downright magical.

-What is the least awesome place you have visited so far?

Cruising Southern California is pretty fun, so this is relative. The most disappointing stop we’ve made so far was probably Avalon. We dig Two Harbors, but Avalon was less awesome for us.

– What advice would you give our family as we’re about to set out?

Have the girls journal everything!

-What is one the one place that you can’t wait to visit?

We’re headed to the Sea of Cortez, so we’re stoked about that. Margaritas, street tacos, and warmer waters are calling our names. We daydream about even more exotic locations, but for now, Mexico.

-Wine? Beer? Margaritas? Feel free say all of the above

Jeff loves sake, but will probably have to settle for Pacifico. We both enjoy wine and fresh margaritas – like fresh squeezed lime, agave, and tequila.

-Do you ever get sick of your crew?  What do you do for personal space on a boat?

All of us get annoyed with each other sometimes. I’m pretty sure even Umphrey gets sick of us. He sits in the sun on the bow. I like to go for a walk first thing in the morning or journal. Jeff can slip in his headphones and be on another planet. Personal space is in your head.

-What is the one non-essential item on you boat that you would not want to live without?

For Jeff it’s the windlass. Technically, we lived without this handy item for quite some time. Resetting anchor by hauling it up hand over hand is not for the faint of heart (or bicep). For me it’s the fridge. Again, we lived without this for an entire year, but was it really living? I’m not sure. Cold beverages are so nice, so is saving leftovers, not rotating your eggs every day, chilled chardonnay, iced coffee, umm…

0 In the journal

on the move

Yesterday morning at 4 AM we said a quiet farewell to the slip that was our home for two years. Leaving didn’t feel all that different. We have left that slip many times before, and we were on our way to another familiar port. Still, there was a little twinge of sentimentality as we headed past the breakwater into the wide open darkness.

When we first set out to cruise, we planned to go to San Diego. We actually held onto that plan for a long time – always on the verge of going. They say the plans of cruisers are written in the sand at low tide, and we have found that to be true. The longer we stayed in our sweet harbor, the more we grew to love it, the people in it, and the spectacular sailing playground right outside its walls.

It feels like we accidentally ended up in the best possible place to prepare us for the next step in this adventure. We had no idea that we would be introduced to people who would become mentors, friends, sources of great inspiration, and sometimes literally lifesavers (To our dock neighbor and friend that rescued us at Yellowbanks, thank you again. We probably would have died.) These waters have taught us so much, and we still laugh at the many things we didn’t know when we first moved aboard. Learning new things almost always involves looking like an idiot, right? Totally worth it.

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So the first step away from home was uneventful, if not a little boring. With almost no wind or swell and lots of warm sunshine, we spent most of the motoring down a section of the California coast that would take a little over an hour to drive. Now that we’re in a different location, all of the anxiety that surrounded getting ready is gone. For the first time in months, we don’t have any boat projects and there’s nothing left to check off the list. That’s bound to change, but we’re enjoying it for now!