Homeschooling on a boat while docked in Redwood City was no biggie. The girls took a lot of classes, they had playgroups, and we had really cool services like the local library and the internet. After dropping the dock lines, that all changed.
Once we set off, all we had was what was on the boat. I gave a great deal of thought as to what to bring, uncertain as to how to obtain curriculum in other countries. I came up with the following:
History: Story of the World
Math: The Life of Fred and grade appropriate workbooks
English: I figured we would just do some journaling, and I was right.
Science: ION Curriculum. It was free and immediately relatable for the girls.
Required Reading: Here I thought I was totally covered. Nope. I pulled the reading lists from the California State Schools. Each girl had six good sized books. Here I was woefully unprepared.
loads and loads of paper. Art paper, lined paper, graphing paper, calligraphy paper, tracing paper, origami paper…..
Sooooo… the school work was supposed to last a year. The math lasted three months. History, required reading, and everything else I stocked up are nearly exhausted. The thing is, when the kids are on passage, they can’t get off the boat. To keep their busy minds occupied, we have the usual games and books. But in the absence of all the other distractions and schedules of land life, they are so bored they have nothing else to do. They have come to think of their school work as fun. Who would have thought of such an upside to cruising with kids?
Where does this leave me regarding curriculum for homeschooling? Well, I had extra charts printed in La Cruz. The kids will do a serious study of celestial navigation. That’s a pretty big project. In the interim, I’ll have to look for opportunities around us and stretch my resourcefulness.
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I’m told there were dolphins leaping six feet out of the water next to the boat. I’m told that there were birds. I did not see these things. Why didn’t I see them? I was asleep. My fatigue was earned by night watches. I mainly passed out on my off times during the day, but made sure to get some book work done with the girls.
We pulled out the books, paper, pencils, and my laptop and got to work. History was first, followed by the first lesson in the ION (Institute of Navigation) curriculum I had downloaded before we left La Cruz.
I had already taken a precursory look at it, and found some value. As I delved into it with the kids, I was initially impressed. While our girls are a little ahead on this subject, there were some knowledge holes that were filled. The first chapter explains lats and longs really well, in addition to the difference between magnetic and geographic north. This was all review, but good to go over before moving on. The first lab included an exercise in charting. They first plotted a course from England to the North East coast of the US. Then they re-plotted it accounting for wind vectors, and a third time including wave vectors. We ended up in Cuba. It was a great way to see how environmental conditions could impact a vessel’s course.
My overall opinion of the ION Curriculum: there’s a lot in it that is great and relatable for cruising or boating kids. Complicated concepts of navigation are broken down and explained really well. Oh, and it’s FREE.
Surely you noticed a gap in my posts… of like a year. What happened? I feel I owe you an explanation.
After we left La Cruz, we were at sea for 23/24 days. It was mostly idyllic sailing conditions pepper with a few squalls, but something happened. I was doing night watches and teaching the girls during the day. I did pretty well for a little over a week. The constant movement of the boat had my tummy upset, so I wasn’t eating much except occasional handfuls of nuts and sea sickness pills. With my focus completely on the girls’ wellbeing, and days melting into one another, I didn’t notice. Almost complete lack of sleep, very little food, and dehydration put me into a really bad place. We finally figured out the sleep issue, so I went onto a diet of sleeping pills in addition to the sea sickness pills. I lost 20 pounds, was shaking badly, and beset with crippling anxiety.
That was when Kevin asked me the last time I ate. I couldn’t remember. The first few meals made my stomach ache badly, despite the small portions and light fare. That was when I realized how bad off I was. A sailing friend later told me that it’s important to eat at sea every few hours as the appetite tends to disappear. Sure wish I had known that ahead of time.
When we made landfall in the Marquesas, I was improved, but had not gained weight. Frankly, I looked in better health physically and mentally than a number of other sailors I saw. There is a reason not a lot of people do the puddle jump. It’s a long time for even a salty person to remain at sea.
We met some really sweet cruising families and ended up buddy boating with them all the way to Tahiti. BUT…. while in the Tuomotus, I received news that my beloved Grandfather was dying. There was no way to get to his bedside from the middle of no-where in time.
Just a few days later, my Mom called on the sat phone and informed me “this was it”. I took the phone on deck. The sun was setting and a squall was blowing in. I could see the curvature of the earth in the distance and in infinity of blue just beyond the white coral motu in front of us. A determined palm tree had managed to grow on the motu. A solitary terrestrial presence in an azure desert.
I called. Even with the storm clouds rolling in, encircling us, I had a signal. It called to mind visions of The Nothing, from “The Never Ending Story”. My throat was constricted, and tears rolled down my cheeks. As I eyed the approaching lightning, growing ever brighter with the disappearance of the sun, I told my Grandfather who I was, that I was sorry I couldn’t be at his bedside, but that I loved him very much. Above, the tiny hole in the storm clouds finally snapped shut. The line went dead as I said that last word, and the squall was on us.
The heavens opened up and cried. Thunder and lightning expressed the intensity of my grief. The world mourned with me.
The next day, I was able to connect with my Mom. Grandpa had heard every word. She said his breathing changed and he responded to my voice. That was the source of a great deal of relief and happiness. He knew. I still can’t believe the sat phone worked with a storm of that intensity literally on us. It frequently didn’t work in the best of weather.
The funeral was quickly held. I couldn’t make it. I’m told it was a lovely service and that the church was overflowing.
It took me about six months to really come to terms with his death. I was simultaneously fighting the long term effects of the trip, trying to acclimate to the sights and sounds of modern life, and trying to gain weight back.
In March, I became extremely ill. Cough, sore throat, difficulty breathing, basically I was plagued by all the symptoms of corona virus except for the fever. At the time I was sick, there was no test available. I was bed-ridden for two and a half weeks before I could begin recovering. At the time of this writing, my lower legs still hurt, I have a recurring cough, and I can’t walk for longer than 10 minutes without losing my ability to breath.
On the plus side, I don’t jump at loud noises anymore or shake uncontrollably. My sleeping and eating patterns are normalized, and I’ve even been known to smile from time to time. Though I still feel the call of the sea, Reverie is sold. She’s a beautiful boat, took us safely to the South Pacific, and hosted many adventures for us along the way, but I just couldn’t go back to her.
We went to my Grandma’s 80th birthday, and came back to California. I’m now completing a certification program, self-publishing my first children’s picture book, and helping other new homeschoolers.
I had written a number of posts while underway and will publish them. It will impact the continuity of this blog, but I’m okay with that. I’m not certain if this is the end of the floating schoolhouse; time will tell.
How could I possibly put into words the craziness of getting a solar panel re-engineered, prepare and stock up for a lengthy sea voyage, and keep the kids entertained? Enter the La Cruz Kids Club.
Meeting Cat was like meeting a ray of sunshine. She’s one of those rare people who upon first contact all you see is a kind and caring heart. After meeting her the first time, I couldn’t describe her except for “that amazing and sweet lady who works with kids at the marina”.
She had Ashley, my 10 year old, run the Kids Net every morning. It’s kind of like running a business meeting over the radio, but for cruising kids. Each day, my daughters would research a fun fact and a joke for the next Kids Net and update their scripts. The girls became overly proficient with the radio; as comfortable with it and radio etiquette as any other kid would be with a phone. Maybe they became a little too comfortable.
In Kids Net, there were no grown ups allowed. They could listen quietly, if they wanted, but that was it; no talking. You would think that would discourage adults from listening in, aside from the boats with kids, and yet that was not the case. I could listen to my daughter on the handheld radio on deck, and hear a cloud of laughter hanging over the entire marina. When we went out to eat as a family, the girls were nearly daily complemented on how well they did. They felt like local celebrities.
A few times, Cat even had Ashley be the “Net Controller” for the grownups Net! They ran through the script together, and my daughter did a great job. Ashley guided the adults through the agenda respectfully, but with appropriate authority. I was stunned.
That wasn’t all that Cat had arranged for the kids. She and Mike arranged for them to tour a turtle camp and release hatchlings, had the kids help with a spay and neuter clinic, visit a local orphanage and do chores for the orphans, run a restaurant for a day, beach clean up followed by a “build your own boat regatta”, beach campout, present on what it’s like to be a kid on a boat to a room full of adults, pizza parties, pool parties, movie nights, a daily jog…. and that’s just for starters. I pretty much never saw my kids between breakfast and dinner. They had a level of freedom in Mexico I can’t even begin to describe.
The girls basically didn’t ever want to leave, but there were more adventures to be had. The La Cruz Kids Club, run by Cat and Mike, is a beautiful and amazing program that does so much for the kids and parents. It’s a once in a life time enrichment, that should be experienced by every child. Thank you Cat and Mike!
There was a great deal of boat work that needed to be done. The quotes we received while still in La Paz were not exactly compelling, and word on the docks was the work could be had in La Cruz. As we settled in over the next few days, we heard whispers of a “Kids Club”. My interest was perked.
When we met Kat and Mike, the couple that organizes the Kids Club, we had no idea the incredible experiences that awaited our children.
Kat met up with us and got to know us a bit. Then she had a suggestion. The kids in Banderas Bay have their own net. For non-boating people, think a meeting where communities tap one another for information and resources, but over the radio. Kat needed a net controller for the kids-net and my youngest felt strongly she was up to the task. All the wheels in motion, our days suddenly started with Daddy helping the girls with their script for the net, complete with trivia and jokes, moving the boat to the service dock for week after week of daily work, the girls meeting kids club for the morning run, daily challenges, then moving the boat back to our slip after the end of the work day. It was exhausting.
We would have had a rough time without the La Cruz Kids Club. The girls were kept busy with beach campouts, fundraising for the local turtle camp and turtle releases, volunteering at the nearby orphanage, assisting with the spay and neuter clinic, beach cleanups, daily net, daily runs, and so much more.
My girls were introduced to something they had heard of, but never experience, being SF Bay Area kids: freedom. Armed with their own key card to get on and off the docks at will, they used the radio to arrange play dates with other boat kids, would run up to the Lounge when they wanted, or go for a swim in the club pool to cool off in the afternoons. They quickly learned that managing their own schedules required some attention to time, and Dad and Mom were too busy to do it for them.
While the girls were becoming very accustomed to this “freedom” thing, we had the rack for the solar panels completely redone, along with the stainless steel work on the stern. The workers were very aware that their work site was our home, and they treated our space with great respect. The end result is absolutely beautiful, and a third of what we were quoted in La Paz. If you have boat work you would like to have done, Peter Vargas is the guy to talk to. I can’t recommend him highly enough.
In the evenings, we rotated to the different venues for some party time. Green Tomatos and Anna Banana’s became regular haunts for us, being around the corner from the marina. When we wanted a fancy dinner, Masala, a two minute walk away, fit the bill. Otherwise, we happily became overly familiar with the staff at Ballena Blanca (the closest restaurant outside of the marina), and La Cruz Inn, both of which have great wifi.
Morning came with its own challenges, the biggest one being the need for coffee. There is no Starbucks in La Cruz, people. I was despondent. While my preference is for cute little coffee shops, my diet requires dairy free. Alternative milks can be had in Mexican grocery stores, but didn’t seem to have made their way into the coffee shops. My Hubby therefore, continued getting his morning fix without difficulty while yours truly was suffering black coffee. I am shedding a tear as I write this, but that is another post.
An uncomplicated entrance to the marina put us in a pretty good mood. Security was there to help us dock in the light air, an offer that is never refused regardless of conditions, and all was relaxed. The sweet ladies in the main office checked us in and during our stay took great care of us.
Another catamaran, Sky Pond was already docked on the side tie. There was just enough room for us to squeeze in. In such close proximity, it’s natural to wonder who your neighbor is. Our first impressions were positive. Sky Pond is a Seawind 1160 Deluxe, and if I may be so bold… it’s beautiful. Carl and Roxy were amazing neighbors, even keeping a vigilant eye on Reverie for us as we entertained family in nearby Puerto Vallarta. We were invited aboard Sky Pond, and we took in her many enviable features. One of my favorites is the trifolding door system that effectively opens the main saloon to the outdoor cockpit area. I couldn’t help imagining the impact that would have on the spontaneous dance parties my girls and I enjoy. If you are in the market for a catamaran and like to dance or entertain, this is one to keep in mind.
We hopped off the boat and onto the dock just as quickly as possible. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of hitting land after being on the water for an extended period of time. It’s thrilling in a way that defies explanation and this particular land side exploration was unique.
What if… I were to tell you there is a place. A place where you have access to an awesome boatyard, boat resources, groceries, perfect weather, night life, and an epic KIDS CLUB?????????? No, I’m not talking about heaven. This is La Cruz, baby, as close to cruising heaven as it gets.
Seriously, this place worked for me. After a few days, though, we discovered that our dock was hot. My husband reported his findings to the office, and they called out their electrician, who confirmed the electrical issue. We were promptly relocated to dock 4. Luckily there was space for us, given all the work we needed to have done, the anchorage just wasn’t a viable option.
While moving wasn’t our preferred solution, there were significant upsides. We were closer to town and got to share the dock with Baja Fog, who we had met in the boatyard in Napa, California prior to departing for our trip. Our reunion with John and Monique was welcome and joyous. As they were not strangers to La Cruz, they showed us around and gave us the lay of the land. John was particularly keen to pass along little tips like how to cross the highway. It’s a little intimidating and not something you want to dive into uninitiated.
Also on the dock was Profligate, the flag ship for the Baja Ha-Ha. Richard and Dona are a delightful couple to hang with, and we enjoyed our time with them immensely as they sashayed in and out of La Cruz.
When evening descended, the town came alive with music. Traditional mariachi mixed with classic rock, and the streets were host to an epic nightly party. We met up with John and Monique at the local sushi bar. Coincidentally, the owner was celebrating the restaurant’s anniversary. Which one, I couldn’t say, as I couldn’t hear over the live music, but we were happy to be a part of the festivities.
Children took over the square with their energetic play, likely fueled by the next door ice cream shop. The excitement was just a little too much for us, so we retired for the night, keen to further explore our temporary home base.
So we are sitting in the La Cruz anchorage, as ready as we’ll ever be to head off for the South Pacific. Our first destination is Hiva Oa. Unfortunately, that means that I’ll be away from wifi and cellular networks for a while.
If you are keen to know where we are RIGHT THIS SECOND, you can track us and come along on the journey. Updates from our handy dandy Iridium Go! will post our position twice a day.
It’s going to take about three and a half weeks for us to get to Hiva Oa, and we are currently configuring our Iridium, but it’ll be up shortly. Once I hit land, I’ll post here the events of the passage.
In the interim, I have a few posts scheduled to be published during my down time. Fingers crossed I have enough books to read!
So, who can get enough of mosquitos? Not us apparently. We packed up, found a cab, and headed to a jungle tour. When we arrived, we coated ourselves shamelessly in sunblock and bug repellent and hopped into the waiting panga.
The sure manner of the driver’s steering was a clear indicator as to his familiarity with the narrow waterway through the jungle. We saw crocodiles, exotic birds, and loads of lovely turtles.
At the end of our tour was a café and crocodile farm. A gated off area of the water was available for swimming, complete with a rope swing. The water was full of calm looking fish, clear and inviting, with not a croc in sight. Our girls wanted to swim so badly. The parental units discussed the issue in brief, with eyes on the crocs lurking in the distance on the other side of the fence.
“Um, not today.”
It turned out, braving our offspring’s disappointment was an action of wisdom. While nothing happened during our visit, I heard later of a woman who had actually been attacked by a crocodile at a similar location. This was after she had visually inspected the fenced in area and the shore line. She had coincidentally, just finished reading a book in which a character had avoided death by crocodile by holding its mouth shut. In emulating that action, she staved off the attack long enough for help to arrive, miraculously saving her own life.
While there is a marina in San Blas, we decided to anchor out. The perfect spot was found just outside the marina and near the fuel dock. Being warned of unusually vicious mosquitos and “hay hay nays” that plagued the town, I pulled out the citronella candles, and we kept the boat closed up. Stories of tourists who had been bitten so badly they required a trip to the ER reached our ears. Perhaps it was true, maybe it was a myth, either way, we were alarmed into a state of vigilance.
I got up early and hit the deck with my yoga mat. No bugs. hmm. Breakfast consumed, we decided to explore the town. Street dogs roamed the dirt roads, and the air was still. The town itself had an authentic Mexican feel. We were the tallest, whitest people, and my daughter asked why everyone was staring at her. With natural, bleach blond hair, she kind of stood out. I explained this to her, but she was dissatisfied and made her annoyance well known to my ears. Still no Bugs.
We had ice cream in the square and looked up. There were the Bells of San Blas, the subject of Longfellow’s last poem. He had never actually cast eyes on them, inspired instead by a picture in a magazine. I don’t think he had heard of the bugs, as there is no reference in his writing. We went back to the boat, read the poem, and did a study of rhythm and meter. Taking a cue from Longfellow, my older daughter was inspired to write a Haiku about the street dogs in San Blas. It’s actually pretty good.
This experience in San Blas brought out in my older daughter a love of poetry and writing. Rather than teaching formalized English lessons, we reviewed her writing together and discussed the grammatical and punctuation errors. The grassroots approach to learning seems to resonate well with her; teaching through her interest and direct applicability.
Unfortunately, we missed a local celebration, but as we heard of the eyebrow raising use of fireworks and the injuries that frequently occur as a result, we were happy to have some distance from the festivities.
Ah, but there was more to San Blas than the square, two cathedrals, and dangerous pyrotechnics. The next day we packed for a short hike and made our way in the direction of a hill pointed out to us by locals. We paid a tiny entrance fee to a sweet, elderly couple, and continued up the path. To our right were the bare bones remains of a cathedral. This was our first encounter with the flying blood-thirsty demons of San Blas. Figuring there must just be some standing water in or near the ruins, we skeedadled up towards the fort. Nope, the kamikaze, blood-crazed nasties pursued us en masse. Suddenly, every mosquito on the planet knew our whereabouts, and they were scarily ravenous.
We retreated to the old Spanish fort, hoping to take refuge and launch some sort of counter attack. It was locked. The buzzing grew nearer, and our anxiety grew with the volume of the sound. We were suffering bites and about to be eaten alive by enemy reinforcements. But wait, one of us was blessed with foresight. One of us was possessed a rare wisdom of immeasurable value. Yes, one of us was packing a secret weapon. Unlike OTHER people I know, I packed bug spray and wipes. I quickly pulled my arsenal out of my bag, directed my daughters to hold their breath, and went nuclear on the SOBs (the bugs, not my daughters). My husband decided to do himself. He coated all exposed skin. When he turned around, I saw the back of his shirt was completely covered in mosquitos. Clothing was not enough to fend off their assaults. He asked me why I had no bugs anywhere on me. I responded, “I sprayed my clothes.”
I pointed my weaponized spray at his back and fought off the hoard. They instantly dropped to the ground in a heap. Another pass with the spray, and my husband was effectively protected as if by a magic spell. Just call me Galadriel of DEET.
A friendly guide with nothing to do was sitting outside. He was happy to take us around the grounds. Since he spoke no english, my poor recollection of high school Spanish was put to the ultimate test. I understood a fair bit, but can’t remember a thing. It took all my brain cells to translate his words, leaving none left for memory. I’m sure he was a wealth of knowledge and am grateful for his time and the opportunity to expand my Spanish vocabulary.
The mosquito attack we had suffered was worth the view. We lingered in the safety of the fort’s courtyard knowing we would have to make a final stand against the waiting winged terrors. I sprayed my family down with bug spray in anticipation of our last stand, rejecting visions of having to abandon the fallen. We would make it out together, or not at all. A breath, a moment, a locking of elbows, and we stepped out of the safety of the fort into the battle field.
As quickly as we could manage without sacrificing our dignity, we hustled down the hill. Buzzing clouds took to the air, but could not break through our defenses. We left them behind and made it back to our boat having been schooled in the true nature of the Bugs of San Blas.
Prior to our arrival to Chacala, I did my homework. Specifically, I was interested in anything with educational value for our homeschooling. After all, there is only so much we can learn hanging out on pristine beaches.
During my research of Chacala, a potential field trip emerged. Whispers of ancient petroglyphs caught my eye. The reviews were mixed, but we decided to give it a go.
We walked down the main dirt road, stopped at the kayak and surf board rental shop in town, and asked for Chuey. After negotiating price, we settled on a meeting time. Chuey would only take us in the morning, advising us that the jungle tends to get really hot in the afternoon. That certainly made sense to us and we reluctantly agreed to get out of bed at a scandalously early hour to meet the ideal time frame.
The next morning found us bleary-eyed, but punctual. Chuey was waiting for us with a car all set to go. We set off, somewhat uneasy with our unusually quiet guide. It didn’t take much time for him to come out of his shell, though, and when he did, we found a delightfully sweet and knowledgeable person. We wound through the countryside, realizing this was the furthest we had been from the water since we embarked on our trip. Coastal plant life gave way to forests of mature trees strange to our eyes. Exotic livestock placidly gathered in pockets of shade, and we were beginning to experience a sense of anticipation. I really hoped this would not suck.
Chuey pulled off the dirt road in the middle of nowhere and parked. He quietly informed us, “From here we walk.” The girls bounced out of the car, and we all fell into step behind our guide. After a few minutes, we came to a tree. He cut the bark, gave some of the milky substance that leaked out to each of us, and explained it was essentially a type of gum tree. As the substance reacted with our saliva, it transformed into the blandest gum I have ever had. The kids were stoked.
Our guide pointed out other items of interest, fruit trees and animals only found locally. And then we came to the coconut tree. It’s a tree that only grows locally and produces coconuts about the size of a lime. He showed the kids how to crack them open, and they proceeded to nosh on the extra firm flesh. As the girls were engaged in cracking and eating coconuts, Chuey told us of how the ancient natives used to make an oil from them through a very complicated process. When the Spanish Conquistadores came and enslaved the population, they forced the populace to manufacture the oil. A few natives escaped to the mountains, however, and they resolved to never make the oil for anything other than their personal use. Now, only a few families still have this knowledge, and they guard it, and the product, in memory of their ancestors and continued act of defiance against the vile actions of the Spaniards.
The jungle canopy closed over us, promising sweltering conditions and torture by insects as the earth awoke. We proceeded along well-worn paths, not realizing their age until we encountered the first of the petroglyphs. Once our guide pointed them out to us, we saw them everywhere. The oldest of them dated back 2500 years. He taught us how they were created and some of their meanings. The girls traced them gingerly with their fingers, instinctively understanding the dedication required to complete each one. Deeper into the jungle we continued, winding our way through massive decorated stones. Chuey pointed out the ruins of an Aztec wall above us that had been partially pulled apart by the Conquistadors. It was the source of the gigantic rubble.
A large slab lay in our way. It turns out that was a sacrificial stone. Part of me wanted a picture on it, but that seemed disrespectful to the deceased. We continued on, until we reached a spot that can only be described as mystical. Our eyes widened to take in the scene of a natural mountain spring, gushing out from the earth, and peacefully flowing from one serene pool into another. The water was clear and cool, surrounded by stones smoothed by ancient hands. This had once been sheltered by a temple, and used to ceremonially cleanse people prior to their sacrifice on the nearby slab.
We rested for a bit, dipping our feet into the pools, and appreciating the undeniably sacred feel of this spot. It was easy to understand why ancient people placed so much value in this place.
Our guide explained, native people still held ceremonies here, and pointed out other holy sites in the surrounding hills that are closed to the public. Respect for their religious beliefs held my curiosity in check, but I couldn’t help wondering about what was in those caves. Chuey instinctively knew my thoughts. “There are more petroglyphs and cave paintings.” He would not elaborate on the ceremonies themselves, except to say that outsiders are not welcome. Even outside tribal members are rarely allowed. We made our way back to the car with an expanded understanding of the locals, and deeper appreciation of their heritage.
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