Thursday, January 12, 2017

Castle in the Sand
By Michael
AJO, AZ


Demolition Mama.
“It smells like poop.” One of the girls said this. These were among the first words uttered when we entered our 1931-built Ajo house. And it did, it smelled like poop. After tracing the smell to the ill-fitting toilet in the front bathroom, it was an easy fix. Nothing since has been easy.

Our house is a little gem that’s been neglected and futzed with. For decades nobody positively addressed exterior drainage issues and leaking roof issues, nor the resulting mold and termite issues. We’ve been gutting and gutting until we’re down to studs and siding and foundation.

And that’s where her gem-like qualities become apparent. The house has a nice layout and said studs and siding are (mostly) solid redwood. Because we’re nearly gutting the place, we feel free to move walls and relocate whole bathrooms to make the space work really well. It’s going to be a nice home, someday.

But there is so much still to do before we get on a plane and return to Del Viento, still afloat in Fiji. We’ve been tackling the back of the house and evidence points to a more challenging job when we get to the front. The slab foundation is only underneath the back half, probably added on in the 1950s. In the front half, we’re still walking on tile floors that feel spongy and think that the foundation is wood-on-dirt, we’ll see, we’ve been afraid to discover too much in that realm just yet. After all, we’re living (camping, really, camp stove and everything) in this place while we de-construct and construct, so there is a necessity to isolate the work areas (best we can) and eat this elephant in chunks.

It’s an adventure, and what we bargained for, and what we paid for. The biggest question when buying this house sight-unseen in a place we’d never been wasn’t whether we’d like the house, but whether we’d like this little community out in the middle of nowhere.

We like Ajo very much. It’s a charming oasis in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. It’s filled with interesting people and stepping outside our yard we always find a welcome respite from the drudgery of home renovation. I’ll write more about Ajo in my next post.

--MR

This room where I piled the bags of concrete is
the future master bath. We've big plans for this
relatively big space.

Windy is the Mold Abator. Here she is
scrubbing a Borax solution into studs.

This is the inside of a stripped room looking out,
through the hole created where I removed the
base plates, cut off some studs, and pried away siding.
This is what termite damage looks like.

This is St. Shaun, my brother-in-law (recall the truck guy)
on the roof re-attaching the live wires that feed the house.
This is the tail end of replacing the main panel. He's a
master electrician who drove out to work with us for
a week and get the electrical started. He's been knighted.

From the second bedroom looking up into the attic.
See me up there?

See the mold on the back of that drywall?
That is just a sample of what we've found.
Note the vines growing inside the walls.

Windy supervising a rock delivery for her landscape vision.
See that big agave in the foreground? I found it and another
at the dump. We planted them and they're doing great.


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Two Decades Gone
By Michael
AJO, AZ


Windy hanging laundry aboard the first
Del Viento, parked in the under-
construction Marina Mazatlán for
pennies.
It was twenty years ago today. St. Pepper may have been busy somewhere teaching musicians, but Windy and I were nowhere near that scene. Earlier that December we’d cast off the dock lines in Ventura, California, and turned left. It was just the two of us—both in our 20s—aboard my little Newport 27, that was also named Del Viento. We barely knew each other, but before our 8-month voyage from Southern California to Southern Florida was over, I knew I wanted to marry her.

Last week, as we prepared for bed in this little house in Ajo—the one we’re camping in because, as of now, it has no appliances, no heat, no hot water, few doors, non-functional windows that are spray-painted over, and a broken cement swan fountain in the front yard—I thought to ask Windy what she’d have done on that crisp Friday morning 20 years ago if she could have seen the future.

“Not how the future played out from then to now, just a snapshot of this moment. You'd get to see the mattress on the floor we sleep on, this truck we’re driving that was already 8 years old way back then, and the gaping holes in the ceilings and walls.”

“I’d have run like hell.”

“Yeah, me too.”

--MR
Cabo, New Years Eve, 1996, us with the
crews of Principia and Mimosa (both couples are still
good friends of ours)

Windy rowing away from some curious sperm whales
in the middle of Mexico's Sea of Cortez.

At a café in Mazatlán.

On the beach in Zihuatanejo.

Entering Acapulco.

Windy pointing out a howler monkey to my dad somewhere
in the Panama Canal.

With our dear friend Tim, still in the Canal. There were
five of us living aboard little Del Viento for our 2-day transit.

Playing in Columbia.

Me carrying the dinghy along a Cuban beach.
Our old Avon Redcrest rowed so poorly that it was
easier to carry it along the shore to the closest point
of approach.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Thrice AAA
By Michael
AJO, AZ


Shaun grinding off the towing bracket
welded to the frame. Who pulls an
F-250 around?
You don’t need a truck to rebuild a house—over a decade we spent rebuilding our Washington, D.C. home I hauled thousands of pounds of concrete, tile, flagstone, sheathing, shingles, lumber, sand, and lots more in a 1999 Ford Escort Wagon. But I knew a truck would make life easier this time around, especially because Ajo is a 2-hour drive from the nearest Home Depot. So while in California, we got a truck.

Our budget was small ($3,000) and our truck had to have a proper back seat for the girls. I called on more than a dozen trucks I found on Craigslist. It seemed all there were in my price range were high-mileage, 15-year-old, gas-powered trucks with automatic transmissions. I just knew the one I bought would blow a rod or start slipping gears on the way to Arizona. My brother-in-law, Shaun, and I were out looking at yet another, a couple hours from his house, when he spotted an interesting truck on his phone, two more hours out of our way. It was almost 30 years old, but under the hood was an International diesel connected to a standard transmission.

We got to Bakersfield well after dark.

I bought it, from the original owner, a 1988 Ford F-250 Lariat. There were only 160,000 miles on the odometer, but the truck had been sitting for a while and the tires were old. Otherwise, everything worked. The plan was to drive 100 miles home and the next day buy new tires, change the fluids, load up, say goodbye to my sister and her family, and head to Ajo.

Shaun drove the giant truck and I followed in my rental car. Twenty-five miles out of Bakersfield, cruising along on I-5 in the middle of nowhere, my headlights caught debris flying out from under my new truck. Shaun pulled to the shoulder. The driver’s side rear tire had given up the ghost—specifically, it gave up a 2-foot section of heavy tread. But it didn’t give it up willingly. The tread hung on at 70 mph and whipped around, grabbing the struts on either side of the wheel well and pulling in and distorting the fender. It grabbed the heavy metal fuel filler for the rear tank and mangled it and ripped it from its fender housing, ripping off the cap and distorting everything so badly that even the fuel door hug cock-eyed. Diesel trickled onto the pavement. It was hard to believe that a tire could do this damage.

Do you know where Ford stows the jack on a 1988 Ford F-250? I didn’t find out until days later.

So we called AAA to put on our spare, which is hilarious because not only are Shaun and I do-it-yourselfers, Shaun is the kind of guy who builds hard-core trucks from the ground up in his garage.

We didn’t get back to his house until after midnight.

The next day, I got new tires put on and Shaun got to work repairing the damage. The following day, Windy and I drove to L.A. to return the rental car. On the 10 freeway in Santa Monica, a mile from PCH, cruising along with the cruise control set, the truck died.

I called AAA and had it towed to the Ford dealer. They have only one diesel mechanic and it was 3 long days before the service manager could finally tell us it was the fuel pump.

“How much?”

“$802.34”

I looked online. A replacement mechanical fuel pump is $30.

I called AAA and had them tow the truck back to my sister’s house. It took Shaun and me a few hours to replace the pump.

She runs like a champ, off to start working on a house in Ajo.

--MR

Somewhere en route to Ajo.

Shaun welding a bracket inside the rear fuel filler space,
damaged during the de-treading.

Eleanor welding the seam in the rear gate. Turns out she's pretty
good. Her 6-inch-long bead was straight, clean, exactly on target.

Frances waiting for us to finally get underway.
This was our first tow and second AAA call during the first
week of ownership. Just a little thing though.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Long-haulers
By Michael
AJO, ARIZONA


The girls reunited on Roosevelt Island
with some members of their former
homeschooling co-op class.
From Sydney, Australia, we flew 14 hours direct to San Francisco. None of us are very good plane sleepers so it’s easy to imagine how tired and jetlagged (and smelly) we were upon landing at SFO. We had a 6-hour layover and we planned to spend it visiting with some of Windy’s family who live close by. So it was customs, immigration, and whisked away from curbside to Aunt Margaret’s house for brunch. We were happy to see everyone, but before we knew it we were back in the car, back to SFO, and onto another plane for a 5-hour flight to Washington, D.C.

When we touched down at Reagan National we were zombies.

The girls were born in the District, both of them in the same upstairs bedroom of the house we sold to go cruising. Their riddle for stumping people goes something like: “I was born in the continental United States, but not in any of the United States.”

It was nice to return. This was my first visit to the District since we left in 2011 (Windy and the girls have been back since then). We stayed with our friends and former neighbors and got there just before Halloween, which meant the girls got to trick-or-treat in their old ‘hood and Eleanor got to celebrate her birthday with friends. Our only mistake was in planning for this stop to be for only a week. Windy and I were sick (later diagnosed with bronchitis) and severely jetlagged and didn’t even have enough time to see all of the people we would have liked to, nor to spend as much time as we would have liked with those we did see. A month later, much of that week seems like a foggy dream.

Frances digs carving pumpkins.
Then we packed up again and flew back across country, this time into LAX, from where my people hail. Still sick and still jetlagged, we crashed at my sister’s place for nearly three weeks. There we finally unpacked for real and sorted ourselves out for the 4- to5-month stay in Ajo we’re anticipating. We bought a truck, we worked on the truck, and we bought home renovation tools and such at garage sales. When we were ready, we packed up our new ride, said goodbye, and made the all-day drive to Arizona.

That’s where we are now.

The house is much worse than we planned for and imagined, but it’s all good. More on that later.

Back in Fiji, reports indicate the weather has so far been kind this season, but that’s to be expected mid-December. February is usually when Mother Nature starts whipping up the big ones. According to folks there in Savusavu, Del Viento is still floating on her lines.

I’m already missing the old gal.

--MR



Host Aunt Margaret (r) and a few other members of the
San Francisco clan who joined our layover party.

To the left of Frances is most of the Bleimehl family,
our former neighbors, dear friends, and hosts. To the
right of Frances is Kelly and her daughter, Novie.
Kelly and Novie are like a second family to the
girls; Kelly watched them for a few years while
Windy was working.

Anne and Caden, more dear D.C. friends and former neighbors.
Eleanor eagerly receiving a birthday gift from the
Bleimehl girls.
Many such photos of this gang have been taken
on this porch swing over  the years. From left to
right: a raccoon, Hermione from Harry Potter,
Princess Mononoke from a Hayao Miyazaki film,
Satan, and the headless horseman.

Novie (in her new Fiji rugby shirt) and Eleanor.
Frances with Georgia, the cat the Bleimehls adopted from
us when we left to go cruising.

The Bleimehls took our hens too, but they're all
long dead. This is one of the replacements.

Novie and the girls.

Kelly and the girls.

Ally, Eleanor, and Caden.

Windy spent a decade as a cartographer at
National Geographic. Here's Frances visiting the
old job site.

Mary Kate, former NGS colleague and dear friend.

The girls watching a woman make wontons in front of
their favorite (and Windy's favorite) Chinese place in the city.
This place was talked about for months in anticipation before
we left Fiji. I'm not so into it.

This caption will serve to document my lack of taste
and cement my place among the lowly class of folks
who can't understand some fine art. So we're in one of the
National Gallery of Art buildings and I happen upon
this docent (I think she's a professor) explaining the
magnificence and importance of this piece. It's a large
framed canvas that appears to be all black. It's by Ad Reinhardt.
It was painted in the early 1960s. It "challenges viewers to
reconsider their definition of art. Essential elements
such as subject matter, brushwork, color, and composition
are seemingly purged. Yet if you make an effort, the
painting might reveal a nuanced composition of
multiple rectangles formed by thinly veiled layers
of dark pigment." To me, that sounds like a parody.

Still in the Gallery.

You can't go back girls.

The home we rebuilt ourselves over 10 years, the one
I've not seen since we drove away from the closing
in 2011. I'm a tad wistful for the life we left behind, but
only because it wasn't a bad life. I'm happy we made
our decision to go off on an entirely different path
and we've found this cruising life to be equally suited to us.
We've seen and experienced so much.












Sunday, December 4, 2016

Lemonade!
By Michael
AJO, ARIZONA


It was a trek just getting from
Del Viento to the Nadi airport.
It was a long road to Ajo, Arizona.

It started with packing up and prepping Del Viento to float on her own for 4 or 5 months, during cyclone season. That ain’t easy, especially when living aboard, especially during a period of come-and-go rain when nothing could be brought below unless it was bone dry. Accordingly, the mainsail and headsail joined us below about 10 days before we left, not very convenient. Hard things like the solar panels dry quickly, so they weren’t such a concern.

We did all this last year, in Tonga. Because things like solar panels and cockpit cushions we stow in the V-berth, and because Windy and I sleep in the V-berth, we didn’t bring those things below last year until the day we left. Our flight left at 1600 hours and it was still a struggle. I vowed to do better this time. But this time our transportation left Savusavu at 0600—not a lot of time between waking and leaving. So we got a hotel room for the night, the best $50 bucks we’ve spent in a while. Still didn’t get there until 2000 hours.

The taxi picked us up as arranged at 0530 on Sunday morning for a 5-block ride to the bus station (thanks Jolene!). The bus took off with us aboard at 0600. We rode for four hours before arriving at the ferry depot. We waited for 2 hours. We took a 4-hour ferry ride. We took a 3-hour bus ride. We hauled our luggage to another bus and rode for another three hours. We took a taxi to our Hotwire-reserved, prepaid hotel in Nadi. It was late at night.

“Hi, we’re the Robertsons, we have a room reserved for tonight.”

“I’m sorry, we don’t have anything reserved under that name, could it be another name?”

“No.”

Eleanor still bright-eyed during the first
bus ride of the first day on the road.
“Hmmm.”

“Here’s our confirmation code and online receipt.”

“Hmmm, I don’t see anything.”

“We paid, see here? We’re really tired.”

This wasn’t a chain hotel, just a little mom-and-pop place. The woman finally conceded something must be wrong on her end and showed us to our room without finding any reservation or record of payment. Pretty cool.

The next morning a taxi picked us up at 1000 hours and brought us to the Nadi airport. We made it to the Virgin Australia counter with all our luggage still with us.

“Michael, Windy, Eleanor, and Frances—yes—you’re on the afternoon flight to Sydney. Do you have your Electronic Travel Authority?”

“Our what?”

I’ve never flown anywhere where I didn’t just jump on the plane and fill out a customs declaration en route and get a visa automatically when I landed. Apparently it’s a whole new world and the Aussies require even American allies to process themselves online and get approved to board before boarding. It costs $20 per person. So we retreated to some nearby seating and used the airport’s free wifi to appeal to the Australians to let us visit. It didn’t take long and by the time we got to the counter, $80 lighter, the ticket agent could see in her system that we were approved.

We landed in Sydney about 1800.

So the reason we flew east to go west is that Air New Zealand refused to allow us to use the Mileage Plus points we’ve been faithfully accumulating with our United Airlines credit card for the past 8 years. They’re supposed to, they’re part of the same network, but the Fiji-to-Auckland route seems to be the only one they’ve exempted. Damn. So we made lemonade from those lemons by finding pretty cheap tickets to Sydney, planning a 4-day layover, and then letting United take us from Sydney to D.C. on their new 787.

But first, an Aussie holiday!

--MR
The ferry cometh.

Frances and Windy still doing well on the ferry.

As a vegetarian, I sure appreciate that Burger King serves
veggie burgers, and they aren't bad. In Fiji, given the huge
Indian population that eats vegetarian regularly, BK there
offers 3 different kinds of veggie burgers. And that's not all,
notice the Fiji Bitter that Windy is opening and the other
waiting for me at my seat. And notice the comfy seating.
what you can't see is the free wifi and the door man.
The Nadi Burger King has to be the best in the world.
This was our late-night dinner after our long, long day.

So, check this out. Notice the jet way at the front of the plane (left).
Notice Windy and the girls boarding the same plane up a ladder
through the rear door (right). I don't mind leaving the terminal,
descending stairs, walking to the back of the plane, and climbing
stairs to board, but I've never had to do so when there was a
jet way in place. Apparently, this jet way is for the first class
passengers and those seated near the front. I'll give Richard
Branson a thumbs up for efficiency, but damn was it ever
a strong reminder we were economy class.

Frances and I walking towards the Sydney Opera House. At
this point, neither girl knows the surprise they're in for.

Now Eleanor knows. While still in Fiji, I learned that
Julie Andrews herself was directing My Fair Lady at
the Sydney Opera House. My girls are big fans of the
movie and soundtrack, so I knew they'd love it. But the cheapest
seats were about $200 a piece. Luckily, I scored standing "seats"
during a matinee for the still-pricey sum of $50. It was hard
to stand for 3 hours, but worth it. The production was outstanding.
The lead sounded exactly like Rex Harrison and the orchestra was
phenomenal. We all loved it.
Intermission.
We spent a full day around Bondi Beach. I was shocked at all the
uncovered sunbathers. I thought Aussies had a big hole in the ozone
layer directly above, soaring rates of skin cancer, and a sun-mentality
that was beyond the 1980s. Note there is not a single umbrella in site.
Bondi Beach is very cool, hipster, artsy-like. Imagine a small Portland
or Victoria with a warm, sunny beach.



While we were there, they happened to be having their
annual sculpture on the beach display. It was pretty cool.




This pool is adjacent to Bondi Beach. This was not a high-surf day, and it
was still pretty dramatic. See the swimmers? Apparently, Bondi Beach
regularly sees 35,000 beachgoers in a day. So it was on Black Sunday
in 1938. Out of nowhere, 3 bigger-than-normal waves rolled in and swept
hundreds of people out to sea. Lifesavers were in force because of a
weekly surf competition going on and rescued 250 people. 30 had to be
resuscitated. 5 died.
The girls could have sat here for hours, cajoling these
white ibis birds.

View from downtown.

The girls dug this artist's work, but had no idea
he was behind them when Windy took the picture.


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