There’s a lot to catch up on. As Harmony mentioned in the last post, we were sailing past Acapulco checking our email, when our world got flipped turned upside down. My old co-worker Emily had sent me a message wondering if I’d like a spot of work, starting nowish and lasting until April.
“Gosh, I don’t know,” I thought. “I guess we theoretically have the time to spare, but we’re kind of in the groove now and gaining momentum on our journey home. Can we afford to stop somewhere and pull a regular work schedule again?” I decided to respond with a little toe dip in the water, just to see what kind of commitment we were talking about — and what kind of money. My last bout of employment had involved a full day of boat electrical work in exchange for fresh produce and cheese. It would be fair to say that I had maybe lost sight of my value in the American workplace.
The reply I got when we arrived in Zihuatanejo nearly gave me whiplash. A few months of work would pay for a not-ignorable portion of this entire trip. So much for all that talk about there being more to life than capital maximization of time. Gimme them golden handcuffs! Golden anchor? Whatever.
The next day we began to beat the streets of Zihuatanejo in search of an apartment. We walked all over town for five days, and Harmony counted 28 apartments that we saw. Finally we settled on a place above a coffee shop in the La Madera neighborhood, a block from the beach where we moored Serenity. Once again we had showers and a freezer. Once again I could spread my heels in bed. The kitchen was no longer occasionally half-sideways. Life on the boat started to feel like a dream about a terribly inconvenient — albeit beautiful and uniquely enriching — life.
Fast forward, and we’ve now spent over two months here. Almost immediately, Harmony volunteered to collect donations for SailFest, an annual benefit for the local schools. I plugged back into the professional Life Electronic and set myself on the task of learning a new technical language. It may not be coral reefs and cocktails, but new experience is good experience. Our friends Matt and Catherine, themselves digital nomads, decided to join us down here in Zihuatanejo, and as luck would have it the neighboring apartment was available. We were also fortunate to meet some great seasonal locals and have a few sail outings. Life took on a new rhythm, but right as we were getting accustomed to it, everything changed again.
First, I began to get responses from graduate schools. To my great surprise, I was actually an appealing candidate despite this economic fallow period, and the offers were enticing to match. Before long, a clear favorite emerged at the top — the Marine Resource Management program at my alma mater, OSU. Along with it, barring state fiscal disaster I will have the opportunity to study how new wave energy projects go through the permitting process, and in a funny twist of fate I’ll get to take part in meetings facilitated by my mentor from my old company. I couldn’t make this stuff up. The downside? It’s in the middle of the valley, and our plan to continue living onboard Serenity to continue this frugal floating lifestyle became no longer tenable.
As I have been firming up my grad school plans, Harmony has also been busy plugging back into the water resources management world back home, and we’re hopeful that she’ll unearth a good opportunity in the valley. The downside? She might have to start working sooner rather than later. We’re still 2,000 miles away from home. We needed a new plan.
After much consideration, we decided that it was time to sell Serenity rather than sail her the rest of the way home. One of the hardest parts of the decision was to let go of the idea of the closed loop — the triumphant return to our home waters. Then again, we had not forgotten how brutally cold that water was. I can’t even look at my Carhartts and long johns without remembering how gross they were after wearing them for a month straight down the coast. We’d survive the loss of the ticker tape parade.
We dusted off the ad we’d made in a fit of desperation a year ago in Panama and posted it on the market. We waited in anticipation, and then two things happened:
1) Harmony had a friend emergency that meant she needed to fly home and provide support.
2) As she was on the boat packing up her things for travel, Harmony discovered little brown trails on the wood around one of the notebooks in her bookshelf that she’d last used back in Huatulco. She chased them to one of the bulkheads that supports a babystay chainplate, and when she poked the wood she tapped a steady stream of . . TERMITES.*
With Harmony gone, I swam out to the boat and got to work with further investigation. The bulkhead support she poked was hollow. The whole thing came apart with no effort. Feeling suspicious, and hearing a strange crackling sound coming from behind the speaker on her side of the salon, I got out my dremel and cut away a section of fiberglass from the inner hull. Bugs rained down. The top strip of the cedar hull was mulch.
So, on top of 40-hour work weeks, I have spent the past few weeks kayak-paddling our inflatable dinghy out to the boat and tearing into the problem. By the time I found good wood, I had exposed the entire starboard side of the top of the hull, from the dish cabinet to the forward bulkhead in the vee-berth. The story was the same: the top strip was toast. At first I was afraid they’d gotten into the hull-to-deck joint as well, but as I investigated further from underneath, I breathed a sigh of relief when I uncovered unblemished wood.
It’s funny, but when you see something like what’s in the pictures above, it’s more a mirror than anything else. Like a Rorschach Blot — how do your feelings fill the negative space? It’s a good thing we learned how to rebuild this boat at the start of our trip when we were surprised with a rotten bow in Ilwaco. Without that foundational experience, I probably would have hauled anchor, sailed Serenity out to sea, and sunk her. Instead, though I was none too happy about it, I knew what I needed to do.
In between answering the questions of potential buyers, I found good wood at a local lumber yard, and Harmony ordered us some epoxy from Puerto Vallarta that was delivered straight to our door. (An address! How convenient!) I dug out every scrap of the bad wood, treated the rest with a termite-infecting cocktail, and once I was confident that they’d been eradicated, I began to rebuild. Cold-molded hull repair is kind of like hollowing out a kiwi and replacing the innards with wood strips and really expensive, really sticky Play-Doh. It’s not so complicated, really, just itchy and time-consuming. As of this writing, the repair is nearly complete, and I’m pretty pleased with the result. Serenity is ready once again to go looking for trouble.
We also think we’ve found a pair of buyers (just wait til you get a load of these crazy diamonds), so unless something goes sideways the plan is to sail Serenity back up to the Sea of Cortez in April or May to make the final hand-off. Harmony and I have complicated feelings about the whole affair, probably akin to handing one’s daughter off to marriage. Serenity was our first home, afterall, but we’re confident that we’ve made the right choice. We feel in tune with the flow of our life’s phases, and we know that we’re running towards something great. Plus, we’re already thinking about the trailerable sailboat we’re going to buy pretty much as soon as we get home. I’ll have a whole summer to kill, after all. Let’s hope there’s a little less boat work this time around. Famous last words.
*Harmony: “It’s kind of embarrassing to admit publicly that we had termites.”
Jeff: “Yeah, I feel like those kids in school who got head lice.”