Before we bought our catamaran and started cruising every winter, I had a vivid picture in my mind of cruising life. We would sail on crystal clear blue water and anchor near a secluded tropical island with white sand and palm trees. I could hear Bob Marley or Jimmy Buffett in the background.
We would eat fresh-caught fish and pineapple, bananas, mangoes. Each evening we would sit on the deck and watch a gorgeous sunset.
That image turned out to be partly true. We have done all that; but as you may have guessed, there is more to the story.
Take today, for example. We are docked at Oscar’s Marina on a lovely little island about 5 miles off the coast of Cancun. We prefer to anchor, but staying at a marina is necessary because the boat needs some work that cannot be done at anchor.
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This morning we woke with the sun, and Phil made his delicious coffee. We ate breakfast just like at home with a few differences. The milk on the cereal does not come out of a plastic gallon container. It comes in a 1-liter cardboard container that is ultra-pasteurized and doesn’t need to be refrigerated until it’s opened.
Adults in Central America don’t drink milk like we do in the U.S. Fresh milk is hard to find and very expensive. The local raisin bran cereal is not quite as good as Post or Kellogg, likely because it doesn’t have as much sugar. We usually have a variety of locally grown fresh fruits.
Promptly at 8:30 a.m., we turned on our VHF radio and listened to the Isla Mujeres Cruiser Net. Most areas with lots of cruisers have a net each morning, usually hosted by a volunteer. It lasts about 20 minutes and includes a weather forecast and information about local activities.
New arrivals have a chance to introduce themselves, and those leaving can say goodbye. Listeners can advertise items to sell or give away, find someone who wants to crew on their boat or find a ride on someone else’s boat. You can share information or ask questions.
After the Cruiser Net, a local young man named Andres (Andrew in English) came to clean the barnacles off the bottom of our boat. He charges $60 to swim under the boat and carefully scrape it clean. When you are in salt water, you must have the bottom cleaned from time to time or else the barnacles take over.
Usually the bottom cleaners use long hoses attached to oxygen tanks to stay underwater long enough. Andres doesn’t use the tanks. He can stay under water longer than anyone I have ever seen. He is also a champion swimmer, having won the 5-mile race from Isla Mujeres to Cancun more than once.
After the bottom cleaning was finished, Phil and I headed off to the Chedraui (pronounced cha-drou-ee), Isla’s answer to Walmart. We usually walk the half-mile and then take a taxi back with our groceries.
Since this was our first food shopping since we got back to the boat, we needed to stock up. Our overflowing cart cost about 1,000 Pesos ($76 U.S.). The locals don’t normally spend that much in one trip. They tend to shop more often for smaller quantities. I am sure they don’t know that we shop less often than they do and probably think we Americans just eat a lot.
After putting our groceries away, we gathered up our dirty clothes and dropped them off at Monica’s. She lives about two blocks from the marina and operates a small laundry (one washer and one dryer) out of her house. Most people here don’t have washers and dryers, and there are no do-it-yourself laundries; so there are small operations like Monica’s in every neighborhood.
It’s a real treat for me to drop off dirty laundry and pick it up clean and folded, for the equivalent of only a few dollars a week.
We took a long walk around a nearby lake and then met some cruiser friends for lunch at a local street food stand called Que Bravo. This popular restaurant has three rosin tables with rosin chairs, no walls, and a tarp for a roof. We had empanadas (deep fried meat pies) and sopes (small round corn tortillas with high edges, filled with refried beans, seasoned chicken, beef or pork). Both the empanadas and the sopes were topped with shredded lettuce, cabbage, cheese, sliced avocado and media crema, a thick cream dribbled over the top of the food.
Back at Oscar’s, our afternoon was filled with boat projects. Phil worked on a stuck gearshift on the dinghy’s outboard motor, and I continued my cleaning chores.
When we return to the boat after it has been closed up for months, I remove all the dishes, utensils, pots and pans from the galley and wash everything, including the insides of the cupboards and drawers. Then I remove everything from a former stateroom off the kitchen, which we now use as a pantry and catch-all space, and clean it top to bottom. The cleaning jobs usually take several days to complete.
Five o’clock signaled Happy Hour. We all stop our work and gather on the dock with our favorite beverages. Usually, people bring appetizers. We discuss our boat projects, the news of the day, welcome new boaters and tell our sea stories.
Dinner on the boat was Arrachara beef fajitas. We can purchase Arrachara beef (skirt steak in the U.S.) already marinated in a plastic bag at most groceries in Mexico. It’s delicious and tender, cooks in minutes in a skillet and, along with peppers and onions folded into flour tortillas, makes an easy-to prepare dinner.
After dinner, we played Scrabble and read. There is a joke that “cruiser midnight” is 8 p.m. We rarely stay up after cruiser midnight.
Life on a boat at a marina resembles life at home in many ways. We get to know where to find things like groceries, pharmacies, laundries and other services. We cook and clean and fix things on the boat. We read a lot and socialize often with friends.
I look back at the past seven years and realize we made a great decision to try this lifestyle. People like to say that you don’t age on a boat. I have noticed a few age-associated changes over the past few years, but lots of fresh air and sunshine and plenty of exercise keeps us feeling younger, at least in our minds. That is about as much as anyone could hope for in retirement.