Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Travel'n Beta

Traveler's new diesel power plant started its life at the Kubota factory in Osaka Japan.  From there it traveled by container ship around the world to the Beta facilities in Gloucester, southwest England. Beta was started by some marine enginerds who's business plan was "to provide propulsion engines to suit individual requirements rather than to the specification dictated by the larger boat buiders." (From their web site)  They set out to capture the re-power market with a line of small diesel engines that are easily customized to fit all sorts of small to medium sized sail and power boats.

I've seen the Beta team many times at the boat show with their bright red engines.  They take the reliable Kubota engine and marinize it. Marinize (to adapt to the harsh marine environment), not Martinize (to run through a dry cleaning facility), which is what you might want to do with that old oily engine you have in your bilge.  Beta adds things like a raw water pump and a heat exchanger and they move the oil filler, filter, and change pump up to the front where you can get at it easily.  They also create custom engine mounts to your specifications so it will fit easily into your engine room.  We shall see later how well that works out for Traveler.

OOCL Mexico with Beta aboard.
Now that I've sent the nine grand to the Beta boys and they have finished the cute little custom engine feet, the beast is finally shipping toward Mexico. It's on the OOCL Mexico, a 963 foot long container ship flagged in Liberia. We snapped a picture of her leaving the UK.  If you look closely you can see the Beta engine strapped down on top of some containers.

Yes, it's a BIG engine.  43 horsepower, but only a third of what you's find in a little Honda Civic! Go figure. It looks even bigger here because of what is know as long distance light refraction.  We sometimes see this in Puget Sound when a large ship is on the horizon and it looks way taller than it actually is.

I've found a couple of web sites where I can track the progress of our big 43 horse Beta as the motor vessel OOCL Mexico carries it on a world tour before dropping her on the wharf in Veracruz Mexico.  In the old days wealthy families would send their fledgling offspring on the "Grand Tour" to round out their education. This European sojourn usually included Rome, Berlin, Athens, and  Paris, to give the traveler a taste of religion, science, art, and sex, in that order.

 But for Beta, we wanted to round out her personality in a more head down, serious, working-ethic manner.  OOCL Mexico has visited Antwerp Belgium, Bremerhaven Denmark, and Le Havre France before heading south for Veracruz. Let's see... she sampled beer in Belgium, pot in Denmark, and wine in France. Sound's like a well rounded education to me!

We'll be tracking her across the Atlantic and get back to you if there are any mishaps aboard, which there could be seeing how many thousands of ships there are going to and fro. Meanwhile, I'm here in Seattle working diligently to raise more cash. There are always unexpected expenses when the kids are off traveling the world.

Some Beta engines get to travel with the road show.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Further Reflections on Life Abroad

The view I wish I had from my swivel chair at work.
Ensconced here in Seattle for eight weeks, I'm enjoying couch surfing through the spare bedrooms of my friends while I do contract work for my old employer, Harborview Medical Center.  I travel light, carrying along my three pairs of pants and four shirts bought at Goodwill.  After one week staying in the house of one friend, I pack it up and take the bus to Olympia where Connie picks me up and I stay with her for the weekend. We work on her rental house trying to rescue it from the disaster caused by her good natured but clueless renter.  Then Sunday I take the bus back to Seattle and land in another friend's house and their spare bedroom for a week. So far, it is working out pretty well and the cruising kitty is starting to move in a positive direction instead of a negative direction.  I said I'd never go back to work. I was wrong.

Coming back to the States for these few months makes us think, and consider our decision to live abroad.

Typical cubicle / mariner trap
One reason we left to cruise the Mexican Pacific coast was because we thought we could do so cheaply, so cheaply that we could stop working and live off savings until I reached retirement age.  And that part has somewhat proven to be true.  I say "somewhat" because we have yet to meet our $18,000 per year budget.  Last year's expenditures were double that and so might this years become. What pushes us over budget is big ticket boat repairs and purchases.  Of course we didn't plan on all the boat upgrades and repairs, thinking our boat was more ready than she really was.

As for everyday living, we most assuredly have met our budget.  18k per year is $1,500 dollars per month.  We lived on less than that during those months when we had no large repair or outfitting bills.  So as we calmly drifted from anchorage to anchorage we lived lean. Maybe next year we'll not have to buy another engine or some other big ticket item.  Coming north in the summer to do some work is very helpful to our budget. Thank you, my employers; the work is much appreciated.

Coming north in the summer is also helpful to the psyche.  By the time June rolls around it is just too darn hot to enjoy living on the boat in Mexico.  I've told you how we became hot, cranky, and stupid from staying south too long.  When we hit those cool nights in the mountains of Arizona and Utah our bodies relaxed and our minds started to function properly again.  Connie started playing music again. I started smiling.

Oregon hills as seen from my folding chair last month.
After some thought, sitting there in my folding chair looking out upon the national forest in Oregon, I realized that an important part of my big sigh of relief was the loss of tension, the letting down the guard that we maintain all the while when in a foreign culture.  I love Mexico and most of the Mexicans I've met have been wonderful people: friendly, family oriented, honest people. But all the while in Mexico we are the outsiders, the visitors. We are not "in the know" about everything that is happening around us.  I've realized that the Mexican culture and the Mexican language is very complicated. And as an English speaker I'll never quite understand everything that is happening around me.  Here in the states I'm much more confident about what is happening around me because I've lived here for so long.  Sure, there are undercurrents of things happening here that I don't know, things such as illegal activities, private connections, different customs and laws, but for the most part I see things at their true and face value.  Back in the States, after a while, I relax and feel comfortable, thinking I know what's happening.

I didn't realize that I was carrying around this tension while traveling in Mexico but I realize it now.  Don't get me wrong, though. We are going back to Mexico and some year we will go further to Panama or the South Pacific.  But when doing so, the guard will be up a smidgen more than when I'm in the states.

Another thing I've appreciated about the U.S. is how clean and tidy everything is.  Private property is normally kept decent looking and the public spaces are spectacular when compared to most of Mexico.  In Mexico the pride is inside the property.  There is a wall around the property and everything inside is nice.  But outside the wall it can be dusty, dirty, rock strewn, and ugly.  Sidewalks can be treacherous and except for the town square, public places are pretty rough. You pay to pee and don't want to sit on the porcelain.  In the states, the public bathrooms can be wonderfully clean and modern.

Heading south to cruise Mexico's coast is not all beautiful beaches and cheap fish tacos.  I'm glad we had the experience and enjoyed it so much that we're going back in the fall.  But I realize that the 1st world countries, while expensive, have a lot to offer too.

So, as in many things, moderation is the way to go.  We'll spend six months in Mexico and six months in the states for the next couple of years until we head across the Pacific.... or some other place.
We'll get the best of both worlds.

My advice for those who are planning on heading south is to figure out what you'll be doing during the time when you are not in Mexico.  Make sure you have a nice place to visit, a place where you can relax in your folding chair and breath in the cool, moist air.  As we get better at this "snow bird" mentality Connie and I are looking for summertime options.  A cabin in Colorado, an apartment in San Diego, a house in Tumwater, a yurt in New Mexico?  You gotta have a place to go on vacation from your vacation!

Oh yeah, don't forget to budget in a new engine or two.