Category Archives: Living on a Sailboat in Mexico

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ll never forget the time I met Sherbert the kitten. It was late afternoon and Brian and I had driven all day from Tucson, Arizona to reach our boat in San Carlos, Mexico. Our Sprinter van bounced into the marina parking area, which was just a dusty patch of ground adorned with a big green dumpster. This part of Mexico is pretty casual. There are no malls here, just the ocean, friendly Mexicans, and a kitten who needed a family.

We were elated to be here and anxious to see our boat. We opened the van doors to a wall of hot, humid air. We stepped outside and walked toward our boat, and then Sherbert appeared.

She was cute as could be with an orange coat and a furry white chest patch. She was small and painfully skinny, though, and kept her distance. She meowed loudly from a safe perimeter, around ten feet away, as we moved things from the van to the boat.

She must be hungry. What could I feed her? I searched my food supplies from the previous season and found several cans of Costco chicken breast. What kitten wouldn’t love that?

She did love it, especially the broth, yet remained skittish and ran away when I got within a couple feet of her.

My prediction was that Sherbert and I would be cuddling by the end of my 8 day stay and she would turn into a great boat cat. Brian wasn’t sure about that and called Sherbert “semi-feral”.

img_0898-largeDuring the first couple days I would simply set Sherbert’s food a few feet away and sit with her as she ate. On the third day I set the food close to me and sat down on the dock next to our boat. Slowly Sherbert realized she would need to expand her comfort zone if she wanted to eat, so she inched closer.

She began to lap up some chicken broth and I reached out my hand to sneak a quick pet on her back. Instead of running, she stopped and peered at me with a confused expression as I withdrew my hand. I waited a second, and then petted her again in the same manner. She looked at me, eyes alert and watchful. Then, the third time I touched her she actually rose up to meet my hand!

It was an exciting moment, and soon Brian came out to celebrate Sherbert’s first petting by taking some photos of us and enjoying the loving scene taking place on the dock in front of the boat.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI grew to love Sherbert more as she took her first steps onto my lap and later let me pick her up. She came running when I called her name and enjoyed being petted as much as possible. Brian and I would walk to the beach with Sherbert trailing behind us. She played in the sand and we tried to teach her how to hunt crabs.

She would be a wonderful boat cat and I’ve always wanted a cat who would enjoy travelling on the boat with us. But we had plans to fly back to the US for the holidays and there are strict laws about crossing a border with an animal. We wouldn’t be allowed to bring Sherbert until she’d been vaccinated and then cleared a 30 day waiting period. We also plan to sail the South Pacific which is not pet friendly, either. Imported pets are subject to lengthy quarantines.

Sadly, Sherbert couldn’t become part of our family but she was starting to get a little plumper. She was getting pretty friendly, so I hoped someone would want her as a pet. I asked a couple people who walked by and they just laughed. Leaving her at the marina was a heartbreaking idea. One day she would come around looking for us and find only an empty dock, not a big white boat full of love. She would continue to meow at people, but no one would know she was more than just a stray. She had become used to sitting on laps and eating regular meals. I had given her a taste of what it was like to belong with someone, and now I couldn’t take that away from her. What was I going to do?

I started calling and emailing the local animal rescue organizations but none of them were taking cats. One lady I spoke with offered to list Sherbert in a newsletter, which was great, but then a couple quiet days passed with no calls or emails.

Then I got a very exciting phone message from a lady named Gwen. She wanted Sherbert. Her home was a cat sanctuary and it was just a few miles away.

I cried and felt so happy. Sherbert wouldn’t continue to return to an empty dock; instead she would have a better life. Gwen’s call came just in time since we were scheduled to leave the next day.

I prepared a fabric covered box for Sherbert’s transport, and cut several holes in the top. It was easy to get Sherbert into the box, and she was fairly mellow as Brian drove to Gwen’s home while I held her box. She poked her tiny nose out of the holes in the top of the box a couple times, but otherwise settled in for the ride.

When we arrived at Gwen’s house we knew we were in the right place. Several cats lounged luxuriously in front of a tall iron gate. Gwen stood in front of the gate, waving at us. Pink walls and green trees framed the front of the house, high on a hill near the ocean. We entered through the iron gate and then walked in the front door. A gentle rottweiler and a smaller, elderly white dog greeted us, along with three cats. The entry way had high walls painted with a brightly colored jungle scene.

img_0241-largeWe handed Sherbert’s box to Gwen and she gently lifted the lid, cooed at Sherbert and placed her in a kennel. Sherbert immediately began eating dry cat food from a small dish. I sat down next to her and said goodbye. A friendly cat rubbed against me, welcoming me immediately into the fold.

We walked outside and chatted with Gwen for awhile as cats rubbed against us. Brian enjoyed watching a very acrobatic black cat who jumped skillfully from a tree to a fence to a car and back again.

Gwen said she wants a kitten and may keep Sherbert as a permanent resident in her home. Gwen also sends cats to the US to be adopted and Sherbert may be adopted in the US someday. Either way, Sherbert is in loving, competent hands and is hopefully being petted and fed at this very moment. It was sad we could not keep her but I helped her find a better life, and I can’t remember feeling better about anything.

Gwen was absolutely lovely, a bundle of blonde energy with a thirty year history of helping animals. I still get misty eyed thinking of our conversation about providing dogs and cats with vet care from the back of a car in the desert, Gwen’s battle with cancer, and her desire to be well and travel the world with her daughter.

Bless you, Gwen, and may all your dreams and wishes come true. You deserve it. Meeting you reminded me of the vast amount of good just one person can do in this world.

And thanks for helping someone I love. I’ll never forget it.


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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADecommissioning a boat sucks. It’s hot, dirty and you know you won’t see your beloved boat for a long time. There are dozens of tiny bits of canvas to tie on the windows to protect them from sun damage, piles of ropes to wash and dry, and many things which must be somehow stuffed inside the boat or cockpit so they don’t blow away during a hurricane.

And, to top it all off, at the end of the decommissioning process we had a rather memorable overnight bus ride back to the U.S. It was one of those bus rides where the time to your destination is doubled because the bus stops at so many places along the way. Plus they kick you off the warm bus and into the cold night several times to clean the bus and go through customs. Basically, they torture you as you try to sleep. But the grande finale was after nearly 12 hours on the bus we were dropped off at 5 AM in an empty parking lot in Tucson, Arizona. There were no open businesses. Everything was dark and quiet.

IMG_2238 (Large)Then things improved. We took a taxi to the most wonderful AirBnB in Tucson where I got to pet a dog, bird and cat when I arrived. The backyard was a peaceful sanctuary with bird feeders outside the window and the sounds of chickens clucking from a large pen. The cat, Chico, was beautiful, loved to sit on laps and came when called. He was a dreamy cat. Animal therapy worked and I felt better right away.

We went to get our Sprinter and Jeep from storage and found the Jeep had a drained battery which was too old to accept a jump. We got a new battery and Brian tried to install it. The wires attached to the battery were too corroded and they fell apart. Back to the auto parts store we went for a second time.

Brian was able to get the Jeep working pretty quickly after we got the parts. We went off to tackle errands, one of which was getting Brian a nice outfit for an upcoming family trip to New Jersey to celebrate our brother’s graduation from Princeton.

IMG_2338 (Large)We shopped at REI and found a very nice outfit for Brian, one he may actually wear for occasions other than the graduation. However, we were both so sleep deprived that we somehow left the outfit sitting on the bench in the shoe department. We purchased other items at REI, and neither of us noticed the outfit was missing until we drove to the airport the following morning. By then it was too late to buy anything else. Luckily Brian’s family understands his casual nature and no one batted an eye when he turned up in board shorts and a tech tee.

I purchased a couple dresses online beforehand. Luckily, one of them was perfect so I did not have to do any shopping in Tucson. Whew! I was really not rested enough to go solo dress shopping at the mall.

IMG_2314 (Large)The trip to New Jersey was awesome. We enjoyed lots of good family time and the graduation events at Princeton University were well done with great food. Also, the campus is beautiful and we loved walking around everywhere. We once again lucked out with a great Airbnb next to a forested area with hiking trails.

After the trip to New Jersey I was exhausted. Our plane landed in Phoenix and it was nearly 100 degrees and forecast to get even hotter. It was way too hot for van life. The van wasn’t really ready for living either, with no food, water or organization. No way could I move into the van that day. I fired up hotels.com and by a stroke of luck, saw a room with a jacuzzi tub for only $14 more than the cheapest room I was about to reserve.

IMG_0099 (Large)It may have been the best $14 I ever spent. We spent two days in the motel room and I practically lived in the tub. The body wash the hotel provided foamed up into huge clouds of bubbles. I could hear the bubbles popping softly all around my head. I floated motionlessly in a soft, warm bubble cloud and all my stress melted away. I ate breakfast in the tub. I watched tv in the tub. I wrote emails in the tub. I did everything possible in the tub!

IMG_0129 (Large)We also found a fantastic Thai restaurant nearby and ate there twice. I went shopping, did laundry and organized the van. Now the van is a peaceful, pleasant place, and we are living happily in it at a free, forested vagabond spot near Sedona, Arizona.

We made the transition! But I always forget how hard it is, and next year I’ll remember I need a really big bathtub during times like this.


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About the Author

Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a tall, blonde superhero and I live in a van and on a sailboat with my superhero husband, Brian. I do it all. I rappel big waterfalls, scuba dive with sharks, dodge encounters with bears and wolves, and work remotely as a full time computer programmer.
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About the Van

Hi, I’m Vanifest. I’m a big, 4x4, off-the-grid van complete with solar panel for power. I'm a 2000 Dodge Ram Van and Lisa has had me since 2009. Read more about me here.


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