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Friday, December 13, 2013

Monster Project - Making Dinghy Chaps

Some people are just gifted...
blessed with patience and skill... probably from birth.
Not me.
Everything has to be taught to me and if I am lucky I might retain a thing or two.
Or learn just enough to get myself into trouble.
One thing I can say about myself with pride is that I am no quitter.
Dorky? Yes. Quitter? Nope.
Making dinghy chaps -I can tell you this... it's not for quitters.
sv ORTOLAN:  nicely done dinghy chaps - see their blog HERE
My very first attempt at making dinghy chaps was almost 5 years ago - it was a nightmare. A total nightmare. I used newspaper and duct tape and molded it to our inflatable to use as a pattern. But trying to cut Sunbrella and form its stiffness into rounded curves -  it was very...brainful. 
Towards the end of the project I was beyond therapy and I really didn't care how it looked... 
and it showed. I didn't take close-up pictures to prove it - you'll just have to take me at my word.

sv CAMELOT: I saw Lori's dinghy chaps in La Cruz - Beautiful Work!! You can read about it HERE
I will just come out and say it - my first chaps were Fuggly... yes, FUGGLY!
And I still don't care that they were. 
My husband was smart enough not to be too critical...
but he did make fuggly faces at my fuggly chaps. 
At least he knew better than to say one word about its fuggliness out loud to me.
He would point out from time to time how pretty other chaps were when we would approach or leave a dinghy dock.
"Jimmy Crack Corn" would be my response... because what can you really say to that?
sv SINBAD: Nice outcome and he has some good tips HERE
But after years of being in the vicious sun-
hauling our sandy, gritty, wet butts around from beach to beach -
from town to town -
my fuggly chaps finally bit the dust.
I had made so many repairs and we had abused the dog out of those chaps that I couldn't even use them as a pattern when it was time to replace them. They were totally trashed!
sv DREAMTIME: there are some good sewing tips HERE
And now that I have had experience working for a master sailmaker, my sewing skills have improved tremendously. So have my analytical skills. My comprehension skills still need improvement, though.
So, even with sort-of-professional-if-I-do-say-so-myself canvas mastery, the task of building dinghy chaps feels like a monster project - that I detest... with a passion.
And that is why I will never make dinghy chaps for anyone else.
Because I know in my heart that if I heard one complaint - one single whiny comment...
I might do something unspeakable to the noise maker.
sv  LA LUNA: painted their dinghy instead of making chaps and you can read about it HERE
If making dinghy chaps is such a hassle then why didn't I just hire someone to make them, you ask?
Because I don't want to spend money on something I can do myself.
I know cruisers that have paid $500 US for someone to custom make dinghy chaps.
Is it worth $500? Yes - it absolutely is!
Mostly, I chose to make my dinghy chaps myself because I am competitive...
and I wanted to see if I could make some UN-fuggly chaps.
It was a test - Meri vs. the Monster Project.
sv TROUBADOUR: Linda has some brilliant sewing tips and links and she even has my Fuggly dinghy chaps saved to her Picasa album!! But I'm not pointing out which ones are mine - luckily it is a photo taken very far away.

Meri's Helpful TIPS when attempting Un-Fuggly Chaps:

  1. READ!! And learn from other cruiser's mistakes. I read several DIY articles and blogs before I jumped. Here are some particularly fabulous goodies: Sailrite's  free downloadCruiserswikiGood Old Boat has a nice write-up on Rib Wraps and here's another free PDF, also nicely written.
  2. I prefer clear plastic sheeting for my pattern material. It works better than newspaper (which you can't see through) and much better than a stretchy, staticky shower curtain. Plastic sheeting tapes down lovely with masking tape and you can write instructions and draw your oar lock shapes, for example, easily with a permanent marker.
  3. Use masking tape vs. Duct tape with plastic sheeting material - because you WILL need to make adjustments.
  4. I like Phifertex for the cones. I used Sunbrella to cover the cones on my first chaps and the pressure of the water either turned the ends into a sea anchor or blew them off to the side like Dumbo ears.
  5. Some cruisers like to put their boat name on their tender. We choose not to because it is an advertisement that you have no one on board when your dinghy is on a beach or at the dinghy dock. A would-be-thief might call that an opportunity.
  6. I used the lightest color Sunbrella I could find (besides white, which gets filthy looking immediately!) because in the tropics the darker colors are hot to the touch. Even some grays and beiges can burn the backside when you sit down. 
  7. Many cruisers like to use leather as their chafe guard around oar locks and such. It is very pretty, but it shrinks, it gets brittle and it cracks - and it's expensive. I used a vinyl truck tarp fabric I found here in Mexico... cheap and strong. It also gives our dinghy a unique look so it is easy to pick our's out when at the dinghy dock tied up with loads of other dinghies.
  8. I attached a Phifertex pocket for handheld radios, sunscreen, water bottles, etc... Phifertex won't collect water when it rains.
  9. I used good quality UV thread.
  10. I used a hot knife to cut out my Sunbrella pieces to resist fraying and so that I didn't have to double over and sew big chunky seams.
And so I DID IT!!! I made UN-Fuggly chaps!!
There is definitely some satisfaction that I wrestled the monster project and brought it to its knees.
But mostly. I am completely relieved it's over with and looking forward to not having to do it again for several more years.
VOILA!!! Not a great photo of my final creation because the Northers are blowing like stanky-stink and I can't get any other shot than over our davits without falling into the water... but ain't she PURDY????

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Experiencing the Best of La Paz - Part II

Continuing the quest for how to get the most out of your visit to La Paz, Mexico...

Club Cruceros is the La Paz Cruisers Club. It is located in Marina de La Paz and is open to everyone. Fellow cruisers host morning coffee at the clubhouse Monday - Saturday 930a-1030a. It's a 5 peso donation for coffee and cookies - sometimes there's cake. You don't have to be a club member to come. But if you do want to become a member it costs only 100 pesos for the year - and then you can check out DVD's from the huge DVD collection. There is a book exchange from a large library, too - free to all.

This is the place to find all kinds of information. Many cruisers tend to begin their mornings here. There is also a large message board that has postings of events around town and classified ads.

And if caffeine and crowds aren't your thing, check out the Club Cruceros website or Baja Insider - they are both good resources. Or you might stop by one of the newspaper stands in La Paz and pick up a Gringo Gazette or Baja Citizen. The online edition costs a few dollars - or you can pick up the latest paper edition free! Inside you'll discover all the latest happenings around town. That's how we found out about the Ballet Folklorico!!

The ballet was incredible - a wonderful experience! Beautiful, synchronized dancing and gorgeous costumes - mariachi music and classical performers... highly sensual, endorphin emitting, foot stomping Mexican cowboys - no wonder all the ladies in the audience carry fans! And cost? 100 pesos a ticket - very affordable!

And the performance wasn't the only thing that was a new experience. Tickets sell out fast - we purchased ours 6 days before the performance and there were only several tickets left. Seating is not assigned - why? I can't say - it's Mexico and they do things differently here. So, if you want a good seat you wait in line the night of the performance - 2 hours early!! No, I am not kidding. And then the door opens and the audience descends upon the seating like locusts. So tuck that little bit of information away so you don't end up standing room only.

And if you don't read about it, check out your auditory sensory - if it sounds like a party on the Malecon, then it might be worth checking out!! We had no idea this cool race car expo was scheduled. We just followed the music and the engine revs!

And being invited to a Baby Shower - even though we didn't know the family - felt like a privilege so Carolyne and I just couldn't turn down the opportunity! And the empty seats? Well, I still can't get it through my thick Gringa head that you never show up on time for a party in Mexico!!

And last but not least, I have to mention the hobby groups.
Mexican Train, Quilting, Yoga, Baja Rummy, Bridge, Beading and other weekly activities are announced on the Net each morning (Channel 22 at 8am M- Sa) and you can opt to attend any of these gatherings to obtain even more information on what is happening on town. You don't even have to LIKE to do any of the above activities - but think of it as a way to discover more, like:

Whale Sharks...
Turtle Release...
Community Garden Project...
Farmer's Organic Market...
Restaurants out the Wazoo...
Paddle Board rentals...
Swimming with the Seals...

And I dare say... I have just scratched the surface.
So, if cruisers have visited La Paz and say they found it to be lack luster or boring...
then perhaps they missed their boat. Hopefully, this post and the last post will keep you from missing yours!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Experience the Best of La Paz - Part I

Cruising is not just about being on the water or repairing the boat or having a pot luck with other cruisers. It takes work to research and put your feelers out and ask the right questions, find the right websites and /or meet the right people so that your experience anywhere in the world is enhanced. Don't expect to drop your anchor, dinghy to the dock and have the local mass waiting for your arrival with a list of activities for your enjoyment. Even in a capital city, like La Paz, things-to-do don't just fall in your lap. It is a quest.

Finding out about what is happening in the area - 
What activities are being offered - 
What can you learn so that you can share with others? 
How can you enrich your experience? 
Who out there is offering an opportunity of a lifetime?
What contribution can you make to the community?
The answers aren't easy when you are clueless where to begin.

I am amazed when I hear a cruiser say how boring or how dull their experience was when visiting La Paz. I will admit - when we pulled into La Paz the first time in 2008 I found it very hard to "fit in". And now my desire to seek out new experiences has overshadowed the desire to be a part of a clique... any clique - anywhere... and La Paz can be very cliquey in the cruiser sector. And that is true of any place where expats have made their 'home' away from home. That does not mean, however, that friends and resources are not available. It just means it may take some work. And for those cruisers on a budget, it doesn't have to cost a fortune.

There is a Yahoo Group that if you are planning to visit La Paz you might check out. Be ready to have your email explode with all kinds of questions and notices... some members find it overwhelming. I don't read every single email - I just pick out ones that might be interesting and delete the rest. That is how I discovered a fabulous cooking class offered by one of the local Spanish language schools.

Carolyne and I signed up to take a cooking class hosted by El Nopal Spanish School. We learned how to make Aztec Soup and Calabaza de Tacha - a rich pumpkin dessert made with the piloncillo, that funny little brown sugar cone thingy we've seen all over the country. After the wonderful Angelica instructed us on the history and how-to of making the dishes, we enjoyed a lovely meal!
Cost: $32 US, instruction and dinner for both of us

There are a multitude of artists in La Paz. The Teatro de la Cuidad usually has a free exhibit open to the public. Museums, local art, performances and cultural presentations are ongoing. You can find many venues in La Paz and directions to those places here. Carolyne was sweetly gifted with a 4 hour private watercolor lesson taught by the talented local artist, Frank Hills - a birthday treat given by Jim & Lynda on s/v Gael Force.
Cost: $38 US, included materials

Day of the Dead celebration - 'Katrinas' of all ages compete for the title of the year. We discovered the whereabouts by asking some of the cruisers that live in la Paz full time.
Cost: Free

The Day of the Dead is an event not to be missed anywhere in Mexico!!

photo courtesy of Tom & Jeanne (sv Eagle)

photo courtesy of Tom & Jeanne (sv Eagle)

During Bayfest, I headed up a pressure cooking seminar called 'Cruising Under Pressure'. With the help of Annie off s/v V'Ger and Doug (Snug Harbor Sails), we hosted a very successful presentation with a larger attendance than expected. I demonstrated how even I (the mediocre cook!) could make a very tasty one pot meal in 20 minutes: meatloaf, potatoes, carrots and green beans.

Annie discussed and brought samples of baked goods she made in her pressure cooker, including cheesecake. And Doug talked about canning... even canning bacon!

The feedback was phenomenal! I don't think any of us thought it would be so well received. But it was - and offering yourself up by sharing your knowledge is a great way to meet new people and make new discoveries. It opens up other areas of conversation and can initiate interesting questions. And it doesn't have to be on a large scale - it can be a handful of people that you invite to your boat to share with each other.
Cost: Free

Dia de Revolucion -  a parade that was a mile+ long down the main drag... music, cheering, honking, singing... people watching is the main event for me!! See the Abasolo on this La Paz map to get a better idea.
Cost: Free

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Working Legally in Mexico - in a nutshell

It is hardly easy to write a "How-To" story when discussing Mexican legal paperwork of any kind because the steps are really just guidelines - not firm structure. And sometimes when told how to go through the steps today they can be the exact opposite of what you were told yesterday - and more frustratingly, completely different from what you might be told tomorrow.
A little advice - don't get angry; get used to it.
Gorgeous bougainvillea plants color many La Paz building fronts. 
American and Canadian and most European expectations are that if it says such and such, or you were told this and that... then it should be such and such or it should closely resemble this and that. In Mexico, it doesn't work that way.  So that is why after living in La Paz, Mexico's Baja California Sur full-time for over a year, I still can't explain step-by-step exactly how a foreigner goes about getting legal permission to work in Mexico. But I can certainly shed a little light on some things to think about for anyone who might be considering it.
Many Mexican businesses don't make it the first year.
There are two ways I can share with you how one can work legally in Mexico - one is through a Mexican Corporation and the other is by working for someone else.

#1 - Starting a Mexican Corporation:
It sounds big and scary and complicated - but it's really not. A Mexican "corporation" is just a word... just verbiage that means the business owner is protected by the entity (or, in a nutshell, that his or her or their personal assets and good name can't be targeted for compensation in a legal battle) . Most Gringos we know that are in business do it this way and many middle class and upper middle class Mexicans also operate businesses by way of the Mexican Corporation.

As a foreigner, you do not have to have a Mexican passport to open a corporation. However, one must hire a legal professional to get the ball rolling. And in addition to your primary passport and current immigration papers, you also need the following:
  • Original, notarized birth certificates
  • Original, notarized marriage license (if you're in business together as a couple)
  • Apostilles for each of the above
  • Professional translations for all of those documents (obtained from a Mexican perito tranducir, a legitimate translator)
At present, a Mexican corporation start-up cost is roughly $2,000 US and includes your "working" immigration cards. There are many local services in La Paz that offer to get you set up with a corporation. Shop around to find out how much each charges and what you get for your money - they are not all the same.

Under your corporation name you can list whatever you want under the sun that doesn't require certification or licensing - like teaching or a medical degree. For example, Meri's Fun Under the Sun store front might be a dive shop offering classes, swim apparel and dive gear. But I also might sell pies, sew school uniforms, offer boat management services, have pet grooming capabilities, grow organic produce and yodel all under the same corporation name. The list can be almost endless. This means I could make money doing any and all of those things in Mexico. It is important that you really think through your categories, though. Once you've submitted and been approved, getting any changes to that list, as I understand it, can be a nightmare and expensive.

Another benefit to having a corporation is that should you run into trouble down the line...
some business up the street claims you spread a bad rumor about them...
or an employee gets mad at you and claims you owe them money...
or a customer says your Daily Special gave them food poisoning...
the corporation is sued and not you personally.
That doesn't mean it's not going to cost you money or that you won't lose your business because of it - BUT in theory it does protect your home, your car, your personal bank account, etc...

Also, your Mexican Corporation allows you to work anywhere in Mexico. So, if your business is mobile or you decide to move - then you can re-locate anywhere in the country.
Busy Mexican restaurants along the Malecon
You are required by law to hire a Mexican accountant. Accountants charge 1,500 pesos each month for corporation work (roughly $150 US dollars each month). You have to get all your data organized - the accountant simply enters it into the computer. And even if you didn't make one single centavo that month, you are still required to pay that accountant 1,500 pesos. In addition, there are annual and bi-annual reports that cost 3,500 pesos each (roughly, that is $350 US dollars). Any extras that the accountant does - getting new facturas ordered, changing your address at Hacienda, accompanying you to sign yet more documentation... those are all charges usually on top of what you are already paying your accountant.

Then there are the monthly Hacienda fees, or taxes. And if you are from the US, don't forget the beloved IRS. Yes, you have to pay US taxes on any money you make no matter where you are making it if you are a US citizen.

And if you go out of business, dissolving your Mexican corporation is hideous. The cost is a joke (over $1,000 US), especially if you have been forced out of business due to the economy or bad health. It is so ridiculously expensive that most people I have been told  (and this is just a rumor) leave the country. Selling your corporation might be easier - but I know nothing of that.

If you have employees - that is a very costly thing, indeed. I will talk more about it down below. Many Gringos and many Mexicans running small businesses refuse to hire employees, corporation or no.

Before you start a Mexican corporation, you might consider talking to foreigners that have already started their businesses - treat them to lunch and pick their brain. It is a great way to get a personal perspective - all the ins and outs. And most people don't mind sharing - unless you are going to be in direct competition with them.
Out of Business: graffiti, chained doors, scattered mail on the floor (bills?),
and something yucky splattered across the glass.
#2 - Working for Someone Else
Working for an employer is another way to work legally in Mexico as a foreigner. To work for someone else really isn't that difficult - except that you have to find someone who will hire you first. And, it does require visiting the Immigration office multiple times with copies of the following: the corporation papers of the entity you are working for (if it is under a corporate umbrella), a special letter in Spanish signed by your future boss requesting your services, copies of the monthly Mexican tax returns from the business you are wanting to work for and copies of legal immigration status of the owner.

Once you are approved, you get your Immigration card with your working status. It costs between $200 and $300 US. But, you have to pay every year until you are "Residente Permanente"... and that is another ball of sticky cobwebs. It is doubtful your employer will pay those fees unless you are working for a large company, like Walmart or Home Depot for example.

In a nutshell, employee benefits are very, very good. So, is this how I worked for Snug Harbor Sails? Well, yes and no. Yes, I was legal. I paid for the fees out of my own pocket to have the legal right to work. And though my labor was in trade for sails and canvas instead of income, if someone had reported me to Immigration I would have been in the clear. (Believe it or not, I was asked several times if I was "legal" to work for Snug Harbor Sails... not by Mexicans, either.) However, I did not receive employee benefits. The truth is that I didn't care. But was I entitled by law? Yes, I was. Could Snug Harbor afford to pay those benefits? No - not at all. Was Snug Harbor taking a risk by hiring me? Absolutely... because if I had pressed the issue I would have won. And the longer an employee works for a business, the more benefits begin to stack up.

Any time you work for someone else you are at their mercy. Pay is low in Mexico, even though cost of living is going up, up, up! Hours can be long - it is not uncommon to be expected to work 10 hours a day, 6 days a week for lower level positions.
Large mall on the outskirts of La Paz has this beautiful fountain.
And for any employers out there who are thinking they are going to hire cheap Mexican labor? Ha! Let me help open your eyes a little wider regarding employee benefits.

It is still very typical in Mexico to hire employees and pay them under the table. That is the way it has been done here for years and years. The benefit to the employer is that it is cheaper, less paperwork, and simpler. The benefit to the employee is that it can be less hours, more pay, and offer flexibility. However, IF you hire employees in Mexico and they are not under a very - specific - contract - agreement through an attorney, the employee is also entitled to the following should he or she pursue it:
  • Health benefits
  • Social security
  • Taxes paid on earnings
  • Infonovit (which goes towards their rent or mortgage)
  • Vacations
  • Annual bonuses
  • And in some cases - a percentage of your company's annual earnings.
When I mention this to Westerners the response is usually, "Oh - that's the same as in the States" or "Well, workers should get the same benefits here as they do in Canada". I am not here to agree or disagree with either statement. I am simply saying that the COST of hiring employees in Mexico can be bigger in the end than what it was in the beginning. And most businesses can't afford to pay out all those benefits... which grow larger and larger and over time.

Here are a few little anecdotes:

Lupita & Roberto Luis
Recently our Mexican friend (who's name will be changed to Lupita in this story) who owns a small restaurant was sued by her faithful employee, Roberto Luis (another alias). Roberto Luis worked for Lupita for nearly 2 years and Lupita paid him under the table. Lupita was happy and Roberto Luis was happy. But, Roberto Luis's wife pressured her husband to sue Lupita for benefits that she felt Roberto Luis was entitled to have. "It's the law!", she told her husband. So, Roberto Luis sued and he won - but not as much money as he wanted. And he also lost his job. And Lupita had to sell personal belongings to pay her ex-employee the settlement. And Roberto Luis couldn't find another job for a very long time. And when he finally did find another job it was longer hours for less pay. And neither Lupita nor Roberto Luis were very happy at all.

Miguel & the Security Guard
A marina store owner, who we will call Miguel, hired a security guard. The security guard was on his way to work on the very first day and had a car accident. Miguel was sued and the security guard won... even though the security guard was not on the premises, was not on the time clock, and had never even started his job at the marina! But because he was on his way to work the accident was considered work related.

Albert & Rosa
"Albert", a retired Canadian professor living in a home he bought in El Centenario ( a subdivision north of La Paz), hired "Rosa" to come twice a week to clean his house. Albert and Rosa had a wonderful friendship for 4+ years. Albert was generous with Rosa - he gave her gifts every year for holidays, offered her his beautiful dining room table and sofa when he replaced them, paid to have her car repaired, bought her medication when she was sick, etc... Rosa worked hard and was happy to have the income and extras. Albert trusted Rosa.
Out of the blue and not out of malice, Rosa sued Albert for benefits.
And Rosa won.
And Rosa lost her job.
And Albert and she were no longer friends.
And Rosa was confused as to why Albert was upset.
And Rosa cost Albert a very, very large sum of money because she had been his "employee" for over 4 years.
"But, it's the law", Rosa said.

La Paz - tranquil and at peace
Truly, this scenario with Albert and Rosa doesn't happen as frequently as the one with Lupita and Roberto Luis. However, it goes to show how the labor laws work in favor of the "employee" here in Mexico. It is exactly the reason why so many small businesses in Mexico only hire family. Because it is less likely that Primo Javier is going to sue his Primo Beto for benefits when Tio Manny and Tio Raul hear about it. And if Abuelita Mariposa finds out - Javier better watch out!

So, if you think labor is cheap in Mexico - think again. And, what you pay an attorney to write up in an agreement in the beginning just may end up costing you a lot less in the long run. Or, if you sub-contract through someone who has a Mexican corporation you are protected. But paying under the table anymore isn't safe, although people still do it. And though labor laws are changing here in Mexico to protect the longevity of businesses- everything takes a lot longer in Mexico.