24 April 2017

10 Questions for Pitufa

Birgit, Christian and ship's cat Leeloo have been cruising since 2011 aboard Pitufa, an S&S 41 hailing from Vienna, Austria.

They quickly sailed through the Med, Atlantic, Caribbean, Panama Canal and now have been cruising for 4 years in the South Pacific.

You can read more about their voyage on their website.

How did you (or did you) gain offshore experience prior to leaving?
We had no experience at all before we bought our boat. We simply wanted to travel to remote places and a sailing boat seemed like the perfect means of transport with accommodation attached. We bought the boat in Mallorca and took her through the Med to Croatia. We had plenty of opportunity during these 3 weeks and 1.500 nm to try out our theoretical book-knowledge.

Having been in both the Atlantic and the Pacific, how do they compare?

We didn't spend much time in the Atlantic/Caribbean, but the trades seemed much more stable than in the Pacific.

Do you have any specific advice for couples cruising?

There's no general recipe, some couples need lots of space and independent activities, we are lucky and just don't grow tired of being/working with each other 24/7.

What is something you think potential cruisers are afraid about that they shouldn't fear?

Many people ask how we pass the time. Potential cruisers shouldn't be worried about getting bored on a boat--there are usually too many things on the ever growing to-do list anyway.

And what is something potential cruisers don't worry about that perhaps they should?

We see many boats with insufficient equipment. Don't set out without a proper anchor and alternative energy sources (we kept buying new solar panels during our first years).

What is something about the cruising culture you like and what is something you dislike?

We like the sense of companionship, especially in remote places neighbours help each other out with bits and pieces and of course know-how.

We dislike cruisers who think it's cool to 'live off the land' in remote places and hunt everything that's moving. Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.

With the benefit of hindsight, what are the boat selection criteria you would use to purchase a boat for long term cruising?

We bought a sturdy, reliable aluminium boat and we're happy with our choice. With Pitufa's classic lines and tumblehome she's usually the prettiest boat in the anchorage (at least for us ;-)), but these features also give her a tendency to roll in anchorages and on downwind passages. Pitufa's heavy and slow, a longer waterline would help with the boat speed.

What piece(s) of gear would you leave on the dock next time? Why?

I can't think of anything. We carry way too much gear, but we need all of it.

Are you attracted more to sailing itself or cruising-as-travel and has that changed over time?   

We're definitely travelers. We don't enjoy sailing (and despise+avoid motoring), but it's a way of getting to a new place.

Finish this sentence “One thing I’ve learned about navigating is…”

... that sailing 'in the wrong direction' (against the prevailing trade winds) isn't as hard as most cruisers think. We sailed from Tonga back to Tahiti last year and it was quite an enjoyable trip.

What question do you wish I would have asked you besides the ones I've asked you and how would you answer it?

What are the most important pieces of equipment for you?

Our windvane, because the hydrovane steers Pitufa in all conditions without drawing any electricity.

The watermaker, because it gives us the freedom to stay in remote places as long as we want.

Our 'B├╝gelanker' (similar to a Rocna), because it gives us the piece of mind to sleep without the need of an anchor watch and to leave the boat unattended while exploring ashore.

17 April 2017

10 Questions for Palarran

Tawn and CB Midkiff have been cruising since 2013 aboard SV Palarran, a Hans Christian, 38T (38 feet - 48 with bowsprit) hailing from Seattle, WA, USA.

Over those years they have cruised down the Pacific coast to Panama and out to the South Pacific via Galapagos.

You can read more about their journey on their website.

They say: "We are a bit of the odd ball out here. We are not retired. We have no kids. We are starting our 5th year of cruising. And we are now looking at re-stuffing the cruising kitty for a 6-month on 6-month off cruising schedule."

Have you ever felt in danger and if so, what was the source? 

I am not sure I would classify this as "danger" per se, but more butt puckering fear. We were probably not in danger as the boat was doing its thing; but I was scared out of my pants at a storm we ran into on our way from Palmerston Atoll to Niue. This area of the Pacific Ocean is known for its unpredictable and unforcasted weather. We left in a great weather window, and for the most part, it was accurate. However, toward the end of the 450 mile journey we hit a band of squalls that had been sitting stationary due to a high that was pushing up against a large low to the south. The winds steadily picked up to 35-40 knots with staggering 20-25 foot seas. The waves were so enormous that we had to hand steer as our Hydrovane could not keep up when we rolled off the top of a wave into the trough. We were hitting 11 and 12 knots on a boat with a hull speed of 6! We were rolling off waves scooping up water in our gunnels that kept us heeled over until the water drained just to be swamped by another wave. We thought about heaving to, but the storm was not moving so who knew how long we would be there and the side swell was brutal. We could have headed off the wind, but then we would have to fight our way back. With only 60 nautical miles to go and a good butt clench on the helms seat, we made our way through before heaving too and collapsing in the lee of the island country of Niue. Hindsight, I think we did the right thing; as I said, the boat was in no immediate danger....but holy cow...that was terrifying!

What mistakes did you make in your first year of cruising?

By far, worrying too much about the budget and missing opportunities to travel inland. At some point along the line we were both so stressed out about spending too much that we were not having any fun. We realized that the budget is there as a guide, but some weeks we spend more and for many we spend nothing at all. This was a huge milestone in our cruising. We weren't out here to see how little we could spend, we were here for experiences. We were going places that would be once in a life time spots and if we skipped excursions for budgetary concerns, we were doing a serious disservice to ourselves. If this meant stopping one year earlier, then so be it. But as it stands we made it about as long as we thought we could without even touching our savings. I have experienced more in these last four years than most ever will in a lifetime. I cherish this time we have out here. Money can always be made, but experiences are only to be had for the time you are in that place.

Was there anywhere you visited that you thought was overrated (not as good as you had heard)? Was there anywhere you visited that you thought was underrated (better than you had heard)?  

Costa Rica was the most overrated, expensive tourist thick country we have ever been to. We traveled inland, overland and by sea and everywhere we went it was the same thing....filled with foreigners who were running businesses stripping you of money while paying and treating the locals horribly. As cruisers who don't have a regular salary coming in every month, we found this place very hard to handle financially; even the grocery stores were overpriced. We spent too much time here and would have rather spent that time in Nicaragua and Western Panama.

Nicaragua, completely skipped over in cruising guides, was one of my favorite stops. The surfing was phenomenal and the bus system provided easy trips inland. The people were great, once you got to know them, and the food was off the hook amazing. As one local guy we knew said, we don't have much money, but we love to eat! The anchorages here are more exposed, but that is why the surf is so good. Western Panama is another place that there are few guide books for. It reminded me of the South Pacific with its islands, bays and coral reefs. The water was so clear here and the local population are all the indigenous peoples of Panama. Language was a problem, as most people spoke their local dialect and Spanish was a second language. The surf in Western Panama was also very good. I would highly suggest spending less time in Costa Rica and more time exploring these surrounding countries.

In your experience how often do you think cruisers spend sailing vs. motoring, coastally vs. on passage?

This was something that totally blew us away. When we left Seattle, we thought we could pretty much throw our engine overboard. We were sailors setting out on a grand voyage around the world and were going to only use the engine in an emergency. We would just wait for the wind to blow us towards our destination. HA! Little did we know, if you leave Washington State at the recommended time of the year, there is no wind on the Pacific coast. We motored 80% of the time...it seemed. And that whole part about being sailors and just waiting for the wind to drift into our lives...yeah right! Turns out we are not that patient; and banging and slatting around in the ocean when a quick push of a button and burning of a few dinosaurs will get us to our destination within hours....yeah, we became a power boat while cruising coastally. Sometimes you have to face the reality...but I guess you don't know what that reality is until you do it!!! That being said, once we crossed to the South Pacific we have sailed almost 100% of the time as the winds become consistent trades and passages are planned around favorable wind.

What is something about the cruising culture you like and what is something you dislike?

When we first left we followed a very well worn track of cruisers before us...down the Pacific coast to Mexico and beyond. At first we fell in with the other cruisers and enjoyed the many pre-planned activities. But eventually we traveled beyond the Jimmy Buffet Mexican Train crowd and found our own group of like minds to travel with. We were lucky enough, for one season, to find a group of people our age who were all headed in the same direction. We were of varying levels of experience, but all had a love for adventure and fun. We traveled inland together and had beach parties and celebrated birthdays and holidays together. It was great while it lasted. But in Panama everyone goes their separate ways and we lost our beloved group. I would say this is what I liked most about the cruising culture...the camaraderie and almost instant friendships that run deeper than the sea. As of late, we have not found a group like this and I miss it greatly.

The one thing that I do not like about the cruiser community is the perception that some have that the people living in the remote islands and communities of this world are somehow "poor" and "needy". While we were in "the pack", so to speak, of our pacific crossing; we noticed that many cruisers simply gave items to the remote islanders and would refuse trade. Not only does this seem arrogant, but it drastically changes the way a people live and act. Just because the locals don't have an IPad each and every other electronic gizmo know to the western man...doesn't mean that they don't live a culturally rich and fulfilling life. People way out here on the edge of civilization don't need much. They are not hungry, they are not illiterate, they are not poor...they just live a simpler life than us Westerners. We have no problem with trade...I think a bartering society is fabulous...but I would feel I was insulting people if I were to simply giving without getting.

What piece(s) of gear would you leave on the dock next time? Why?

Honestly, we did very well here. Everything we have we use regularly. The only item on the boat that I can think of that we have yet to use is a large collapsible propane burner that you can use for crab boils on the beach. We just haven't had the opportunity to use it and the pictures you always see of cruisers on the beach eating fabulous seafood boils just is not the reality.

Speaking just about your boat (not gear), what is one thing you wish your boat had that it doesn’t and what is one thing your boat has that you wish it didn't?

The Hans Christian 38T comes with either a V-berth and a smaller head and shower to port or a Pullman and a head in the V. I wish we had the Pullman. Being in very hot and humid climates, I find the V-berth absolutely stifling to sleep in at night when there is no breeze. We have lots of fans, but throw two hot sweaty humans up there and it is awful! I guess that covers both topics...but I would also add that I wish our refrigerator was not located over our engine...it seems like a pretty big design flaw and has kept us from using our separate freezer due to power consumption.

What is something you think potential cruisers are afraid about that they shouldn't fear? And what is something potential cruisers don't worry about that perhaps they should?

The perception of "safety" in foreign ports. This was actually never a real fear of ours, but we had heard from "cruiser lore" how dangerous foreign ports can be and how you will arrive with stuff and by the time you leave all your stuff will have been stolen. This is way over blown and has NEVER been a factor, at least not for us. We have rolled into some sketchy non-cruiser (by this I mean not in any guide) ports in Latin America and have been the only cruising boat around. We found that these places were often friendlier than the "yachtie" hubs because we are a novelty and the locals want you to have a good impression of their town. Basically, people are the same all over the world...generally good in nature and proud of the place they are from. Even the countries that are known to have issues, like El Salvador, don't want foreigners getting harmed as it is bad for their tourism. Be smart and above all else, be respectful of locals and their customs.

As to the other point, I have found that there is a very profound and shocking lack of knowledge out here. Everyone is a novice until they actually cut the lines and go, but that doesn't mean you have to be ignorant. Take the time to read everything you can on the places you want to go before you get there. Use Noonsite as a reference, but not as your only piece of information. Read other cruisers blogs. Learn the foreign language of the place you plan to spend a lot of time. Read, Read, Read!!! Knowledge is the best tool any cruiser can have in their tool kit. Learn about your boat, fix stuff yourself, take a weather course. These are all things that will put you one rung above the rest when you decide to go.

Cruiser rant: What is something that drives you crazy?

Absolutely, positively the "lore of the cruiser". We set out on this crazy adventure for just that reason...an adventure. We like to find places ourselves and experience things our way. I can't count how many times we have been chatting with another cruiser couple, talking about places we have been and places we want to go when all of a sudden another couple butts in and states some crazy ass spew of made up BS that they heard from "some other cruiser" about the place you were just talking about. It is always something negative and often I know it to be totally false...because I was there or knew cruiser friends that were there! But once the cruiser lore starts, it is like a wildfire. Noonsite is the worst culprit of this. I can see it coming a hundred miles away and have learned to just nod my head and smile (I have also learned to be very careful of what I say about places). But jeesh it drives me crazy...there you are talking about your accomplishments and dreams of foreign ports and some cruiser decides they will just poop all over your conversation with some gossip they heard second, third or 90th hand....okay, rant over :-)

What question do you wish I would have asked you besides the ones I've asked you and how would you answer it?

What gear did you not leave with and wish you had?

A solid mast track rigged telescoping spinnaker pole of appropriate size. Lets face it, once you take off, you are basically going down hill. We have had the wind to aft since leaving Seattle; aside from a few to-weather trips to reach a particular destination. Being able to properly sail down wind requires a pole to keep your head sail from the awful rig shuttering THWAP of the sail collapsing off the wind. We have an undersized pathetic pole that attaches to a ring riveted to the mast. We have blown that baby off of there twice and have had to re-rivet it underway...not a fun task in rolling seas. As soon as we reach a land where rigging this up will not cost a full year of fun tickets...we will put on a mast track rig and get a properly sized telescoping pole. 

12 April 2017

15 March 2017

The IWAC Revival

After a five year hiatus, the Interview With A Cruiser Project is coming out of intermission.

I am toying with different formats, mulling over the question bank, reaching out to my contacts, and thinking through the project from top to bottom.

Here is your chance for input before the project gets up and rolling again!

What did you enjoy about the project? What did you find lacking? Did anything annoy or frustrate you? If you could run the project, what would you do differently? What subjects fascinated you? Which subjects weren't covered enough?

Comment here or on the same topic on our Facebook page.

Cheers, Livia

04 February 2013

10 Questions For Totem

Jamie, Behan, Niall, Mairen, and Siobhan Gifford sail on Totem, an S&S designed Stevens 47 (47’) hailing from Eagle Harbor – Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA. They began cruising in 2008 when their children were 4, 6 and 9. The kids are 8, 10 and 13 at the time of this interview.

They say: Departing Puget Sound in 2008, we hopped down the US west coast to Mexico. We explored much of the Pacific coast of Mexico and a hurricane season up  in the Sea of Cortez. In 2010 we sailed the Marquesas, Tuamotus, Society Islands, Suwarrow in the Cook Islands, Vava’u Group in Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, Lifou in the Loyalty Islands, New Caledonia, and on to Australia. After parking in Australia for a bit to recharge the cruising kitty, we sailed north to Papua New Guinea in 2012. Early 2013 finds the Totem crew heading west through Indonesia. We keep our position current and our ruminations semi-current on the blog.

Anything else readers should know about you?

We met sailing. Behan sailed a little growing up, but college dinghy racing got her hooked. Jamie grew up sailing in Mystic, Connecticut, and has broad racing, coastal cruising, and sailmaking experience. In 2002, we began family cruising in Puget Sound with our children, then a 3 year old and a 14 day old. Seasons didn’t matter, family time together on the water did. As our family grew (with a 3rd child), so did our family boating experience - one weekend at a time.

What mistakes did you make in your first year of cruising?
I am sure we made many, but the lingering memory was that we believed everything onboard Totem needed to be perfectly prepared by departure day. When our milestone day arrived, project lists remained uncompleted. We were ready enough and cast off without hesitation, but with some trepidation; especially after exhausting months of preparation. Jamie’s  image of being perfectly prepared grew out of calibrating our budget to the right safety gear, the right sailing gear, proper systems with full documentation, generous spares and tools, and common comfort amenities. All of this is well and good, but everything onboard is a compromise in one way or another; and there will always be work onboard fixing things. Even high quality, expertly installed stuff can and does fail prematurely. What we realized is that lots of time spent weekend and vacation sailing is the closest you get to perfect preparation.

What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you found particularly accurate?

“Stop and take your own pulse first”: From a physician and friend Curtis Edwards, who taught us wilderness first aid. The context is of a first responder to a medical emergency, but the notion definitely applies to cruising. In a stressful situation, take a little extra time to calm yourself and really assess the situation.

“Be able to fix it yourself, live without it, or don’t bring it”: From Jim Jessie, our cruising mentor, marine surveyor, racing sailor, circumnavigator, and salty dog. As a typical cruiser’s onboard systems continue to increase in both quantity and complexity it may appear that less skill is ok and comfort is easy to come by – but when things break, do you still feel as comfortable and secure?

“Listen to other cruisers, but don’t trust a word of it.” From an unknown fellow customer in Downwind Marine in San Diego. It’s not a paranoid stance, rather a reminder to be open minded. Very often we’ve heard about how awful or great a place is, and yet we found it to be just the opposite. A town or an anchorage or a situation is created by countless variables easily changed; making it different for the next person.

What is a tip or a trick you have learned along the way?

Be prepared, e.g., it may be a picture- perfect, protected, glassy calm anchorage- but put everything away, keep decks clean and be prepared for a 2am squall that throws it all to hell. Be prepared enough to readily get away in the middle of the night so that in the rare even that it occurs, you’re ready.

There are dangerous herds of group-think that form around major passages. When you choose to leave the harbor, remember that it was YOUR choice. Similarly, when you enter an anchorage and see two boats at one side of it, their presence does not indicate “the best spot.” Use your judgment (and give us some room!).

What are some of your favorite pieces of gear on your boat and why?

In no particular order:
  • Cabin fans. We’d never go the A/C route and the fans are great for comfort level… probably present at the moment because we’re only about 25 miles from the equator.
  • Cockpit shade. It seems like you can’t get enough.
  • Fish finder, because you not only know where the fish are, but the topography of the bottom- great for spotting bommies in the tropics. Cheaper than depth sounder and doesn’t require putting a hole in the hull.
  • A dinghy with some oomph. We know lots of cruisers love to love their rowing/hard dinghies, but you miss a whole lot of exploring if you don’t have at least 15hp to jam to the outer reef. We also have a 3.5hp to sip fuel when we don’t need the extra zoom, and like the redundancy. It sucked when our 15hp died in French Poly and we finished the Pacific run with a shared 2.5.
  • Cocktail shaker. We don’t even make ice on board but this is an essential part of the Crew Morale Package.
  • Proper plates and glasses, because plastic stinks for many reasons.
  • Rock solid anchor and ground tackle. Too much depends on it.
What is something about the cruising culture you like and what is something you dislike?

We love the camaraderie, the fact that we can know someone we’ve just met in an anchorage better within a day or two than some of our immediate neighbors from land life. We love the bias between cruising boats to offer mutual aid, although it seems to be on the wane as cruising becomes more accessible and a rapid-fire circumnavigation something money can more readily buy.

What we try to distance ourselves from is the group think that tends to occur when a group of cruisers are gathered with a similar goal (e.g.:  at a jump off point before a big passage engaging in weather analysis paralysis, at those ports around the world were cruising boats tend to get stuck to the bottom).

What advice would you give to parents thinking about taking their children cruising?

Tip toe in, and if it’s working, then run with it. Friends, family, and fellow sailors will give you many “great” reasons why you shouldn’t go: safety issues, irresponsible parenting, ruined education, financial doom; your kids are too young or old, etc. It’s true that cruising isn’t financially enriching, but be it a yearlong sabbatical or longer sailing lifestyle choice for some it sure beats the routines of mainstream life.

What we’ve found is that it gives us a strong bond as a family, is providing our children with excellent learning in many more dimensions then a conventional education, and- well, it’s just a lot of fun! We think it provides a tremendously fulfilling childhood. Despite my fears, their education has not suffered. At some point, it won’t work for everyone on board, and then we’ll stop…but for now this is as much a joy to the kids as part of their identity, and we see no sign of stopping soon.

In reality there are a so many individual reasons/dynamics why cruising will work or fail for a family. My optimism about what worked for us may be just as unsuited to your situation as the pessimistic opinions you’ll get. Spend time as a family unit afloat, and find out for yourself.

What type of watch schedule do you normally use while offshore?

Being shorthanded and with kids, we lean towards the crews’ conditional awareness more than formality. A crews’ rested condition is like the daily balance on a credit card. Sleep is the asset that keeps your balance in check. Or lacking sleep is a liability from which you barrow against and can pay big for with fatigue.

In daylight boat chores are much easier. So we have no daylight watch schedule and a strong emphasis on keeping up with, or catching up on sleep. We have some structure to night watch, worked out to fit our natural sleep tendencies. Behan can stay up late and get up early, but isn’t as happy in the middle. Jamie does fine in the middle and is ok waking early. So we setup for that schedule, though watch change vary somewhat based on conditions. When it’s colder or rougher, watches are shorter – 3 hours or less depending on severity. On nice nights when rested, we’ve done 4, 5, and 6 hours watches.

Our method works well for us because we can each “read” the others conditional state AND neither wants the other person to get fatigued. It also helps that we have trusted Niall, now 13, to stand a short daylight watch since he was 10. Or, if Jamie’s feeling sleepy on a night watch but want to let Behan sleep longer, he’ll wake Niall with the news that we have dolphins around the boat. Sometimes they may not be there by the time he is tethered in cockpit, but his enthusiasm is always energizing!

Describe the compromises (if any) that you have made in your cruising in order to stay on budget.

Cruising seems to cost whatever you have. We scale expenses to work with our budget with an eye on local rates. We could afford to eat out in Mexico and Fiji because it was delicious and cheap. In pretty much the rest of the Pacific, it didn’t fit our budget to go to a restaurant. We try to avoid environments that suck money from you, like posh towns or marinas. There’s a lot of extra gear that we have shunted into the “luxury” column: we’d love to add a lot of discretionary items, from sat phone to SUP board, but we don’t need them. Ultimately, we parked t work when it was time to refill the kitty- but a pause, not an end, to adventuring afloat.

Where was your favorite place to visit and why?

This is one of those impossible questions- but that’s the good news, right? Jamie and I both keep coming back to Suwarrow, in the Cook Islands, as a favorite place, for two reasons: partly the wild remoteness and natural beautify of the place, but also because of the great experienced shaped by the rangers who were stationed there during our visit. Their active involvement in helping us really understand the nature of life in an atoll made it truly unforgettable.

We both agreed as well that some kind of special mention has to be given to the Sea of Cortez and to Papua New Guinea. They are all very different places, but like Suwarrow, the affinity draws from a combination of raw beauty and remoteness. It takes work to get there, and to stay there, but if you’re into that kind of thing- the rewards are tremendous.

What question do you wish I would have asked you besides the ones I've asked you and how would you answer it?

What is it about the cruising life that drives and fulfills you?
  • Meeting other people in the countries we visit: sharing stories, making them as welcome on our floating home as we have been made in theirs ashore
  • Living a leaner, greener life. We tried to live with a light footprint ashore, but it’s impossible to compare with the way we’re able to live on the boat. We reduce, reuse, and reuse again: with limited space, every item is considered before acquisition. With no garbage service or utilities, you think more about unnecessary packaging and what goes overboard
  • The opportunity to raise our children in an environment that helps them internalize from their earliest days the beauty of our planet, and the importance of taking care of it for foreseeable generations

23 April 2012

10 Questions for Happy Monster

hm1 Hans and Dory sail on Happy Monster, a 36 feet Najad made in Sweden. The inside is not original Najad, but made by the first owner. They bought the boat in 2002 and left Holland in May 2005. They crossed the Atlantic and the Pacific and arrived in 2007 in New Zealand. There their plans to sail around the world changed and after a year working in NZ they continued sailing up and down in the Pacific. You can learn more about them on their website.

What are some of your favorite pieces of gear on your boat and why?

Wendy, our wind vane. She is a Dutch made Bouvaan and steers most of the time. Our new hard dodger we put on in New Zealand, the lights underneath and the solar panels and hand grips on top are very helpful. The Spectra water maker with Z-brain now two years old and never failed. The Z-braine keeps it clean so that we don't have to flush or pickle when we don't use it.

What is the next piece of gear you would add to your boat if it were free?

An AIS transmitter, so that other ships with AIS will always see you. (if they look) Of course there are some fancy chart plotters with worldwide maps, we really don't need them.

What mistakes did you make in your first year of cruising?

Not knowing we had to grease our rudder shaft often.

What type of watch schedule do you normally use while offshore?

We do a 3 hour watch starts at seven. Every three hours we change, so we have both two time three hours of sleep in the night, on the day we sleep mostly both two times an hour.

hm2 Do you have any specific advice for couples cruising?

Start with loving each other very much and you have to like to be together 24/7. Try to do things together as much as possible so that both know how things work.

What is a tip or a trick you have picked up along the way?

Never be lazy if it comes to prevent accidents, like reefing, taking your shoes out of the dinghy while you still can (next morning they were gone). Learn to be patient if you deal with customs and immigration. It takes often a lot of time and if you plan that it will cost you a day, you are feeling good if it is faster.

What is something about the cruising culture you like and what is something you dislike?

We like the fact that the cruisers world is one big family, you all do the same and you help each other with whatever problem. We like the freedom we have and the friends we make. We don't like the goodbye's, and we have to say that a lot.

Have you found "trade goods" to be useful on your cruise? If so, what kinds?

Before we left we had made many lighters, balloons and t-shirts with our Happy Monster on it and they still are very good give aways. We also ordered some inflatable globes to give away on schools and we point out on these globes the trip we made. For the rest we have the usual pencils, flashlights etc to trade or give away.

Where was your favorite place to visit and why?

We have visited many many favorite places. Sometimes it is nature and sometimes it is the people that makes the place special. We are now in Fiji and we think that as well the people as the nature as the climate is so good that we call this our most favorite.

What question do you wish I would have asked you besides the ones I've asked you and how would you answer it?

What is a good reason to go cruising?

You can sleep in your own bed and cook your own food while you have a new backyard every time after sailing. You have the one million view on a very low budget. If you want it just do it.

23 January 2012

10 Questions for DreamKeeper

dreamkeeper1 Gar Duke and Nicole Friend circumnavigated from the winter of 2006 until the summer of 2011 aboard SV DreamKeeper, a Pacific Seacraft 40 hailing from Sausalito, CA, USA. You can learn more about their journey on their website.

They say:  We started in our home port of Sausalito in the San Francisco Bay, CA, and went south in winter to Mexico then across the South Pacific to New Zealand.  Year 2 took us thru Melanesia to Palau, Micronesia, with a 4 month layover in Palau.  Year 3 we dropped south into West Papua/Raja Ampat around PNG into east Indonesia and all the way to Bali, then up to Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.  Year 4 was a big mile year, first crossing the Indian Ocean and up the Red Sea, thru the Med, across the Atlantic and to the Caribbean to end the year.  Year 5 started heading west to Bonaire, the Kuna Yala of Panama, then thru the Panama Canal, up the central American coast and Mexican coast, and finally Baja-bashed it back to San Diego with the last leg up the California coast to San Francisco.  4 ½ years total San Francisco to San Francisco.

What mistakes did you make in your first year of cruising?

Gar:  there were a lot, but here’s a few:

First mistake we made was day 1 out the gate of San Fran, where we turned left and proceeded to do an overnight passage to Monterey Bay.  We were so fast we had to heave-to in the bay all night in sloppy seas, super cold temps, and pitch black conditions leaving me seasick all night long in sensory deprivation and Nicole needing to deal.  I was a total mess.  In hindsight, we should have planned better and just done a day hop down to Half Moon Bay to finally GO and commit to the journey, but in a much easier way for where we were at then.  Thankfully we had leftover Thanksgiving dinner for brunch the next day in Monterey as I was famished!

Leaving the US without a few spares that we wanted for the South Pacific and thinking they’d be easy to get in Mexico.  Not easy and definitely not easy to ship to Mexico either.  Nicole had to fly back to the US and load up a couple bags full of gear so we had what we wanted for the South Pacific and then still brave the dreaded “green light/red light” at the Mexican aeropuerto customs.  Unlucky you if you get the red light!

FYI, It’s much easier and way cheaper to get everything you think you might need in the US on your boat if you can, but at that time we were still very much “green” on our boat and figuring everything out.  All this being said only because we come from a place of liking to be very self-sufficient and prepared for as much as possible and also our intention to head west quickly across the South Pacific the first season out.  If you stay in Mexico long enough, like most cruisers, you will probably be high-tailing back to good ‘ole USA anyways at some point.

Worrying about and spending time and energy getting a HAM radio license.  So many people told me I should DEFINITELY get this license in Mexico before the SoPac, but, for me, not being a big radio talker, I never really used this with the exception of the services of winlink in the beginning of our journey.  Later, after seeing the advantages and convenience of using the services of UUPLUS email thru our satphone, winlink became only a back-up for us.  

And not to say we never chatted on the SSB with friends or on radio nets, but none of them were ever “Ham only” nets, so my whole ordeal of getting a HAM license was, for me, a waste of time.  If you LOVE to talk on the radio, then by all means, get a HAM, but if not, forget about it and go surfing or do something fun instead.

Nicole: Telling my mom I would call her by a certain date.   My parents bought us a sat phone for emergencies and perhaps more specifically so we could talk while on passage and they wouldn’t worry about us.  I made a bad call and told my mom I would call her by a certain date.  Somehow, we didn’t quite figure the sat phone out while travelling south along the Mexican coast and my phone date was passing.  I knew my mom would be worried sick and start calling anyone she could think of so we had to detour to Abreojos, a tiny fishing village along the Baja Pacific coast, in deteriorating conditions to make that call. We found a phone card and then found the phone. I called to let her know we were fine and then we headed back out through bigger surf and out to our bucking boat.  Note to self, never give anyone a time line you can’t keep.

Describe the compromises (if any) you have made in your cruising to stay on a budget?

Gar/Nicole:  For us, our budget living on the sailboat was a lot cheaper then our budget living on land.  We had just sold our home, cars, and most everything else we owned that wouldn’t come with us and so we axed everything like property expenses, utility expenses, auto expenses, and all the other pieces that add up so quickly living in the US.  In cruising, boat expenses are hands down the most expensive reality.  But…most of the boat expenses can be coined “luxury” expenses like good electronics, a water-maker, a new sail, etc., and you can get by with very little if your boat itself is solid and safe.  

In our opinion you can cruise on almost ANY budget once you own a boat.  It’s all choices and how you tailor your lifestyle and choices around your “wants” in life.   It’s no different then how you choose to live your life on land.  If money is tighter for you cruising, then don’t eat out much or use the engine as much or buy lots of fancy boating gear you don’t really need.  And, lastly, learn how to fix and work on your own boat; that, in itself, will save you lots of money in the long run.

What is something you think potential cruisers are afraid of that they shouldn’t fear?

Gar/Nicole:  Passage-making. It’s scary at first if you have never been offshore on your own boat with a small number of people and we get that.  But, in reality, this is a great time to actually just “be” with the ocean at all times of the day and night that you will most likely never experience any other way. 

For us the first few days are the most difficult of a passage as we are adapting to a new schedule.  But, if you plan well with the weather, make some pre-prepared meals, have a good book (or 2 or 3) put aside, maybe some podcasts or audiobooks for rougher weather, and have a good watch schedule so you get some rest when you need it, you will most likely really enjoy the experience.   Keep a journal or write a daily blog just to keep notes on the little things you see and feel and hear.  It’s a unique experience, embrace it and don’t fear it.

What is something potential cruisers don’t worry about that perhaps they should?

Gar/Nicole: Being thoughtful about locking your gear and boat up.  Cruisers have a tendency to be very lazy sometimes.  Lock up your dinghy and outboard, put away or lock up any gear on deck that is worth anything to you, and lock up your cabin when you are away from your boat.  It seems so simple, but we have seen boats all over the world complaining in hysterics about how someone stole their laptop from their un-locked cabin or stole their unlocked outboard or dinghy in the middle of the night.  Well, did you lock your cabin? “uhhhh…no, I never do…it’s just so hot.”  Did you lock up or raise your dinghy at night?  “Uhhhh….no, it was windy and rough and rainy out and I thought no one would come out on a night like that” (but that’s when they always do).

Cruisers need to realize that no matter what their budget is or how non-fancy their boat is, they are still looked upon as “rich” in almost any country around the world they travel to.  So many of the cultures you will connect to will be living with almost nothing and there are always people on the look out to make a quick buck the easy way.  Also, it felt important for us to acknowledge some communities don’t have things like private property so ours was even more interesting.  You will still stand out even if you are dirt-bagging it with a half sunk boat and not a penny to your name.  Ask any long-term backpacker traveller you meet, it’s not about being paranoid, it’s just being extra-aware of where you are.

What are some of your favorite pieces of gear on your boat and why?

Gar:  Electric anchor windlass and oversized anchor, wind generator, and AIS system.

A good solid and reliable electric anchor windlass with an oversized anchor makes a huge difference when you are cruising.  Of course, these are still luxury items, but they do make life much easier and safer when you drop your hook and don’t worry about it dragging and also know you can always get it back up without a hurting your back in any conditions.  I can’t count the times we have needed to move anchorages in inclement weather in the middle of the night because of bad weather or change of wind or swell direction and how thankful we have been that our electric windlass was working well.

We have a KISS and wouldn’t think of having another type of wind generator unless it had the same specs.  It is quiet, simple, and puts out lots of juice.  If you have a noisy wind gen you will absolutely hate it and so will your neighbors, plus they usually don’t make much energy anway.  We try to anchor in places with some wind in the tropics as it cools down the boat and usually keeps us pointing into the prevailing swell so you don’t roll as much.  We cruised without a generator onboard, so a good wind generator makes a huge difference in keeping your batteries up regardless if you have solar or not.

We added an AIS system halfway around on our circumnavigation when we were in Thailand.  It made a huge difference with piece of mind and safety when it came to passages through busy shipping areas and especially at night with just 2 of us onboard.  Radar was still a great tool for us to use, especially for fishing vessels not usually on AIS, but the reality of today is that AIS is used now on ALL big ships and you will wonder how you got by without it once you start using it.  A simple AIS receive unit is not very expensive and will be invaluable if you are choosing a route where you will be in shipping lanes and around shipping traffic often.  Of course, if you are only a coastal cruiser and are one not to be crossing oceans much or ever, then an AIS will be just another ‘not needed much’ luxury piece of gear.

Nicole:  OK I love all three pieces of gear Gar mentioned and would prefer not to go without them.  All three in my mind are fabulous luxury items we were grateful for every day.  The AIS completely changed my stress level on night watch. I, for some reason have always had a hard time with depth perception even with using radar and tracking and all of the tools I could use.  The AIS system changed all of that.  I still kept a thorough watch but I could tell where ships were going and coming and if I needed to make a course change without any guess work.

And another piece of boat gear, our Monitor windvane.  I can’t imagine having left without him.  He has served us well as third crew on all of our passages that had wind.

Also, with regards to food and fishing gear, I loved our fishing hand-lines and squid lures, my “yo-gourmet” yogurt maker (bought in New Zealand), along with our jar sprouter, and Braun hand blender.  Sometimes it’s the little things that mattered like being able to eat fresh things on day 20 of a passage.

In your own experience and your experience meeting other cruisers, what are the common reasons people stop cruising?

Gar/Nicole:  If you are a younger cruiser, then most folks are only out for a short time and need to either stop to work or could just make a season or perhaps 2 work. Retired-from-work aged cruisers usually stop because of health issues or because they are over the novelty of cruising and want to be home again closer to kids and grandkids. 

But there are still many people of all ages that go out for a bit and just realize that it’s not for them for one reason or another.  The reality of the cruising lifestyle is very different from where most people are coming from before jumping on their boat.  I would say that most people have no idea how much work both physically and mentally it is if you are a full-time cruiser and actually moving your boat around.  The romance of margaritas in your cockpit while the sun is setting can definitely ring true sometimes, but the other pieces of constant wear/tear on your boat and body and the need to be constantly ‘on it’ in regards to planning, maintenance, traveling, and safety takes a lot more energy then most non-cruisers or wanna-be cruisers realize until they do it for a while.

The people we met who were out there for a while moved their boat less, and stayed places longer, they over-wintered and spent two summers in the Med, they spent two winters or more in Mexico or the Caribbean, they stayed in Fiji for hurricane season.  Or they tied up their boats and went home or somewhere for a 4-6 month break or to go back to work and then returned to their boats again.

What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you didn’t find to be true?

Gar:  I read quite a bit about cruising before we left on this journey and so feel like I had a pretty realistic picture of what it all entailed.  However, that being said, I think I still had an unrealistic perception that the cruising “community” was a pretty adventurous, and mostly open-minded, and just plain open to everything and everyone, group of people.   What we experienced quite a bit, unfortunately, was a lot of people traveling on boats that were more interested in their easy “nationality clicks” and “sundowner” lifestyles then really putting themselves out there to embrace local people, local cultures, and other cruisers from other countries.   We always pictured all these different folks from random countries hanging out together and hanging out with locals onshore (which certainly happened), but we felt like this was really a minority of the people we met cruising around the world.  The boats that were more like this were the ones we really wanted to get to know and spend time with cruising, but were pretty few and far between.

For us, what was very important, was that we really tried to make a conscious effort to get out of the cruising “American-only click” circles and befriend folks from other countries traveling, as well as do our best to meet and embrace the local people in the countries we were visiting.  We feel lucky we made some good friends.  For us, this made a big difference in our experiences and we hopefully feel like it made an impression being more-thoughtful, conscious American ambassadors in the world too…which we feel the world could really use more of right now.

Do you have any specific advice for couples cruising?

Gar:  First of all, if you don’t know how to communicate with your partner, you are in for a long ride or perhaps a short ride with one of you leaving the boat.  You absolutely have to talk to each other and, more importantly, listen to each other.   And don’t just “listen”, but actually HEAR what they are saying.   Did you say this was just for cruising couples?  J

Next you need to learn to compromise.  You will be sharing a pretty small space, perhaps for years, and it’s not always possible to just leave that space.  For many couples this will be the first time ever in this situation.

You will have different needs/wants/desires for your own experience and to be who YOU want to be while cruising, but you need to also remember that your partner has the same.  Talk talk talk about what you can each do to help support each other with their own personal process’ and what will keep him/her happy, content, and full while living this unique lifestyle.  This will, of course, change over time so you’d better keep communicating so you can do your best to keep understanding where each other are at as time goes by.

And if you need a time-out, you’d better learn to take one.  And if your partner says she/he needs a break from the boat SOON, you’d better listen and make it happen somehow.

Nicole:   Ok, seriously, communication is the key!  In addition, be sure no matter how long your “to do” list is, go have fun regularly.  It was easy for us to get sucked into needing to do all of our jobs and fix everything that needed fixing.  But, truthfully, there will always be something waiting for you to do, so I say, play, do something spontaneous, get exercise, go on walks together, go snorkeling and just have fun whatever it is.

What is your most common sail combination on passage?

dreamkeeper2 Gar:   For us, on a cutter-rigged boat, on passage we always had our mainsail up for stability possibly with a reef or 2 tucked in and the genoa out. Down wind, we always had a preventer on.  Don’t ever get lazy and not rig a preventer.  The last thing you want, especially in the middle of the night, is an accidental gybe.

We have both our jib and our staysail on roller-furlings, which we really like as the reality is that we are usually single-handing while on passage, so we can easily make jib changes and reefs based on the weather by ourselves in the middle of the night.   Having a staysail has been a great option for us when the wind  and seas really pick up and as it allows us to shorten sail while keeping our boat balanced and very stable.

Lastly, I will just add that the reality of cruising around the world on a sailboat is that it’s not always so dreamy with the sailing aspect.  We have been thru so many parts of the world that the wind is just non-existent or non-cooperative or directly on our nose and we did many times choose or have to run the engine.  That being said, this was a conscious choice to travel to places that didn’t always have great sailing potential, like in PNG, eastern Indonesia and the Red Sea, but were high on our list for being really cool travel destinations.   If you were only after good sailing then you would need to stay in the higher latitudes or the Pacific to have the more consistent, but stronger winds.   For us, we feel we have always been more interested in being travelers and adventurers then purist sailors.

What piece of gear seems to break the most often?

Gar:  What doesn’t break?  Seriously, at one time or another we have had to fix or repair or replace something, or all of, every system on our boat.  If you are pushing your boat hard and making lots of miles each year, then parts wear out.  If you are sitting around a bay in Mexico for months at a time or only moving a few hundred miles a season then you will fare way better then the passage-making sailor crossing oceans.

One of you on your boat should definitely learn how to wrench on a diesel engine, repair a sail, test and repair electrical wiring, and be able to take apart the toilet.  If you don’t know how to do it all, that’s OK, just have a good resource library that will walk you through repairs and if you aren’t too far off the grid, there will usually be another cruiser close-by that can help you out if you get in a bind.  If not, you will learn to live without something.  Most of the stuff that breaks are luxury items anyways.  Toilet broken, use a bucket.  Water-maker broken, catch some rainwater or run jugs to shore.  Generator broken, use less energy or turn off the fridge.

I would say from our experience the pieces of gear that cruisers are wrenching on the most are generators, water-makers, diesel engines, and outboards.   The other pieces of gear that give lots of people trouble are autopilots and laptops, not always possible to fix yourselves.  Please just don’t throw your laptop overboard if it breaks like some cruisers do.  Seriously.

What question do you wish I would have asked you besides the ones I’ve asked you and how would you answer it?

What are some tricks and tips you’ve learned for being a more thoughtful and conscious cruiser around the world?

Within the cruising community, say hello or wave to your neighbor who anchored next to you who you don’t know, especially if he/she is from a different country.  It has been amazing to us how many boats drop their hook beside us and never even smile or wave when we initiate a greeting.  The other side of that is if you find yourself anchoring in a more remote place, then don’t just drop your hook right next that one boat there already, give them some space and drop your hook some distance away so you can both enjoy the remoteness of that special place.  But, when you do see the other people, don’t ignore them, actually say hello and smile.  It’s the little things in this community that make a big difference.

Regarding the ocean and reefs, if you truly care about the health of the planet, the cleanliness of the water, and enjoy traveling to pristine coral reefs and visiting island communities, then give back, police yourself, and be conscious of your actions.

In small communities find out about the customs and proper protocol before arrival or immediately after arrival.  Following this gains you acceptance, respect, new friends, and the opportunity for unique experiences.

If you catch a big fish or lots of big fish, bring some of them into the village and share with the locals who live there.   This goes a long ways and will immediately open doors for you within that community. 

When you drop your hook on your big boat or your dingy, look where you drop it and do your best not to damage the healthy coral around you.  Seems like a no-brainer, but in our experience, we have seen countless boats in crystal clear water dropping their anchor and chain haphazardly directly over pristine reefs and not even thinking about the reality. 

Don’t just throw your compostable trash overboard where you anchor, but actually put it in a container and take it in your dinghy out into the deeper water hopefully where there is some outgoing current or at least away from the shallower anchorage area where all the eggshells and banana peels pile up in the coral underneath your boat. 

Only fish in areas where there are still an abundance of fish and make sure in an island community that it is allowed to fish a certain area as many of them are locally managed as protected for their sustainable use. 

dreamkeeper3 When you are remote, do not leave your trash on an island as they most likely have a trash problem themselves already.  Separate trash well.  When you are out on passage in the deep water this is where you should sink your cans and glass (if you don’t have enough room to store it) and get rid of other non-plastic trash.  Aluminum can sometimes be recycled on certain islands and some of your trash you will most likely have to burn at times.  Some of it you will probably have to carry with you until you make it to a larger city or port.  Point is, be thoughtful about it and do your best to manage your waste well.

If you feel comfortable with the locals, invite some of them out to your boat for soft drinks/coffee/tea/cookies/dinner or whatever.  They will love it.  We have been to so many communities that always invite cruisers in their homes but many would tell us no one would ever invite them out to their boat.  Reciprocate. 

26 December 2011

10 Questions for Delos

delos3 Christine Myers and Stephan Regulinski are on their second Amel SuperMaramu 2000 (53’ ketch). The first was Delos hailing from San Francisco, CA, USA and now Hanalei, hailing from Kailua, HI, USA. They cruised from 2000-2005 and will begin cruising again in 2012. On their first cruise they visited Turkey, Mediterranean Europe, Atlantic Europe, North Sea, British Isles, Ireland, Scandinavia, Canary Islands, Morocco, Gambia, Cape Verde, Caribbean, Panama, Galapagos, South Pacific, & New Zealand. You can read more about them on their website or at their blog.

What do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?

  • Colleges are going to love that your kids made this trip.
  • Your family will become very close.
  • This is not a vacation; it’s a way of life. Save something for the next trip.
  • It takes six months to adjust.
  • Don’t rely so much on the internet in port or e-mails at sea.
  • Just about every port in Europe has a different kind of plug.
  • What happens at sea does not stay at sea.
  • Tahiti is overrated, overpriced and overcrowded.

What has been the most affordable area to cruise and the most expensive?

Turkey was least expensive, along with La Gomera (Canaries) and West Africa.

Norway; Porto Cervo, Sardinia; and French Polynesia were the most expensive.

delos1 Is there something you wish you had bought or installed before starting cruising?

Solar panels.

What did you do to make your dream a reality?

We sort of won the lottery the first time; this time we are selling the house.

What is something you like about the cruising culture and something you dislike?

I love the openness, friendliness and mutual support of the international cruising culture. I dislike the focus on alcohol, especially in the Caribbean and South Pacific.

With the benefit of hindsight, what are the boat criteria you would use to purchase a boat for long-term cruising?

More energy-efficiency. But having said that, we just bought another boat and it’s exactly the same. I would consider length vis-a-vis European dock length pricing.

delos2Describe a ‘typical day’ on passage on your boat.

It takes us about three days to adjust to passage time. Before that we’re all a little spacey while adapting to passage time. Typically I would stand the early morning watch, put out fishing lines, then do roll call on the net at 8. Kids will be up later. They’ll do schoolwork or read, depending on how rough it is. Back to sleep until noon or so, then up for the next watch. Chop vegetables in the afternoon and work on meal prep, check fishing lines. Dinner at 6. Everyone except watchstander goes to bed early, soon after dinner.

How did you gain offshore experience prior to leaving?

We crewed on friends’ boat from San Francisco to Santa Barbara.

What advice would you give to parents thinking about taking their children cruising?


When you meet another compatible kid boat, change your plans and hang out together. They don’t have to be the same age. Social interactions become incredibly important.

Try to get some homeschooling experience before you leave, and at least make sure you have good supportive resources. Don’t get stuck with set curriculum or try to recreate a classroom.

Adapt curriculum to your cruising experience and kids’ learning style.

Be flexible and creative about when ‘school time’ happens.

What question do you wish I had asked you … and how would you answer it?

How did your kids adapt? What were their challenges?

Here I’d point you to the blog because the topic is too big.

31 October 2011

10 Questions for Leander

leander2 Paul Robertson, Sima Baran, and Alexander Robertson have been cruising since 2007 aboard Leander, a Bristol 41 hailing from  Boston, Massachusetts, United States. They have taken a circumnavigation route, starting in Boston, heading down the U.S. east coast, through the Panama Canal, through the Pacific Ocean and Islands, visiting New Zealand, Australia, SE Asia, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, and are now in the Eastern Mediterranean. Readers can read about their adventures on their website.

They say: Paul is originally from Boston, and Sima from Istanbul, Turkey. We met when we were both working in Boston. We had only modest prior sailing experience, and we started cruising as a husband and wife team of two shortly after we bought the boat, our first, and got married. We’ve since been joined by a third crew member, our young son Alexander, who was born in November 2010. 

Why did you decide to cruise?
We were both working long hours, Paul as an attorney and Sima a management consultant. We thought that our all-enveloping careers were causing us to miss out on other meaningful aspects of life. For two non-sailors, the prospect of sailing across oceans to far-away lands posed a particularly exciting challenge, and would be a good way for us to see a bit more of the bigger picture.

What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?
Most marine vendors do not share your goal of having quality work done at a reasonable price. Learn to do as much as possible on your boat, and be vigilant in those situations when you must pay for parts or services. Time and again we’ve paid for work that was both overpriced and deficient, and typically found we have no recourse after the fact. Who cares about you – you’re sailing away to the next port! With a little bit of practice, reading, and speaking to others, you will ALWAYS do a better job than someone with less of a vested interest in the outcome. When others must be called in, define the scope of the work as concretely and narrowly as possible, get things in writing, and watch the work like a hawk.

Over the time that you have been cruising, has the world of cruising changed?
Useful information available for cruisers on the Internet has exploded. Sites like IWAC, “Wiki Cruising,” and the numerous blogs and photos posted by other cruisers are providing a more complete picture of the cruising life and potential cruising grounds.

Describe a positive experience you have had with local people somewhere you have visited?
The people on the island of Tanna, in Vanuatu, were exceptional. In the place of TV, the internet, and consumerism, there were nightly kava rituals, community meetings, and a family garden. And the islanders reached out to us. During our three-week stay, Paul drank kava and played soccer with the local men and Sima learned to weave mats with the local women. It was pleasant, relaxing, and magical.

What is something that you were dreading about cruising when you were dreaming, that is as bad or worse than imagined?
The amount of work we need to do to keep the boat in shape. Non-cruisers sometimes don’t get it, and when we tell them of how much time we are spending on fixing this or maintaining that, they wonder if our boat is a “lemon.” But we’re all out here doing the same thing. The ocean environment beats on things, and although our boat is one-tenth of the size of the house that we lived in before we left, it is ten times as much work. Really.

When have you felt most in danger and what was the source?
Traversing Pirate Alley – the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the start of the Red Sea. We made the passage in 2010 after concluding that the odds were strongly in our favor. But our hearts were still in our throats for the month and half it took to get through. In light of the subsequent attacks, we wouldn’t do that that trip now. And as we think back, maybe all the preparation we did gave us nothing but false comfort, and was an attempt to control things over which we had, in retrospect, no control.

How has cruising affected your personal relationship?
We figure that one year of life together on the boat is the equivalent of about seven years of life on land. All the time together has accelerated the pace of our relationship. Challenges that might have developed five or ten years down the line had we been together less, have become manifest more quickly. But we’ve also been able to develop tools to anticipate and resolve problems at the same quickened pace. So, in the end, we’re in a better place. (Said another way, laughs Sima, although I’ve become more accurate at throwing frying pans, Paul has become just a little more adept at ducking them!)

What type of watch schedule do you normally use while offshore?
We have found that watches of less than four hours are not practical for us because we each need sleep in chunks that are at least that long. We are both on watch during the day. Sima takes watch from 8 p.m. to midnight, Paul from midnight to 4 a.m., Sima from 4 a.m. until Paul awakes in the morning, and Paul from that time until Sima awakes later in the morning. But this was before young Alexander joined us, and we will perhaps need to modify this.

Share a piece of cruising etiquette.
Bend over backwards to be polite to others. You’ll find people on the water who are willing to mix it up with you if you’re game, but it is a draining game. Try to assume the best. Smile and wave at the next boat you encounter, even if the three before didn’t return your greeting. Accept that the boat has anchored a little close. They couldn’t find a better spot, probably. And don’t you remember? Last time that was you.

What question do you wish I would have asked you besides the ones I've asked you and how would you answer it?

leander1 What has it been like cruising with an infant son?

Challenging! We figured that with Alexander, we’d have one less person with a free hand, but he often takes us both out of commission. So things take twice as long as before. For us, an “early” start now means 10:00 a.m. And we don’t do drinks with others at sundown so much anymore. But he loves to hike with us, and we can strap him to our back and go explore, one of our favorite things to do. We certainly wouldn’t want it any other way.

24 October 2011

10 Questions for Brillig

brilligrna Rika and Andrew have been cruising for more than a decade aboard Brillig, a 31ft “Trewis” (means nice and cosy} steel yacht built in Holland 1960. She has sailed 53,000 miles with me and will soon be ready to go again on completion of the present major refit. Andrew is an artist.

What are some of my favourite pieces of gear and why?
Andrew:  The ARIES VANE GEAR. This piece of gear is by far the most influential in our cruising life. Alice as she is fondly known has now crossed the Atlantic eight times with only the plywood vanes breaking. Each long passage the steering lines have been replaced, consequently none have broken. Alice has just had a rebuild after 53,000 miles involving replacement of the bushes, sheaves and blocks. She has performed faultlessly in extreme conditions, and can be made to steer off the apparent wind when powering out of high pressure on ocean passages at least long enough to make a cup of tea. All she asks for is regular twice daily oil and a chunk of grease on the bevel gears every few days. We only occasionally need to steer when under power or entering port, for the rest of the time this water powered wind sensitive miracle of engineering unfailingly guides us to our next anchorage. We don’t have an electric auto pilot.

My SEXTANT allows freedom to sail where you will. The GPS is on all the time we are sailing and certainly has a home aboard, however it could shut down for any number of reasons. The sextant allows us to be independent and self-contained, conditions that lie at the very core of ocean cruising. Long passages can be boring, traditional navigation is an enjoyable occupation giving an enormous sense of satisfaction even when competing with a GPS.

trillig Grundig yacht boy radio receiver. This small radio receiver can pick up the all-important SSB weather information, accurate time signals and provide endless entertainment. When cruising the Atlantic it is very interesting to listen to weather routing for yachts, there are so many of us out there we can invariably listen in to a daily report from another yacht in our region.

Two 100m warps. One is nylon for stretch the other polyester. I love these two pieces of rope because they have got us out of trouble so many times. The 19mm nylon used to extend the anchoring depth when needed. Berthing in small fishing ports has often needed anchors and warps to feel secure when the weather deteriorates. Unexpected grounding allows me to place a kedge anchor well into deep water. Joined together they make a big enough bight to stream astern when running before the wind in heavy following seas. 200m is enough to induce a break far enough astern to avoid being pooped, most of the time!

  1. Taylor’s paraffin (gimbaling) cooker – Always safe to put a cup of tea at sea. Without this, I couldn’t survive life on board; I managed to stay on board for 13 years because I got interested in cooking.
  2. Wind vane –Let us rest and sleep when sailing. We call that “Alice”, she manages to steer Brillig as long as there is wind, very reliable gear. Andrew often oils Alice, keeping her smooth.
  3. 35lb genuine CQR anchor – Always holding us, the insurance. We survived a minor flood, gales, storms.

What pieces of gear would you leave on the dock next time? Why?
Andrew:  The sheet winches. Brillig no longer has a cockpit well. The present simple winches are not big enough and do not self-tail; this makes it difficult for me to sheet in the headsail and virtually impossible for my 90lb wife.

Rika:  Aluminium oars– Totally crap! In Spain, in August 2010, our newer Avon dinghy (we had 2 the same) with outboard bracket, varnished oars were stolen and I bought cheaper aluminium ones next day. They slip, rotate and even lose plastic paddle parts when I want to row against the currant with carrying 40 litres of water!

Head sail sheets – We bought good quality sheets in America but it can’t go through on the metric English block very well!
Is there a place you visited where you wish you could have stayed longer?
Andrew:  The Azores. These Portuguese islands are so yacht friendly, beautiful and fascinating to cruise I could easily spend another year or six there. The major ports are full of ocean sailors while the smaller harbours are a fascinating insight into the Azorean way of life. These coastal villages are where you may need some long ropes and some short lengths of chain to prevent chafe when berthing.

Rika:  The Azores – If I didn’t have to worry about the Visa, we could have stayed longer and could have avoided the Knock-down. Those islands are so beautiful and its’ mild climate makes our life on board easier. All people we have met are sailors, many characters, very interesting to exchange the stories. There are plenty of concerts to attend, food is fantastic and lovely Azorian Portuguese people I love.

Andrew:  On two occasions Brillig has been knocked down on trans-Atlantic voyages. At 31’ she is a small boat and does not have wind instruments. I decide when to reef based on how the boat is handling usually when the lee toe rail is going under. The effect of increasing wind and sea is very difficult to judge especially when running down wind, one moment you are making good time the next your over. The first occasion at around 40 degrees North on the way to the Acores from the Caribbean a good summer gale struck, I kept going since it blew from the west a big wave broached us. A fair amount of water got in but no serious damage.

The second time was due to gear failure, namely the slides on our mainsail. Hove to south of the Azores in gale force conditions all was well until the top slide on the deep reefed mainsail popped with seven more going in short order. That failure sparked of a chain of events ultimately leading to a knockdown in heavy breaking seas.

Both events were bad, I felt the taste of fear, but survived and felt more confident in dealing with severe conditions. The good side of these experiences is when things begin to ease off. Fear has passed; the sea is in a grand mood offering some of the best sailing I know.

  1. Knock-down. The article was published in Yachting Monthly November 2007. Two pressure systems (just 200 NM south of Faial, the Azores) made gale and big sea conditions more than we expected. UV damaged main sail slides popped to flap the main sail was the start, Brillig couldn’t face to the weather well and one wave rolled us from quarter port stern in the midnight, Andrew flew to the deck head and landed on my bunk. There were 10 items damaged or lost. The most serious one was drinking water. It was scarier when we realized what happened to us. 
  2. The passage from Georgetown, South Carolina, USA to Tortola the British Virgin Islands, we were against the Trade wind for 2 weeks. Brillig was constantly dropped to the lower side of the waves but never stop going. We both lost weight because those impacts and motions; hitting the green water made the saucepan on the cooker jump. 
  3. The last trip from Galicia to Falmouth, we had force 9 in the middle of the Biscay. We hove-to for 26 hours as Brillig didn’t slow down even Andrew changed the sail 3 times that day. However, Brillig managed to maintain her position just southerly wind area to keep going north to Falmouth. 

Andrew:  A lot, the worst mistake was to convince myself the land I could see was the Tiede a huge Volcano on Tenerife the Canary Islands often visible for 40 miles according to my pilot. Navigating with a sextant from Lisbon this was the longest ocean passage to date. The volcano was the object of my greatest desire. With very little wind I fired up the old Sabb and chugged towards our destination. The day wore on and more features appeared, more or less as described. Delighted to have found land I kept going confident everything was correct. When 3miles offshore breakers were spotted ahead. That was when the panic hit, this should be a clear passage along the coast to Santa Cruz no reefs were shown on my chart, in fact neither was the island seen for the past few hours. Tiredness and the overwhelming desire to get in I had made the information fit. There was a volcano and it seemed big to me. One moment confident of our position the next lost. Offshore I could see the people driving along the coast road and fishermen out working. Arriving 20 miles to the east of my position could be described as not too bad after a week at sea, Gran Canary turned out to be a great place. Exhaustion and accepting often small discrepancies in information available is how this happened. From then on I have been very careful when making landfall after a long passage, especially getting a good sleep before the last night. Even now we have GPS.

Not stowing the boat carefully enough, the first bit of rough weather demonstrates if it can move it will! Stuff banging and rattling is almost impossible to sort out at sea. It can add to the misery felt in bad weather trying to deal with this in an already difficult situation. Anything that helps the crew to keep rested and able should be done, time well spent.

  1. When we were in Portugal before sailing to the Canaries, I was too shy to express myself; I didn’t like to socialize. I luck lots of confidence, I wasn’t comfortable enough to my English, I wasn’t comfortable to boat life; I simply didn’t know where to start.
  2. Waiting forever; I have learned if I didn’t push myself, nothing would happen or come to me. When I couldn’t row the dinghy, I always had to ask Andrew to take me ashore, I didn’t have my freedom. I had to learn handling the dinghy, tying and keeping her safe until I came back; rowing, correct knots, movement of the wind and the tide; then I could go out whenever I wanted. These activities were nothing to Andrew but enormous effort for me at that time.
  3. Change my mind to be more philosophical; boat is always moving even when anchored so that everything I do should be slower than usual otherwise one thing or mistake brings problems and it could make a snow-ball effect.
  4. Organizing the cabin - Andrew always tells me to tidy up otherwise our cabin looks smaller and we can’t find the thing we need that moment.
  5. Without any experience or knowledge, I had to believe what Andrew said about everything, but what he said and what I felt or thought were very different. He said that crossing the Atlantic would be very nice but what I felt was uncomfortable all the time. Years later, getting used to uncomfortableness and controlling seasickness I understood what he meant. Beginners never feel the same as those who went sea many times.

Rika:  Not only at sea, even at anchor we have to manage with what we have got because of living in the nature. Not enough water, not enough fuel, not enough food but if the weather was so bad we can’t get what we need. Always checking the weather and prepare for it. Whatever the situation would be, there seems usually a solution.

trilligartist Boating, cruising is expensive for yachties. As we don’t get jobs in other countries, keeping cruising fund for unknown time schedule is impossible. Priority goes to keep the boat float and safe so we naturally save the money for food but there is limit to do this. We are lucky to have skills, Andrew paints watercolour and I play piano classical music to make exhibitions wherever we are and if these events brought us some money we could keep going for another while. I have learned how to eat with very little money. I have a book about my cruising life experience, mainly about food and cooking.

Andrew:  Changing from a life driven by the clock and schedules directed by work/family to one where the weather and seasons dictate your movements. To be comfortable with this does not come quickly, perhaps years. Once there I discovered a wonderful sense of natural order within myself and chosen lifestyle, harmony often missing in the hum drum shore life of today. Sailing for me is all about natures forces; time is determined by the passing seasons.

Rika:  Yes, we do just go and arrive at a new place after researching the information from cruising and navigation books then will find out how the place would be. Our cruise started, visiting where Andrew had been before. But after some years, wondering where to go next, other sailors bring us idea to visit somewhere they have been or they have heard of, to enjoy the view, culture and climate of the place.

Andrew:  Getting as much information as possible from other cruisers and pilot books is always best. Mistakes can be very stressful.

Arriving in Brazil my wife did not have the correct visa. We were told to leave within three days. Having just completed 30 days at sea with many problems, mainly the mast delaminating this was a very bad situation with the nearest port outside of Salvador Brazil around 1000 miles whichever way you went. The solution was a three day bus trip to Fos da Iguacu where Argentina, and Paraguay touch Brazil. Having the right information leads to a happy cruising couple arriving and finding out is best avoided.

  1. To be professional foreigners; do not argue with local peoples’ traditions, not force our traditions, to learn their culture, custom, language and habit and their food, we somehow get along with natives.
  2. For safety, we stow sterilized liquid (baby bottle cleaner) when we are not sure about the quality of the water.
  3. It is important not to be fussy eaters and to try local recipes. It brings you problems and unhappiness if you can eat only particular food.
  4. Open mind to visitors; all sailors have different points of view, different way of speech and different ways to solve the same problems. Respect each other not to criticize straight away, especially how they look like.
Andrew:  Having a strong eyelet fitted around the mainsails centre of effort.
When sailing in light conditions with any kind of swell the boom is always on a vang, this will stop you getting brained but it does not stop the main collapsing causing loss of power and a slow passage getting slower. One of the running poles is rigged in the mainsails lee and a very thick piece of bungee cord and rope joined are tied to the C.E. eyelet and hauled outboard on the pole. This has the effect of holding the sails shape when rolling and has proved very effective.

Rika:  A reluctant partner was made by a wimpish captain, saying that you must learn sailing, what would you do if I were over-board? Sailing is entirely for men’s business, women I have met during my 13 years of cruise, never thought they were going to live and cruise on a yacht with their partners. The captain shouldn’t hustle their non-experience partner to become the Ellen McArthur within weeks of preparing time. Blame yourself, Captain! Also the partner should acknowledge that there is only 1 captain necessary in one boat. Andrew is the captain and he says I am the Admirable.

A good way to start learning sailing is to have very boring sailing experience; a sunny day with not much wind on a calm conditions; which gives everybody confidence on board. Living on a boat for a while makes person familiar to the facilities on a yacht. Gently and slowly start combining the life on the land and boat; the difference is huge and sailors don’t understand how the beginners feel about. Don’t read or give too much scary stories of sailing before you start your cruise.

I didn’t have time or choice to say no to Andrew when he decided to leave England. My choice was to stay with my mother-in-law until Andrew arrived at Madeira and flew to catch him up or to go with him like a passenger as he could do everything. As both seemed to hell to me I decided to go, it seemed better to try a new hell experience. I believe I was right.

Once I learned and saw Andrew’s ability to be a captain and Brillig’s integrity – trusting Andrew and Brillig after 3,000 NM, my seasickness decreased and liking travelling on a yacht grew. However, I am THE reluctant partner; I went, so anybody could. Though I am willing to take Brillig to Japan; rather hoping her taking me home. Do not compare yourself with other capable people, do what you can and be happy.

Andrew:  To leave the security of an ordered shore life when you are happy with it will lead to unbearable tensions aboard a cruising yacht. The compact living environment amplifies tension. If as a cruising couple planning to go you feel that persistent nagging sense of spiritual emptiness common in our society you may well discover things within yourself that bring harmony to your life by living closer to nature, as my wife and I have.

Andrew:  How long can you expect to sustain yourself aboard without any support from ashore? A week, a month, six months or more?

RikaWhat you have learned from sailing/living on a small yacht with your partner?
Sailing always shows me my weakness; life on a sailing yacht, life travelling through water by a yacht is independent, solitary, slow, tough, adventurous and dangerous. Wherever we arrived safely, it is a great achievement. I have met more than 10 people having lost their boat –a home, it can happen anytime to us. Careful preparation, loads of information and knowledge, books will help but to manage and solve problems at sea, needing mind strength to stay calm and choose a right decision in flash. Successful sailing is to choose a right vessel, this is the start.

Living and cruising on a small yacht with a partner for years makes the relationship stronger and tighter. Because we live on such a small space, we can’t avoid seeing each other, can’t keep even a small secret, we know everything and have to be honest.