16 October 2017

10 Questions for Georgia

Paul Lever and Chris Hunter have been cruising since 2010 aboard Georgia, an Outbound 44 hailing from Seattle, WA, USA.

They left the Seattle area and traveled down the west coast of the US, Mexico and Central America to Panama. After transiting the Panama Canal and visiting the San Blas Islands, then went to Florida and up the ICW of the US to the Chesapeake and then on to the Canadian Maritimes. They then went to the Bahamas and back up the East Coast of the US. Then they traversed the eastern Caribbean, ending in Bonaire and Curacao. They left the ABCs and went back through the Panama Canal to the Pacific. Most recently they have transited the S Pacific and spent last cyclone season in New Zealand. They have just completed the passage out of NZ and are currently in Fiji.

You can learn more about their cruise on their blog.

Why did you change boats and what do you see as the major pros and cons of your changeover? 

The short answer is so that I could stay married:) I'm a big fan of taking the boat you have to cruise in. We had a nice J/37 that was easy to handle offshore, fast and reasonably comfortable. After a couple of years of cruising we decided we were going to be out for a long time and we wanted some more creature comforts, not the least of which a larger galley. The Outbound is a really well thought out offshore vessel with a decent turn of speed. Con is having more money tied up in a boat-- a depreciating investment.

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

The Atlantic side is so much more crowded than the areas we've traveled in Pacific. The Pacific islands and island people are very interesting and generally extremely friendly. The distances you have to travel are much greater in the Pacific, but the coral reefs make it all worthwhile. On the Atlantic side, outside the US, you tend to see boats that are redoing their passages - like in this is the 5th time we've done XYZ. On the Pacific passages it is often the first time for everyone, making it easier to develop a cruising community.

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

Every cruiser needs to work out what cruising style is best for them. Are they commuter cruisers who spend 6 months on the boat and 6 months back home? Do they get to an ex-pat hangout and just want to enjoy the ease of being in the tropics and forget sailing? Do they want to get in as many stops, anchorages and ports as is possible, collecting all the t-shirts on the way? Is making distance and passages what it is all about? Are short jaunts from home the way to go?

I think we started out moving too quickly and trying to make distance. Our cruising style has worked into making significant jumps to get to a cruising ground and spending more time in one area rather than trying to see it all.

What is the most important attribute for successful cruising?

Its all in the attitude. The attitude you have with your partner. The attitude you have toward officials. The attitude toward locals. The attitude and respect you have for the weather. And the attitude to working through all of the repeated maintenance items and jobs of daily living that are never ending on boat. If you are going to let these items get you down, then cruising is just not for you.

I am pretty good at fixing things quickly on the boat. I'm even OK with doing the same job over again. I do tend to get a bit down when its the third time on the same 'fix'.

Share a piece of cruising etiquette 

That's just too easy a question. Use a long painter when you tie up your dinghy at a dock and leave the outboard down. A far more difficult one to answer would be proper anchoring etiquette. As far as I can tell, that totally depends on what your nationality is.

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

We left with one of those large, Conestoga Wagon covers for the boom. Although it's important to have shade in the tropics, that cover was too much effort to put up, take down, store and deal with when the winds got crazy.

How did you (or did you) gain offshore experience prior to leaving?  

I've done the early retirement thing a few times and took an Alberg 35 from Annapolis to Venezuela in my younger days. Chris and I have done the Inside Passage to Alaska and back down the outside. Also, while we were waiting to get our finances in order and sell a house we helped friends bring their Cal 40 down the Pacific coast from Washington to San Francisco.

Everyone who plans on taking up long distance cruising should take the opportunities available to crew on a few offshore passages. You'll learn a ton and be much better at setting your own expectations.

What do you enjoy about cruising that you didn't expect to enjoy?

The first thing that pops into my mind is not killing or being killed by my spouse while living in such a close 24/7 environment. The second is Gin and Tonics.

Cruiser rant: What is something that drives you crazy?

Cruisers that start the blame game and yelling when an anchoring situation occurs. Its amazing how a tiny bit of courtesy and cooperation can make what looks like a bad situation calm down and work out for everyone. Being told that I dragged upwind with a string of F-bombs at 3am just doesn't help the situation get better.

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

How long do you plan to cruise?

We left with an open time frame. After a couple of years it was clear that we were going for the long run. Its now been 7 years and we are half way around the world having covered about 33,000 miles (more than enough to make it all the way around). We still take it one year or one season at a time. Its important to us to have the boat out of the Cyclone and Hurricane belts during the season as we are not one to tempt Mother Nature. We started out as full time cruisers, but now try to spend a few months each year back in Washington with our new, above average granddaughter. We'll keep going as long as its still an adventure and our health holds out.

09 October 2017

10 Questions for Calico Jack

Travis and Joanne Scott circumnavigated from the end of 2012 until early 2016 aboard SV Calico Jack, a 1972 Chris-Craft Caribbean 35, hailing from Key West, FL, USA. Their general route was from Florida, through Western Caribbean, and the Panama Canal, then across the Pacific to Bundaberg, Australia. From Australia they sailed the Great Barrier Reef of Australia to Indonesia, across the Indian Ocean to South Africa. They then sailed across the South Atlantic to South America, up the Eastern Caribbean, through Bahamas and returning to Key West, FL, USA.

You can learn more about their circumnavigation on their website.

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

We expected the South Pacific Ocean to be the best sailing conditions we would find, and while they were decent enough, we found our longer passages to be slow and rolly, with lighter than expected winds and large swells coming up from the deep Southern Ocean. (We were told by local islanders "it was a very unusual year"). But other than the first long passage, the island hopping style of cruising with short jumps in between turns the S Pacific into a cruisers dream.  You could spend a lifetime there and still not see it all.  On the contrary, we did not know what to expect of the South Atlantic, yet found that to be the best cruising conditions of our whole trip.  Wind, seas and currents all lined up in our favor for a change, and we had stable enough conditions that we could set the spinnaker and leave it for days without tending to it.  Also, much shorter jumps between landfalls.

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

Cruising-as-travel, definitely.  Prior to getting together, my wife and I had both been avid travelers, and the cruising lifestyle allows us to travel more extensively and on a better budget. Our boat is our home, and the thought of taking our home out for a day sail just seems like too much work. But casting off the lines and setting out over the horizon... now that's exciting!

Finish this sentence “One thing I’ve learned about passage planning is…

prepare meals ahead of time.

There are many, many books out there on the subject of passage planning and weather routing. With a little common sense and a good understanding of weather patterns, most passages will be pleasurable.  But here's something we did that made eating while on passage enjoyable: Prepare a few meals before departure. No one likes to cook in a galley when its rough out, at least not us. We would start a few days before setting out, and make a bunch of "one pot" meals (chili, hearty stew, curry, etc), then measure out a portion for 2 people into a Ziploc baggie, and freeze it.  Then it was fast and simple to quickly heat up a nutritious meal without spending lots of time getting tossed around down below, or watching all your ingredients go flying off the counter top!

What is your most common sail combination on passage?

Our west-about route pretty much had us sailing down wind almost all the time.  With our sloop rig, we predominantly used a single head sail only, either jib or spinnaker.  If we set the main and the jib, we found the large main would block the jib and rob it of the wind.  Wing and wing sailing is beautiful, but a lot of work and diligence to maintain that configuration for long periods of time.  We found our speed of roughly 5 knots could be achieved with a single head sail, which could also be easily operated from the cockpit by one person in times of changing winds or deteriorating weather.  We are all about easy, and the little tiny bit of speed we lost was not worth the extra effort.

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

All the old cruising books describe the ultimate cruiser as a ketch rig, full keel with the rudder attached, heavy displacement tub.  We have seen all varieties of boats out there doing it, and doing it just fine.  Mono- and Multi-hulls, sloops, ketches and schooners, big and small and everything in between. Just pick the boat that suits your needs and the cruising grounds you plan to go to.

We had thought of up-sizing to a larger boat before our next cruise, but have decided to stay smaller for reasons that work best for us.

Smaller boat = shallower draft. At only 4.5', Calico Jack can make nearly any pass, or anchor up close to shore when needed. It is a lot cheaper to do a refit or routine maintenance on a smaller vessel.  We found many places were charging in 10' length increments (30-40', 40-50',etc) and the difference between was sometimes significant.  We were small enough to secure dockage when we needed to, at times when marinas were full and larger boats were being turned away.  We managed to pack into 35' everything we needed for long term cruising, and still had room enough for two people to be comfortable.  .

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

For us, we have taken a break from cruising simply because we ran out of money.  A few years to replenish the coffers and we'll be back out there again.

From our cruising friends we have met who stopped cruising, some of them had reached their goal or destination, some ran out of money like us, some had catastrophic damages to their boats, and some had those same catastrophic damages to their relationships.  Offshore cruising can be difficult to relationships, and we saw it affect many couples... older, younger, married, dating, family, straight or gay... no one is immune.  Proper communication is key.  Fears and concerns, hopes and dreams should all be discussed and shared. Teamwork and flexibility will get you through the worst situations, but only if both parties are on the same page.

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

Its not totally free out there anymore.  There are still some free cruising grounds, but it is more common to find areas that charge small anchoring fees, or cruising permits. Many places have installed moorings to protect the environment and no longer allow anchoring. Yachties are often seen as walking ATM's (especially in the eastern Caribbean). And we all know anything with the word "marine" on it will cost more!  It is still possible to cruise on a small budget, but be prepared to either pay the local costs or to look for another place.  Bitching about it, or even worse, sneaking out without paying only makes the rest of us look bad.

What piece of gear seems to break the most often?

It all breaks eventually!  Preventative maintenance helps, but the wear and tear of constant use will eventually win.  In our case, we blew our transmission, a few sails, the auto-pilot, a fresh water pump, our ice maker, and more little things than I care to remember. But none of this ruined our experience, and even empowered us when we were able to fix it ourselves, or added to the adventure of trying to source parts in other languages.  Some things we never did fix, realizing we never needed them at all... like our ice maker!

Share a piece of cruising etiquette

Don't anchor on top of your neighbor! (unless you are French, then its ok. Every French port we have anchored in was the same.  Its just what they do, get used to it.  Besides, it IS convenient to be able to hand a glass of wine to your neighbor when he runs out.)  But seriously though, it may seem like common sense to some, but to many they don't seem to quite understand that anchoring is NOT the same as "parking" your boat.  Take into account not only your depth and scope and swing radius, but also the same for your neighbors.  If in doubt, dinghy on over and introduce yourself to your neighbors, and talk to them. Maybe they are ok with how close you are, or maybe they are not. Or maybe they have local knowledge of the area that will change your mind about being that close. At the very least they will know your are a conscientious cruiser.  Remember: "last one to anchor, first one to move"

We had one very tight anchorage in Grenada, and after looking for a spot for about 45 minutes, we picked a spot between 2 boats (one we knew, the other we didn't) which left just barely enough swing room.  Our unknown neighbors were busy giving us the stink eye from their cockpit.  Once we were sure the hook was set, we went over to them and explained why we anchored where we did, and asked if they were ok with it.  They understood it was tight, and thanked us for checking with them.  As it turned out, we all became really good friends and we hope to share another anchorage with them someday.

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

"What do you do for watch schedules on passages?"

As with any vessel, someone must be "on watch" at all times.  This can be difficult while cruising single- or short-handed.  We have had this conversation with other cruisers and have seen a whole rainbow of watch schedules... some good and some bad.  We buddy-boated for a while with a couple who did a strict 4 on/4 off, but they arrived in port exhausted and needed a day to recover.  We also met two ladies who did NO watch at night... after dinner they both went to bed and trusted in the auto-pilot and radar on all night!  Aboard Calico Jack we used a fairly relaxed and flexible schedule of 6 on/6 off during the day and 3 on/3 off at night.  This allowed one of us to get a solid block of sleep, while the 3 hour watches at night were fairly short and easy to stand.  We always arrived in port well rested, and in times of heavy weather or when there was a need for both of us on deck, we always felt alert and ready.  Of course, what watch schedule works best for YOU is the one you should do.  This is just our observations and what we have found to be best for us.  

02 October 2017

10 Questions for Rocket Science

TJ and Jenny Durnan are currently cruising aboard SV Rocket Science, a Riptide 55 hailing from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, USA. TJ began cruising in 1989 and Jenny in 2006.

They have been up and down both coasts of North and Central America a few times, made three trips to the Caribbean and most recently sailed from Newfoundland to Europe.

You can learn more about their cruise on their website.

Over the time that you have been cruising, has the world of cruising changed? 

I would say that it's primarily sheer numbers and demographic makeup. When I did my first Caribbean lap as a lad with my father, it was pre-gps, labor saving sail-handling systems were in their infancy. Refrigeration was an unreliable luxury not found on many boats, and watermakers were even more rare. I may be stealing this phrase, but cruising was done more by runaways than by retirees. Mostly, I think that uncertainty in navigation and the lack of comforts was the driver of this. Now that our boats have become better equipped and much more comfortable, it's attractive to more people.

Also, it's probably safe to say that as the numbers have increased, general friendliness has diminished. This is true both among cruisers and with the locals, particularly on the more populated routes. There are still places where one can sail and find locals or other sailors eager to make contact and visit, but it's necessary to go to more remote places in general. It's understandable - when there's only one sailboat showing up every few weeks to a village, it's a big deal. When there have been 25 of us anchored off for 3 months, organizing bocce ball tournaments on the local beach, well, the novelty surely wears off.

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)? 

On the overrated side, the Eastern Caribbean comes to mind. The islands are beautiful and the sailing is often fantastic, but I found the islands themselves to be a little bit of a disappointment. The aggressive 'boat boys', often surly locals, and the general crime rate was a bummer. We have done a lot of cruising in the less-developed world, and there seems to be a bit of a culture of resentment in the EC that we've not found elsewhere. This is not to say that it was awful being there, we had some fine times to be sure, but this area is not high on our list of places to spend a great deal of time in.

For underrated, a few places come to mind. First, Newfoundland is absolutely spectacular, for all kinds of reasons. Also, the Pacific coast of Panama was really a nice surprise for us, particularly the rivers. The Pacific coast of Mexico is also a spectacular place to cruise, and it's populated almost entirely by West Coast sailors. This is a shame. It would be well worth a season up there for E. coast/European boats on a circumnavigation who have the time to spare.

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? 

To the first part, storms. True storm conditions on the typical cruising routes are almost never encountered. There are a few tricky spots on a typical circumnavigation, like from the islands to New Zealand, and perhaps a W-E crossing of the Atlantic. But, on the whole, even a gale is exceedingly rare. In about 50,000 miles of sailing, I have been in precisely 2 proper gales and only a single storm force event, which lasted all of 8 hours. Of course, none of this applies to the more adventurous folks sailing around Patagonia and the like, but for the standard cruiser, weather should not be a big fear, provided they're on one of the milder routes during the correct season.

To the second part, two things come to mind. First, the boat is going to break, a lot. There have been way too many departures abandoned because some inconsequential piece of gear isn't working. New cruisers have to get their head around the idea that a broken watermaker should not mean that everything needs to stop. You have to learn how to do without these fussy items, and not let it have a big impact on the morale of the boat when these failures inevitably do happen. As long as the boat's sound in all of the seaworthiness aspects, the rest is really all small stuff, and shouldn't dictate a change in plans. The other thing that's often overlooked by new cruisers is just how they're going to fill all these long days. Cruising can be incredibly boring. There are times when you're at your 10th beautiful anchorage in the last 4 months, and there's not a damned thing to do, besides work on the boat or maybe go out and snorkel on the reef for the 3rd time today. Getting one's head around the slower pace of things is an unanticipated challenge for many.

Finally, drinking is a big hazard, particularly in areas where retirees tend to congregate. The Caribbean and Mexico has a huge population of folks who really aren't sailing all that much, but rather sitting in a marina or anchorage socializing. This daily cocktail hour tends to turn into real boozing every day for many people. We were really shocked by the extent of this in our travels. I view this largely as a response to the boredom mentioned above.

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

Always make sure your anchor is well set, and just because you see a bunch of boats all anchored in a cluster, it's not necessarily the best spot. Also, NEVER sail to a schedule.

Cruiser rant: What is something that drives you crazy? 

People with a 100 ton license who call themselves 'captain'!

Also, just the general blowhard population that hangs around boats. The guys with all the strongly held opinions about just about everything that they force upon the rest of us. We could do with a lot less of that.

Why did you change boats and what do you see as the major pros and cons of your changeover?

Well, Rocket Science is boat #4 for me. The previous three had been slow, full-keeled 'bluewater cruisers'. I was at the point where I absolutely hated sailing those tubs. So, we went all-in on a carbon fiber speedster. This decision was driven by two things, actually. I am a commercial captain, and only get 2-3 months off at a stretch. We were getting sick of hanging around the Americas, and on a 120 mile/day boat, the logistics of venturing further afield were challenging. Second, I was missing the fun of sailing. So, that's the big pro for us, just being able to rack up 200 mile days easily with just 2 crew. If we really want to open things up, we have the option to take some skilled crew along, and we can realistically achieve 300 mile days in tradewind conditions. So, that's the big pro.

On the downside, RS is a big, powerful beast. It is not a rookie's boat, and she is not tolerant of mistakes. So, we have to be more attentive than on previous boats, for sure. This is not a big deal, but we're more conservative with our sail selections than we have been in the past, particularly in unsettled conditions. Also, the sails and rigging are much more expensive.

How often have you faced bad weather in your cruising? How bad?  

See above, very rarely. Only 2 gales and 1 very brief F10.

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

For us, it's really about travel. We get FAR more out of visiting a country on our boat than we do by just flying somewhere and staying in a hotel. We live amongst the locals, and have the time and access to a place to really get to know it. The sailing is just a means to an end. Sure, when all's going well, it can be magical. But, for the most part, passagemaking is pretty much an exercise in broken sleep and discomfort. But, it's a small price to pay, in our view.

What piece of gear seems to break the most often?

Probably the head needs attention most often.

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

Cost is a good topic. The answer is different for everyone, of course, but we too often read about folks who are planning to cruise on $500/mo. They almost invariably wind up destitute on a broken down boat not far from their original point of departure. This would be a good topic to have an honest discussion on for sure*.

*Editor's Note: For a list of cruising costs published by cruising boats which features IWAC interviewees among others, see this link.

25 September 2017

10 Questions for Amarula

Eric (Captain - Australia) and Lynne (First Mate - England/Australia) began cruising in 2002 aboard Amarula, a 60' Crowther Catamaran hailing from Gibraltar that they build themselves.

They left Australia, cruising across the Indian Ocean to Tanzania. They stayed in Tanzania for 5 years doing charters and running a business. They visited countries along the African coast during that time. They left Tanzania for South Africa, eventually crossing the Atlantic to Brazil. They spent the next 4 years cruising up and down the Eastern Caribbean before sailing through Bonaire and Curacoa, and Columbia to Panama. After transiting the Panama Canal, they spent last season cruising across the Pacific to Fiji where they are currently.

They say: "We met in Dar es Salaam in 1993 where Eric was operating his prawn trawler (designed, built and owner operated) and Lynne went to teach at the International School of Tanganyika. Eric's dream had always been to build a yacht and sail around the world, to which Lynne responded "I'll be your crew!

We built our catamaran and launched her in July 2001 on the Clarence River, NSW, Australia. After a shake down cruise to Sydney for New Year & the fireworks, we set sail from Yamba, NSW in April 2002 around to Darwin, from where we began our circumnavigation in May 2002. We are still - very slowly - making our way around the world!"

You can learn more about their cruise on their website.

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

We have cruised the Indian Ocean, the Atlantic and the Pacific. There is little comparison for me (Lynne), as the Indian Ocean was my first experience of an ocean crossing back in 2002. There were 5 of us onboard and we took 2 months from Darwin to Dar es Salaam, with a few short stops en route at Cocos Keeling, Chagos and Seychelles. We were on a mission to get back to Dar es Salaam, where we already had a few charter bookings lined up. But I LOVED being out on the open ocean, especially at night on my own in the wheelhouse or sitting out on deck enjoying the moon and the stars and complete serenity. We were fortunate with the weather! In fact, we motored miles north of our rhumbline looking for wind and at times just enjoyed floating at sea, swimming in the middle of the ocean thousands of miles away from anywhere.

We crossed the Atlantic from Walvis Bay, Namibia to Cabadelo, Brazil via a 6 day stopover in St. Helena in February/ March 2012. This time our only crew was our 2 Jack Russells, who did extremely well on their first ocean passage. We generally had reasonable winds and enjoyed a mostly downwind sail, thankfully avoiding the doldrums that a number of our fellow passage-makers 100 or so miles north of us lamented about daily on the morning radio net. We easily got into the groove of the passage and had no major dramas, but boy oh boy were the dogs happy when we finally made landfall in Brazil after 28 days at sea!

Meanwhile our Pacific crossing was easily the most challenging, perhaps because it is the most recent of our ocean crossings. We had an extra crew member, which especially helped with the night watches, but the first part of the sail towards the equator and the Galapagos was painfully slow. The grib files showed wind to the south of us and every time we started sailing towards it, it shifted further south. Remembering our Indian Ocean passage and the many hours of motoring, still failing to find the elusive wind, we spent some days just drifting and playing water frisbee with the dogs! As we struggled with either no wind or heavy squalls we were receiving emails from friends less than 100 miles south of us who were having a fantastic sail averaging 7 knots! Unfortunately, when we finally did get some wind the mainsheet block failed through crevice corrosion resulting in a ripped mainsail, then a few days later the block on our spinnaker snapped and our brand new spinnaker came tumbling down. This left us down to our 2 trusty headsails and we still had over 2000 miles to sail...... Add to this an almost complete lack of fish (4 in total in a 5 week passage!) and I can safely say we were all ready to set foot on land in the Marquesas!

Another thing we have noticed in the Pacific is that the weather forecasts have been invariably wrong and the winds have almost always been stronger than predicted, often from a completely different direction (see the answer below on danger)

Share a piece of cruising etiquette    

Maintain a good look out at all times and keep your radio on. Be ready to assist fellow cruisers and seafarers. We often came across fishermen as we cruised the Tanzania coastline who needed some kind of assistance, such as a tow due to broken outboard motors etc. On one occasion when we were heading to southern Tanzania for a bathymetric survey to study the reefs around Songo Songo island as part of the environmental impact study for the gas pipeline project, we stopped at Okuza island for a walk. We came across a huddled group of fishermen whose livelihood was catching and drying octopus. We soon discovered that they were stranded without water, as their supply boat hadn't shown up. As we had a watermaker onboard we offered to fill some jerry cans for them and immediately they came running over with at least 20x20 litre drums! We gave them over 200 litres of water and took one of them to the next island south where he was able to get further assistance. More recently, here in Fiji, a cruiser had run onto a reef and put out a Mayday call. We were about 5NM away at the time and changed course so we could assist.

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

Because we built our catamaran for chartering we were talked into installing a dishwasher and a bar fridge, neither of which we ever used, so they became storage areas and we eventually gave them away in Africa and built in some large storage drawers instead. When we had a charter and wanted cold drinks we kept them in a cooler box on deck with ice blocks which we rotated from our freezer. As we had been based for a number of years in Tanzania prior to building the boat, we built Amarula as a stand-alone operation to operate as a charter vessel.

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

Eric: Max. 45'. Priority of importance: 2 oversize anchors with minimum 100 metres chain and good anchor winch plus extra rode, robust auto helm, fish finder with portable hand-held depth sounder (Hondex PS-7), plenty of solar and wind to run large fridge/ freezer, good sail wardrobe (including headsail, staysail, mainsail, code zero/ spinnaker), enclosed cockpit/ wheelhouse for comfortable cruising in all weather, good stowage, Hard bottom dinghy with mimimum 9.8HP for river and reef exploration trips.

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

With just 2 of us we tend to do 3 - 4 hour watches usually starting around 1900 - 2300 (Lynne), 2300 - 0300 (Eric), 0300 - 0600 (Lynne), 0600 ~ (Eric). On the few occasions where we have had extra crew on long passages we do 3 hour watches.

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

On passage we have generally picked our weather windows well and been fortunate to have some excellent downwind runs. On a couple of occasions we have run into unpleasant squalls of 40+ knots or so. For example, despite all the forecasts showing light winds from the NW we hit 40 knot squalls from the SE when we were heading from the Marquesas to the Tuamotus in French Polynesia and had to heave to for a few hours - our first time ever. Back in 2002 we did a marine research charter to Aldabra and Cosmoledo islands in the Seychelles and we found ourselves sailing/ motoring head on into the first named cyclone to form above 10 degrees south and we took a battering. Unfortunately, we didn't have the luxury of being in a position to plan this passage, as this was a commercial charter that we had committed to. It also demonstrates the importance of timing your passages.

As for other kinds of dangers, when we were at anchor in Taganga Bay, Colombia, in November 2015, we were unfortunately boarded by armed pirates and robbed at gun & knife point. Meanwhile, we spent many years cruising up and down the coast of East Africa without any unpleasant incidents and in fact we had some of our most memorable experiences in that region.

How much does cruising cost?    

Again, this is a question that every cruiser would have a different answer for. Some people do it on an absolute shoe string budget never eating or drinking ashore at bars and restaurants, never taking tours or hiring cars or staying in marinas, others go all out and use cruising as a way to travel from country to country and base there, then experience just about everything that country has to offer including staying in marinas, going on shore based excursions etc. When we closed off our business in Tanzania and set off cruising we had a very healthy stock market portfolio and felt ready to take on the world and see and experience each new country to the max. In our first couple of years cruising during the GFC, we lost a huge portion of our portfolio and have been shoestring cruisers ever since! However we have had many incredible experiences and have met some fantastic people.

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

Go with the wind. Relax and enjoy, rather than try to rush to meet schedules and be prepared to change your plans. We also really enjoy exploring anchorages off the beaten track and especially meeting and getting to know local people.

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

There are so many reasons. Probably the most common being age/ health/ mobility issues, finances, time for a new challenge, end of a circumnavigation and grandchildren coming along! One thing we have noticed is that many cruisers go on to become land cruisers. Perhaps we will in the not too distant future...... But one idea that we are tossing around, now that we're almost done with cruising and much closer to home is to offer 'educational retreats' onboard for wannabe/ soon to be offshore cruisers - a kind of 'try before you buy' situation where people can come and test out the lifestyle, ask questions, learn the ropes so to speak - we'd love to hear from anyone who may be keen to try something like this and we can be contacted via our website.

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

Eric: Would you circumnavigate again? Yes!

Lynne: Would you like to continue living this lifestyle? Absolutely! 

18 September 2017

10 Questions for Blowin Bubbles

Kyle and Shelley Benger left Canada on Canada Day (July 1) 2014 aboard SV Blowin Bubbles a 45' Dufour CT12000 hailing from Hamilton, ON, Canada.

They left Lake Ontario via the Erie Canal and entered the Atlantic Ocean at New York City. They then sailed down the eastern USA to Cuba, and then the Caribbean. They traversed the Panama Canal in February 2016 and are currently in Fiji.

You can read more about their cruise on their blog and about the educational charity they run while they are cruising on this site.

Tell me your favorite thing and your least favorite thing about your boat

Kyle: The best - The sturdiness of it. I believe we would give up long before the boat would. And it is paid for!   The least - 30 year old boat so constantly something to fix.

Shelley: Pilothouse ketch design, can stay dry and helm from inside if needed and the sails are small enough for me to handle on my own. The least - is that the paint and engine are getting old - that means money output.

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

Kyle: A windvane but it was just too expensive and complicated given the design of our boat.

Shelley: We completely refit the boat for two years before leaving so all my wishes were granted. The only thing I can think of is the Toughbook computers we now use. We broke a couple laptops before realizing these were a way better option.

What do you dislike about cruising that surprised you?

Kyle: People anchoring too close. It is like the store parking lots at home, you purposely park way away and walk and come back and someone is right beside you.

Shelley: What I call "Grotty Yachties". Everyone warned about locals in certain places but they did not warn you that a lot of theft comes from sailors who "shop" at your boat.

Finish this sentence. "Generally when I am provisioning..."

Kyle: That is Shelley's job.

Shelley: I feel like I can find everything I need. And am always interested to try local foods.

Share a piece of cruising etiquette

Kyle: Be respectful with your dingy around other boats. They make wakes too. Someone in the boat you are making jump around might be cooking with hot oil or down working in the engine compartment uncomfortably already.

Shelley: Leave a long painter on your dingy at dingy docks and NEVER side tide to the dingy dock.

Both of us: Learn flag etiquette It is really rude to fly a giant pirate, state or country flag of your own above the flag of the host country you are in

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

Kyle and Shelley: We sail 90 % on passages. If we start going slower than 3 kn we start the engine. But we use those opportunities to make water and/or charge things. We are in the South Pacific and here people seem to wait for wind. Fuel is often hard to get. It we just want to move a hour or two we will use it as a water making run.

Where was your favorite place to visit and why?

Kyle: Palmerston Atoll in the Cook Islands because it was the first time I had felt welcomed by locals as one of their own, not as a tourist. They were the most giving caring souls and made me think that was what I left home for.

Shelley: Tuamotus Atolls in French Polynesia because they were my first real Pacific experience. I am a Newfoundland girl, east coast Canada. These atolls were the stuff dreams were made of and they were full of pearls!

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

Kyle:  Fatty Goodlanders books were the best for me. Many of the cruising sources were dated but he is still living this life. Unfortunately countries rules and things change constantly. Noonsite is a great source.

Shelley: Being "girlie" I read about provisioning and such. My best read was The Boat Galley Cookbook. I was very worried about getting enough supplies in remote places but I was reminded by others that people eat everywhere. And a watermaker is essential in the South Pacific.

What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?

Kyle and Shelley: We researched a lot, read, watched videos. Took weather courses and sailing courses. We sailed a 36 ft sloop on the great lakes for 10 years before we left. So we felt pretty prepared.

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

What kind of cruiser are you? 

We have found there are some very diverse groups of people out here. Some for a set period of time or purpose.  We have met:

  • wealthy retirees
  • single handlers 
  • families
  • younger 20-30 somethings - friends or couples
  • bucket list people on a time line of some kind
  • rally joiners
  • couples age 40+ 

We are full time cruisers with no house to return to and no set timeline. We are totally committed to this life!

Where is your time spent?

Over the past three years. We have spent 70% time moored or anchored. 10% of our time at sea and 20% of our time in a marina at dock. 

04 September 2017

10 Questions for Sunstone

Tom and Vicky Jackson cruised from 1997 until 2015 aboard Sunstone a 1965 McGruer built, S&S designed one-off - timber-built with a varnished hull - hailing from Nelson, New Zealand.

They describe their route as "too complicated to describe generally". It goes: UK, Spain, Canaries, Caribbean, New England, Nova Scotia, ICW, Bahamas, Panama, Galapagos, French Poly, Cooks, Niue, Tonga, Fiji, NZ, Aus, New Cal, Vanuatu, Aus, NZ, French Poly, Hawaii, Alaska, Canada, USA, Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Easter Is, Chile, Falklands, Argentina, Brazil, Argentina, S. Africa, Aus, NZ, Vanuatu, New Cal, NZ, Fiji, Wallis, Tuvalu, Kosrae, Pohnpei, Guam, Japan, Aleutians, Canada, Hawaii, Samoa, NZ, Marshall Is, Aleutians, Alaska, Canada, Hawaii, Tonga, NZ. Also lots of offshore racing among the cruising, including the Bermuda Race, Sydney-Hobart, Swiftsure, Round North Island and Round New Zealand.

They say: "We did lots (about 50,000 miles) of cruising as well as offshore racing in NW Europe before we actually stopped work and left to go long-term cruising, which was in 1997. Our last long cruise ended in 2015 and we are now shore-based, but we intend to continue cruising in the South Pacific."

You can learn more about their cruise on their website or by email.

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

We don't really feel this question has a useful answer at least not in terms of significant differences or contrasts. For us a more useful comparison is between temperate and tropical or semi-tropical cruising - or perhaps between wilderness cruising and cruising in more inhabited areas. Certainly the contrast between the latter two is sharp. Wilderness cruising, whether in the Aleutians, Patagonia or the Line Islands is demanding in terms of preparation, navigation, sailing/anchoring skills and, most of all, self-reliance. In temperate zones there is also the volatility of the weather. These are in contrast to cruising in more inhabited areas, where the availability of service and support is much greater and thus the demands on cruisers generally less.

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

'The eyes have it!' Whatever electronic means you have, eyes are the most important navigating instrument you have. If things look wrong they almost certainly are, so . . . 'If in doubt, turn about.' Go back the way you came until you have worked out the right and safe course. Oh, also 'Two navigators are better than one.'

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

Pirates. Pirates are the muggers of the sea. They can kill you or rob you just like muggers, but there are far fewer of them and they only operate in fairly well known areas. Avoid those areas and it is very unlikely you will ever see a pirate. You are far more likely to be mugged, injured or robbed ashore somewhere.

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

Having poor quality sails and not knowing how to use them! Cruisers should race. Racing teaches you not only how to make your boat go quickly in a variety of conditions, it also teaches you about boat handling under sail in conditions you might actually avoid if cruising, namely light and heavy air and tight situations with other boats. These are also necessary skills for a cruiser. Too many cruisers spend a lot of money on devices to make living aboard more like living on land - and then they skimp on sails, buying second-hand or poor quality sails. In fact, many cruisers have little understanding of what constitutes a good, well-made sail which will stand up to tens of thousands of miles of use and still have a shape which will adequately drive the boat to windward when that is essential.

Many potential and novice cruising couples do not adequately consider what demands will be made and changes will occur in their relationship to each other. Before heading off on a cruise few couples have spent 24 hours a day, every day with each other in a constantly changing and potentially risk-filled environment. In shore-based life most of us can spread our anxieties, frustrations and tantrums across a range of colleagues and friends as well as our partner. That is not the case when crossing oceans in a small boat. Achieving a complementary balance and trust in your relationship is essential and at first it may be hard work. Many apparently stable long-term relationships founder and sink under the demands of the cruising life. However, many others thrive and grow on the development of new skills, the stronger need for trust and the shared sense of achievement in the face of novelty, risk and difficulties.

What is your most common sail combination on passage? 

This depends so much on the nature of the passage that there can be no single answer. When down-wind passage-making in trade wind conditions we normally use the mainsail held with a preventer and a 125% genoa held to windward by an over-length spinnaker pole. In stable, broad reaching conditions, we often also set our inner jib (non-overlapping, but bigger and further forward than a cutter staysail) to leeward on its Solent stay. However, when the wind is forward of the beam and over 15 knots (true, not apparent) we mostly use our inner jib with any reefs which might be necessary in the main. As we do a lot of cruising in temperate waters, we use the latter configuration a good deal. As we always stand our watches on deck, fully dressed for the weather, we are able to reef early when conditions require it. We generally reef or change head-sail single-handed unless conditions are very bad. 'Sunstone' is set up to make this easy. We very rarely use our genoa part-rolled, but rather change to our jib if conditions require it.

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

We are not really aware of any one 'cruising culture'. There are many different styles of and attitudes to cruising and the different styles diverge markedly. What we look for in other cruisers whom we like and respect are curiosity, openness, friendliness, honesty and, most of all, a desire, determination and ability to be self-reliant. Though we don't condemn them for it, we are puzzled by cruisers who actually don't much like sailing and have little interest in improving their ability to sail. These tend to be the same cruisers for whom cruising is just another form of travel. They reach New Zealand, park the boat and buy a car, rather than actually cruising the country.

Tell me your favorite thing and your least favorite thing about your boat.

'Sunstone' was our home for over 30 years, so picking out one thing we particularly like about her is almost impossible. High on the list is that she takes care of us. Some boats require constant, expert attention to perform well or even keep you safe. 'Sunstone' responds to such attention, but does not require it. In conditions when we are cold, wet, tired, hungry and even a little frightened, 'Sunstone' reassures and takes care of us. This is partly the nature of her design, whose compromises have made her just about perfect for the different kinds of sailing which we have done. These include serious racing and long-term cruising as well as living aboard, while working full time at 'suit jobs' in a temperate climate. 'Sunstone' is a very sound, strongly built yacht with a sea-kindly motion, even in storm conditions.

Unfortunately, one of the compromises which makes 'Sunstone's' design so good for living aboard, her accommodation arrangement below, requires an offset companion way; this makes it impossible to mount an effective dodger which would give protection in the cockpit. Cruising on 'Sunstone' requires several very good sets of foul-weather gear as well as a tolerance for being wet and cold!

What piece of gear seems to break the most often?

No gear on 'Sunstone' breaks often!! In the last 20 years we have cruised about 150,000 miles. During that time we have only had to wait in port once for repairs (engine gear box). There are three fundamental keys to avoiding breakages: buy the best you can afford; keep it simple; maintain it. Listening to other cruisers the items which most commonly keep them in port are: gen sets, autopilots, installed refrigeration and water-makers. 'Sunstone' has none of these. The closest we come is a small camper fridge which we can do without quite happily if we have to. Otherwise, the fundamentals of engine, rig and sails can be the cause of problems. All three can be kept going by regular inspection and maintenance. Our small Yanmar engine has done 10,000 hours in 19 years without a rebuild, despite being used as our primary power generator. How often do most cruisers go aloft to inspect their rigs or replace rigging wire? In the tropics, rigging wire should probably be replaced every seven or eight years. Rigs need inspection after any heavy blow, before any long passage and then after it. Sails need regular inspection and 'a stitch in time saving nine' or more likely 100! If a piece of gear seems prone to breakage or failure, there may well be something wrong with the way it is used or its suitability for purpose. If a piece of gear is inevitably subject to constant abuse, like the heads pump, carry a spare which is always ready as a replacement.

What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?

How to catch fish and how to stay warm sailing in the Bering Sea.

What do you enjoy about cruising that you didn't expect to enjoy? 

Having our faith in the fundamental goodness of human nature reinforced!

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

After living afloat for 35 years, we suppose that we expected to be asked (as we often are), how different it is to live ashore or how we've adapted to the change. We guess that the most fundamental answer to the latter question is that if you weren't adaptable before living afloat and cruising, that life is likely to make you adaptable. Moving ashore and buying our first house to live in after 41 years of marriage has just been another adventure - and we still feel at home when aboard 'Sunstone'.

The other bigger question is what made us start it all in the first place. Why would we choose to live first on a 31' boat and then 'Sunstone' while pursuing responsible jobs. At first the answer was easy. We couldn't afford both a boat and a house. We had to have a boat, so we didn't have a house. But there was more to it than that, because we did actually have our own version of a pre-nup: we both agreed that the only basis on which we would get married was if we lived on a boat. From the very first we agreed that if we really wanted something, we would pay the price. We wanted to go sailing as much as possible. If the price was living in cramped, damp, cold quarters with no appliances, TV, stereo, running water or shower, we would pay the price. We even decided to live that way ashore for the few years while we saved enough for our first boat. We learned to live without 'stuff'. Paying the price has got us the life we wanted. And in the circular way that all things so often work out, what we got, namely 'Sunstone', has shaped not only our sailing lives, but the whole nature of our lives together. 'Sunstone' has taught us a lot and helped us to learn about each other.