17 July 2017

10 Questions for Impi

Brent Grimbeek and Ana Hill began cruising in 2011 aboard SV Impi, a Lagoon 440.

They have cruised Cape Town to Brazil, Tobago, Grenada, Lesser Antilles, British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, Bahamas, Florida, Cuba, Jamaica, Panama, Galapagos, French Polynesia, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, New Zealand, New Caledonia, and on to Australia

You can learn more about their cruise on their blog, through their videos, or their Facebook page.

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?

A lot of people we speak to have experience of sailing in the proximity of the coast and are fearful of sailing out of the sight of land. In fact, ocean sailing is way easier and safer than coastal sailing.

A lot of potential cruisers think that all they need is the money to buy a boat and that afterwards you just need money for food and diesel.  Few wannabe cruisers realize the costs of maintenance on a boat and/or have the skills to do good maintenance themselves.

This can result in boats gradually going down hill, becoming unsafe and unseaworthy.

What do you think is a common cruising myth?  

That you are free as the wind!  Unfortunately, the way the world is nowadays we are dependent on banks as one is not allowed to carry cash in excess of 10000 of the currency of the country you enter into without doing a declaration thereof.

In many countries although not in Australia and New Zealand, having a bank account is dependent on having a proof of residential address.  This can become complex once one leaves the home country and maybe lets or sells one’s house.

Finish this sentence “One thing I’ve learned about navigating is ... that charts in many territories are inaccurate.  This requires us to use satellite photography as to avoid reefs and coral.

We were fortunate to learn this technique in French Polynesia from some fellow cruisers.  It enabled us to navigate through the Tuamotu Islands without any hiccups as we could clearly mark and identify coral heads.  Similarly charts are very inaccurate in Fiji and sailing from Vanua Levu to the Lau group overnight we were confident that we would not hit a reef as we planned our course very carefully using satellite photos.

Whilst at anchor in the darkest night we can be confident that when the wind changes we are not going to hit any rocks as our boat position can be easily monitored on the satellite photos.

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

Buy a safe boat that is reasonably fast on the ocean and comfortable at anchor. Equip your boat in your home country and not once you are underway.  For us South Africa was a good country to do this with skilled technicians and affordable prices.

So why do we love our Lagoon?  Well it is a very safe boat, the underside ‘nacelle’ – a large bullnose protruding between the hulls toward the trampoline area tapers, as what I can only describe as a ‘third suspended hull’ – do not think Lagoon build this in as a beautiful looking feature, for it certainly is not – it is undersold and holds a phenomenal ‘secret’ to safety at sea. Let me explain.

We were sailing around the southern tip of South Africa when a storm descended upon us. The waves were breaking to the extent that the surface became filled with foam and soon we were dropping down these colossal monsters doing 17 knots bare poles. Every other catamaran there had to head out to sea, since dropping down these waves would see the bows dig into the back of the wave ahead and they feared pitch poling. Impi was the only boat to successfully round the Cape that day for shelter in the anchorage – why?

We soon learned the magic trick of Lagoon. As the bows descended into the wave ahead, that ‘bull nose’ of the nacelle would make contact with the water surface driving the bows upward, time and time again. The suspended hull effect would assist with keeping the boat steering straight down the wave, where catamaran skippers fear the boat broad siding down a wave face. This feature alone ticked a huge box for us, a major point of safety that was going to prove to be invaluable in some pretty ferocious storms we would encounter crossing many oceans of the world.

In the catamaran sailing community, we often hear sailors measuring the success of a boat by the height of bridge deck clearance – ‘the higher the better’, they would say. This is the clearance or height from the surface of the water to the underside of the boat between the hulls. Now whilst a certain amount of height helps in lighter weather conditions, many sailors do not realize that in heavier sea state conditions, too much height has a negative effect in that the wave energy under the boat gathers more momentum before hitting the underside of the bridge deck. Too little clearance is also not good as the boat can feel unstable, but in our opinion, Lagoon have cleverly found the sweet spot between.

Another incredible attribute to the Lagoon 440 is how the boat sails on different points of sail. The Lagoon 440 surprises so many fellow sailors and especially mono-hull sailors, who do not want to believe a catamaran can sail past them to their windward side, on a close ‘point of sail’. Yes, thanks to the two shorter spreaders on the mast, the Lagoon 440 sails very well upwind since the leech of the genoa can be hauled in closer before being obstructed by the spreader tips. This feature, together with the genoa car tracks, that are positioned closer to midship than many other models of catamarans makes the Lagoon 440 a terrific boat for sailing close hauled. In fact, the Lagoon sails well on all points of sail when using a variety of sails along with a barber hauler configuration for wind astern of the beam.

We can store an asymmetric sail, spinnaker, storm sail and extra genoa with ease and all concealed below the deck in lockers and not stored inside the living area of the boat.

When it comes to speed, of course the Lagoon is not a racing boat as ours is loaded with all sorts of home comforts, but it moves on average 150 to 240 nautical miles per 24 hours depending on the winds, currents and the sails rigged. For example, our previous passage from New Caledonia to Australia was an easy 4 day passage.

The Lagoon 440 leaves the factory at around 12.5 tons, but loaded weighs 16 to 17 tons depending on water and diesel on board.

Of course speed is great while sailing, however, for us arrivals and the time spent at our destination are more important. We arrive with our boat clean, all salt washed with fresh water from our 900-liter water tank and 12V water maker that produces around 60 liters per hour for the 20amps that drive it.
The solar input via our 5 Kyocera 135w each panels (675w total) sees us topping up the batteries, up to 50 Amps, and plenty enough to run the Spectra Newport MKII.

Arrival also sees us with all washing clean, dried and ironed with our normal household ‘6kg washer dryer’ fitted into an outside cabinet, next to a sink and cockpit fridge.

Inside the boat, our fridge may be nearing empty but the freezer will often be loaded with fish caught en route.  Thanks to the outside basin, those can be cleaned and filleted outside, a very clever and well thought through feature by the Lagoon designers who make Impi as close to a home on the ocean as one can get.

As soon as we are cleared, we are ready to explore the delights of islands unlike some of our co-cruisers who are hunting around for laundries, water, and electricity and stay stuck in marinas for days, sometimes weeks on end.  Usually a one-day turn around is all Impi needs before heading out to those ‘paradise like anchorages’.  With 80 meters of 13 mm chain, 20 meter of rope and a 33 kg Rocna anchor, a Delta stern anchor with 20 meters of chain, we can anchor just about anywhere, and the Lagoon carries the weight with ease.

Our Lagoon 440 has enough space for all our dive gear, dive compressor, the heavy dinghy with its 30 HP engine which the davits carry comfortably, makes it a breeze to immediately be exploring those delightful underwater corals.

Of course it all comes down to preference and what one wants to get out of a boat – for us it is more about a home which has the ability to carry all the home comforts safely and at fair speed from one destination to the next.

We live for extended times on anchor and our air conditioning, heating and refrigeration facilities ensure that we make plenty of friends!  It is not unusual to hear:  “Let’s all meet on Impi, because they have space to seat 10 round the table, enough plates and cutlery, air conditioning and a lot of space to store cold beers!”

Lagoons are sturdy boats developed not just for a charter market, they are usually baptized in rough seas - they need to cross the Bay of Biscay on their maiden run and that sea can get seriously upset with tremendous wave action as it is very shallow.

Our patio is similar to that of a mono hull turned side ways, protecting us from large waves from the stern.  In extreme weather conditions, catamarans should not as a rule, be pointed toward the weather as one would in a mono-hull.  Well, for the odd wave that may escape and descend on the boat, we do love the high back of the Lagoon 440, which provides some protection from a wave otherwise finding the aft door into the saloon.

The bridge, a feature seldom found on any other brand for a 45 foot catamaran, gives excellent visibility when cruising through reef-infested waters and is always the place our guests spend most of their time when cruising the islands.  In bad weather it is comforting to be up there as one can feel the wind and the ocean away from the noise below and inside. It brings a new perspective and certain control in what otherwise one perceives to be life-threatening conditions. It is also the area where with wind from astern, we would sleep during crossings wearing our life jacket and harness, mostly because the motion is less aggressive up there.

Another feature we loved about the Lagoon when shopping for catamarans, is the strength and thickness of the ‘fiberglass ‘ – the coach roof is solid and sturdy. It feels safe and offers living room upstairs, something much needed when sailing for years on end.

We do believe the Lagoon 440 is a terrific deep ocean sailing catamaran - we have never regretted our choice of boat to circumnavigate, the boat keeps amazing us.

How did you gain offshore experience prior to leaving?  

We studied for our captain’s license in South Africa with a private tutor who accompanied us on our first long ocean crossing from Cape Town to Brazil.  We have sailed just the two of us ever since.  Our tutor taught us a lot about sail rigging and trimming.  We did our first crossing using 2 genoas most of the time or an asymmetric sail.  Our top speed was 21 knots.  That was a bit too scary! We took 21 days to sail from Cape Town to Fortaleza. You can read about our first sailing experience on Amazon kindle – Atlantic Crossing in 21 days.

Describe a drool-worthy perfect cruising moment

Difficult question as there have been many, so maybe I must go back to the first one, which was in Northern Brazil.

We went into uncharted territory there! With only a vague description from a Brazilian sailor, we headed for Lencois Maranhenses, a national park.  It was described to us as a desert with freshwater lakes.

To get there we cruised for several hours up a muddy river with a 6-meter tidal range. We both started doubting the intelligence of doing this, as there were no other yachts around, just a lot of local fishing craft.  We had been warned that not all of these people were friendly!

We anchored out in the river at night and the next morning took the dinghy further up river where we were told by our friend to anchor.  It was a place we could only reach at high tide, taking care to avoid sandbanks.

A local fisherman drew a map of the course to take to enter and as the tide went up we took Impi into a real paradise with hundreds of red ibis, flamingoes and other birds. We were astounded by fish with 4 eyes, we had never seen before and the most awesome white sand dunes and fresh lakes where cattle would come and drink.  Beautiful jangadas, the local fishing boats, with blue sails would go up and down the river bringing in the daily catch.  The people would take pictures of us, as it was so rare to see a yacht there!  They were very friendly and didn’t even speak Portuguese but an indigenous language.

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

You cannot go on a charter vacation on a boat for a few weeks and say you have ‘cruised’.  I think that depending on the level of stress in your life prior to cruising it can take several years to actually shed that stress and get into a cruising lifestyle.  To find that connection with wind, weather and ocean, to open your heart to the beauty of your surroundings is something that some people never achieve.    In our modern lives our spirits get shredded and torn into multiple directions.  Cruising for us enables us to get whole again and to have that peace inside with makes us strong enough to deal with adversity and patient enough to wait for any weather window.

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

We would upgrade our solar panels to SunPower solar panels.  At this point in time these panels have the highest energy output up to 327 W.  They carry a long power and product warranty and we believe that together with our lithium batteries, which we installed earlier this year, these would significantly reduce our need for the use of a generator.

Have you ever felt in danger and if so, what was the source?   
We have felt in danger a few times and we have learnt from it.  One area, which is neglected in a lot of sailing courses, is teaching students how to read the weather on our planet.  We have learnt as we went along and sometimes because we got ourselves into bad situations.

One of these times was sailing from Ua Pau in the Marqueses Islands to the Tuamotu.  The weather looked good according to the GRIBS and the forecast from Meteo France, so we left together with Tempest, an Amel mono-hull, skippered by our friends Bob and Annette Pace, medical professionals from the US.

As we went into the night the benign winds picked up to over 60 knots and the previously calm seas were whipped up into 5-7 meter waves crashing on Impi’s side.  I prepared grab bags, food, meds ready in the cock pit should we need to abandon ship. We kept out a small jib and encouraged Tempest to do the same and sailed all night through vicious waves making speeds around 12 -15 knots on a small jib!.  As the day broke, we saw a Japanese ship on the AIS and contacted them. They told us not to turn back as the storm was worse behind us then in front of us.  They were such great guys, giving us a weather forecast all the way to Fakarava, which proved to be accurate.

One of the reasons we learnt, why we had not read the weather accurately was because we didn’t look at the 500HP layer, we had just looked at the surface weather. What can happen is that the top layer breaks through to the surface given the right conditions.  You then can end up with a rapidly deepening low and cyclone strength winds.  We have learnt to always look at the top layer structure now as to avoid putting ourselves in that position again.

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

We volunteer for an animal welfare charity Bien Naitre Animal in New Caledonia and encourage cruisers, friends and followers to become members of this charity as to set up a mobile veterinary clinic in the outer islands of New Caledonia, a service which currently does not exist.  We are grateful to the Down Under Rally Go East for their contribution to the fund. Watch our video on Moose, the abandoned island dog.

03 July 2017

10 Questions for Dos Libras

Tammy, Bruce, and Jezabelle the cat have been cruising since 2013 aboard Dos Libras, a 1995 Catalina Morgan 45 hailing from Corpus Christi, TX, USA. They traveled down the ICW to the Gulf of Mexico from Corpus Christi to Florida then ICW and Coastal down to the Florida Keys. They turned North up the East Coast as far as Charleston, SC., then spent a season in the Bahamas.  They returned to Florida for a summer and then passed through Bahamas on their way down the Caribbean island chain.

You can read more about their cruise on their website.

They say: "We cruise very slowly.  We’ve spent the past three summers in various marinas plugged into the dock with wifi and air conditioning while doing boat projects.  We may or may not do the same this next summer down south.  

Something changed for us over this past summer in Puerto Rico.  Before then we have always felt “compelled” to be on our way to somewhere/  It is difficult to explain but while in Puerto Rico, we realised that we had no real plan until late in the summer and even then it was just to amble slowly down the Eastern Caribbean chain and then decide.  

Bruce is not getting any younger and the stresses of keeping up with the maintenance and repairs is beginning to wear on him.  At this point we may be looking for a place to stop moving and spend a longer period… but…no plans to return to the US!"

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

I did a lot of research prior to leaving home and found many sources of information.  Gradually over time I have realised that much of the negative information and warnings provided by others has been exaggerated.  Warnings about areas where current is an issue, warnings about shallow waters, warnings about passes or entrances that are tricky. I don’t know if we have just been lucky, or if our skill level is perhaps more developed than the authors of those warnings… but we have taken our boat into places that are supposed to be difficult, with little or no difficulty at all.  That is not to say that a healthy amount of caution is a bad thing. We all have to know our own skill level and what our boat will do, but just don’t be put off completely by what you read. Dig deeper and take current conditions into consideration when making your decision.  You just might miss someplace wonderful if you’re too easily put off.

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

I have to laugh at this question.  We cruise so slowly and stay so long in some places that we’ve almost forgotten how to plan for passages.  What I consider to be a passage is anything that will require us to establish a watch schedule.  We have found that for the two of us, a two hour watch schedule works best.  It is short enough that we don’t become fatigued, and after the initial sleep, it seems that we are able to fall asleep quickly enough to get a good rest.  I always make brownies or cookies and prepare some pasta salad that is easy to serve and has lots of goodies in it.  I’ve always got my route planned out and we’ve been pretty close in our estimation of the time it will take to arrive with sufficient daylight to safely navigate to our destination.  I guess that is more than one thing isn’t it?  

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

We spend a lot more time motorsailing than we ever thought we would.  We always try to sail when possible, but we are not willing to let our boat speed drop below 4 knots for very long before the engine gets fired up.  We have found that the winds are often close to on-the-nose as we’ve been making our way east until now.  But I still hold onto that hope that now that we’ll be traveling in a more N/S direction, we can sail more.  A huge contributing factor that requires motorsailing is that for passages, we would rather wait for conditions that provide a more kindly sea state, which often means lighter winds.  We would rather motorsail in more flat seas than travel under sail alone in seas much over five feet.  Thus far, current has also been an issue - we’ve been traveling against it.  The majority of our longer passages have been with reefed and overtrimmed main to steady the boat, and with the engine on to help us point closer to the lay line.  

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

I like the fact that you can make it what you wish. If you want to have bunches of friends and a full social calendar no problem.  If you want to keep to yourself and see almost no-one that’s OK too.  If I had to come up with a dislike it would be that in some of the more popular Cruiser hang-outs it is sometimes difficult to get OFF of the merry-go-round!

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

Tea Tree Oil.  I used it a lot the first couple of years out. Now it seems like I find myself using less and less but I believe that is because the mildew has been killed.  I clean my ceilings and walls much less often and my towels don’t get stinky like they used to.  (I use tea tree oil in my laundry soap and in home-mixed cleaners)

What do you miss about living on land? 

Not being wet and salty when I get to where I’m going. Whenever we go ashore in the dinghy it is almost guaranteed that we will be thoroughly splashed either coming or going. Secondly I miss fast internet.  Finding a signal that is fast enough to do much blogging is a constant struggle.  I dream of fast, unlimited internet.
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)? 

I have found each place we’ve been to be better than I thought it would be in some way or other.  I have a tendency to project past experiences on my expectations for the future.  I have been proven wrong time and again.  Each place is unique and completely different from how I thought it would be.  I have to remind myself of this so that we won’t skip someplace that could be wonderful!
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? 

I wish we had more deck storage lockers… but then we would have to give up some inside space, so it’s a trade-off.  I can’t really think of anything we wish our boat did not have…

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

A new in-house generator and additional battery amp hours.  Our Fischer Panda has died and we are using portable generators.  While this is doing an adequate job, it is a lot of work for Bruce to charge up the house bank, which he has to do at least once per day, sometimes twice depending upon cloud cover. It is also difficult for us to be “that boat” in the anchorage that ruins a perfectly good sunset with a noisy generator.

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

We’ve been asked many times why we chose to round Hispaniola to the west and cruise the southern coast of the Dominican Republic instead of following Van Sant’s instructions to do the northern coast.

We like to review all available resources and then make our own decisions as to when and where to sail.  For us, it seemed more sensible, safer and more comfortable to go the way we did at the time of year we did.  Late in the winter when the norther’s were less frequent and weaker, but still making it down as far as Hispaniola the light wind days just before the north winds arrived would provide us with easy travel east, and then when the winds turned north, the island provided protection from the high winds and waves, but we could still travel east with the north wind to carry us along on a beam reach.  Seas were very flat with the island between us and the  winds blasting off of the Atlantic ocean, so it was perfect.  We experienced none of the danger of being on the northern shore with fewer safe anchorages and much higher seas.

The Mona Passage also seems more benign further south and we had a shorter passage than the northern route.  The timing was much easier without having to worry about the hourglass shoals. Plus the storms that roll off of Puerto Rico don’t affect the southern Mona as much.  I don’t know why anyone would ever choose that route over the one we took.  Note:  It can be a very different experience at a different time of year.  We had help with late season northers.

26 June 2017

10 Questions for Naoma

Nicole and Ryan Levinson have been cruising on their current voyage since 2014 aboard SV Naoma, a 1988 Ericson 38 hailing from San Diego, CA, USA. They left San Diego for Mexico and then made the jump to French Polynesia where they have been cruising since 2015. They have been sailing together since the late 1990's but started more seriously cruising the waters off Baja, Mexico and southern California in 2006.

They say: "I may seem like I have the maturity of a 10 year old but really it's more like a teenager..."

You can learn more about their cruise through their videos or on their Facebook page.

Cruiser rant: What is something that drives you crazy?

You mean aside from Nicole doing Yoga in her black bikini?  We don't appreciate when cruisers publicly post detailed information about some of the more remote or less commonly visited areas they've explored.  Especially in the Soggy Paws Compendiums or on personal blogs where they include names and/or coordinates.  We think the Compendiums and blogs are a valuable resource, especially for new visitors to an area, but we strongly believe they should be focused on information about the "gateway" anchorages.  In other words, anchorages that are generally already well known and commonly visited.  Once cruisers reach those gateways they can explore remotely or remain mainstream as they see fit!  We personally witnessed one particular spot in the Tuamotus that was more or less ruined (in our opinion) after detailed information about it was included in the Compendiums and shared widely via email.  One season we anchored there alone.  The next season there were a dozen other boats having endless beach bbqs (and leaving the fire pit residue) on the otherwise pristine beaches, disturbing motus that are bird nesting places, leaving the remains of trash burns, stomping all over the coral in the shallow water, carving their initials in trees, etc.  We heard it just got worse as the season progressed.  There are plenty of anchorages for that kind of behavior but precious few that offer a glimpse of "untrammeled" nature or the experience of true solitude.  If you "discover" a remote uncrowded paradise please don't share it with anyone except maybe a few trusted friends or you will destroy the chance for cruisers following in your wake to also have the special experience you had!  Certainly don't share it with the entire world on the internet or Compendiums!

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?

Many potential cruisers, especially from the USA for some reason, are afraid that if they have not adequately prepared for every conceivable contingency then they are doomed to certain death on the high seas.  It is up to each individual to decide what level of preparation is "right" for them but potential cruisers should know that no matter how much they prepare there is always something that they didn't foresee that could cause injury or death.  Accepting a level of risk is a fundamental part of cruising and a key part of adventure!  The thing potential cruisers SHOULD worry about is letting their fear and endless preparation become a reason for never leaving.  There's a great saying, "There are two types of cruisers - Those that leave without being fully prepared and those that never leave..."

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

The location of good surf spots in French Polynesia...  :)  Kidding aside we feel we were given excellent information before we left and can not really think of any other particular thing we wished we had known.  On the other hand there was a lot of stuff we were told that we later regretted ignoring such as "have a gravity feed system pre-rigged for butane" or "you will want a bigger watermaker" There was also plenty of stuff that people told us or we read that turned out to be a bunch of garbage...  Consider the source!

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)?    

We were not big fans of Nuku Hiva, especially when compared to the other islands in the Marquesas chain.  On the other hand we thought the Marquesas in general were underrated.  We only spent six weeks there our first time through but when we returned we spent six months and could have easily spent more.

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

We like the sense of community that we've experienced amongst cruisers, especially in the South Pacific.  There is a strong practice of looking out for each other and expressing genuine good will towards each other.

We are not fans of the packs of boats that travel en masse like locusts swarming anchorages with a sense of entitlement since they are part of this-or-that rally or whatever.  Luckily the rally clones tend to blaze through, always in a hurry, and once their trash is picked up and whatever damage they caused is repaired, life usually returns to normal.  :)

Nicole adds that she thinks it's an unfortunate tendency for many cruisers to crowd into certain anchorages and just endlessly socialize with each other rather than seeking a deeper connection with the local place and people.

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

At the risk of sounding glib I'll say that the main requirements for a boat for safe fun long term cruising are the boat must be likely to stay afloat, can move, and can hold food/water.  Anything else is just layers of comfort and increased margins of safety.  I think too many people stress about what is a "blue water" boat or whatever even though they plan to follow relatively easy trade wind routes.  Those people often end up in somewhat unresponsive expensive tanks built to survive cyclones despite never seeing winds over 30 knots...  Thor Heyeredahl "sailed" from South America to the Tuamotus on a bunch of logs tied together!  People cross oceans in kayaks, paddleboards, whatever.  Think of it this way, what are the chances you will simply drop dead or become gravely ill in the next three weeks?  Fairly slim, right?  The same is true of a blue water passage!  In many places if you sail during the right seasons you have extremely little chance of experiencing a major storm.  If you can stay afloat, keep moving, and have food/water the chances are you will be fine even if "extra" stuff breaks like your chartplotter, computers, etc.

With that in mind, and the benefit of hindsight, if I were to start over I'd likely pick the same boat but possibly modify her to have fewer through hulls and possibly more secure hatches and portlights (enhances the "stay afloat" factor!)  Our boat is fun to sail, she is responsive, handles well, is fast in wide range of winds, and is well built.  She would probably not be our first choice for sailing in high latitudes or long off-season passages in a cyclone area but those are not our intended routes. We see a HUGE variety of boats out here, from cheaply built coastal cruisers (some don't even have toilets) to top dollar luxury ocean sailing yachts with all the latest gear.  The boats are all different but they have one thing in common... They all safely crossed the ocean to get here.

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

A programmable battery charger (versus one with a few pre-set programs) so we could more easily equalize our batteries. Possibly a charger that can handle both 110v and 220v.  When we left we did not yet have a Honda 2000 gasoline generator but it has become invaluable and has saved us from having to put countless hours on the engine.  We left with 400w of solar but have since increased to 700w.  Finally, a larger capacity watermaker would be nice.  Ours is efficient, small, and reliable (so far) but at 7-8gph it takes a looooong time to fill our tanks.  Sorry, I know you asked for one thing so consider this a 4 way tie...  :)

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

We did not gain any offshore experience before leaving but we were both already sailors with extensive coastal experience.  I (Ryan) have been sailing most of my life.  For over a decade I taught keelboat sailing at a few notable centers including J-World and as an adjunct professor of keelboat sailing at San Diego State University.  I have a masters license and have worked as mate and captain of large (120'+) luxury sailing yachts in California and Mexico.  I sailed on the US Sailing national team and was a former national champion (along with my teammates) for my class.  I am an Emergency Medical Technician.  Before this voyage I spent a few years studying extensively - stuff like celestial navigation, life raft survival, long distance communication, diesel engineering, electrical maintenance, marine firefighting, meteorology, and other related topics. With the exception of the rigging we did nearly all our own boat work and installations while preparing Naoma for this voyage.
Nicole is also a certified sailing instructor, although for smaller boats, and she has experience working on large sailing yachts including standing navigational watches.  She is an Emergency Medical Technician and is a former San Diego ocean lifeguard.

Having said all this we are often anchored next to people who literally purchased a boat having never sailed a day in their lives before heading out on their voyage.  I'm not recommending that, but it does help keep things in perspective...

What do you dislike about cruising that surprised you? 

Cruising can create distance from your "community" back home, not just in a geographical sense but also because this is a truly life changing experience that few or none of your friends and family will never really be able to relate to.  We were not so much surprised by that fact per se but rather by the extent to which we find it's true.

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 your favorite YouTube sailing channel?

Two Afloat Sailing!  ;)

19 June 2017

10 Questions for Wondertime

Sara, Michael, Leah (11), & Holly (8) Johnson began cruising in 1999. Their most recent cruise was aboard Wondertime, a Benford 38 Ketch hailing from Seattle, WA, USA. Before they had kids, Michael and Sara cruised to British Columbia and Alaska (their honeymoon!) and a few years later down to Mexico for the winter. With their children Leah and Holly, they departed Seattle again in 2011, circumnavigated Vancouver Island, continued down the west coast to Mexico then did the puddle jump to New Zealand in 2012. They are still in New Zealand but are preparing to take off again for a third time at some point.

They say: "We sold Wondertime in 2014 and after spending the past three years on land (in a house for a year, then a year of RV travel in NZ, then an apartment for a year) we’ve just bought another boat, a German-built 12m steel Feltz Skorpion II (name TBD!). We’ll be in New Zealand for another few years then we've got to see Fiji, at least."

You can learn more about their cruise on their website or by email.  Editor's note: Sara is a co-author of Voyaging With Kids: A Guide to Family Life Afloat.

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

Our Benford 38 was the perfect boat when our girls were young (they were 1 and 4 when we moved aboard). But we simply outgrew the boat; the dinette was only big enough for just the four of us and by the time the girls had doubled in size we were simply too cramped. We also needed a break from cruising so decided to sell Wondertime in Auckland.

After a couple of years of living on land we missed the simplicity of liveaboard life and started looking for the next boat (which would be Michael’s and my fifth together!). We had several criteria: sloop or cutter-rigged (we felt Wondertime’s ketch rig was far too complicated for a boat under 40 feet), comfortable living space (BIG saloon table, separate beds for the girls, comfortable double for us), fun to sail, and 40 feet or less. After a year of searching around NZ we finally found the one: a 12-meter steel boat built in Germany and recently arrived in NZ after being sailed across the Atlantic and Pacific by a meticulous German couple. She’s tough and simple and fun to sail and has a great comfortable layout. I think she’ll take us through the teen years and beyond just fine.

The major con is all the money we wasted with the changeover. Thankfully the new boat is set up with much of the same cruising gear we had on Wondertime (and definitely in better shape at this point!)

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

You do NOT need a catamaran to take children cruising. Seriously though, I see parents online who think they need 50’+ boats to take their kids out on and if they can afford that kind of boat AND handle and maintain it that’s great. But plenty of families are out and about in 40 feet or less and are having the time of their lives. Kids really don’t need a lot of room (but layout—a space everyone can call their own—is definitely key).

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

Oh yes it has. We navigated to Alaska in 2000 with paper charts. I had a website even then and to update it I’d have to copy the files onto a CD and bring it into an internet cafĂ© to upload. Now
everyone’s posting on Facebook via their sat phones. Cruisers are so much more connected these days than twenty years ago, both with each other and with those back home. Since sailing has always been about "getting away from it all" this kind of goes against that idea. On the other hand, we too love staying in contact with not only other cruising friends that have sailed on but also our families.

But the great thing is that it’s still so easy to disconnect by sailing a few miles offshore or to an anchorage without cell coverage (always plenty of anchoring room in those!). But the good news also is that this connection is all optional: the most fascinating cruisers we’ve met the past few years hardly ever even check email.

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

How painful it is to stop. Even if you want to.

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)?

We thought Bora Bora was overrated, quite touristy. But we only had a couple of days there as we'd already checked out of French Polynesia so didn't get the chance to explore outside of the main harbour. Like anywhere, finding those hidden nooks is where the best cruising happens.

Our favorite cruising ground is still Mexico; we love anchoring out in Mazatlan's "old harbor" and taking an open air Pulmonia taxi into the city. It's rough and dirty and our dinghy was nearly stolen in the middle of the night one time (too bad the guy didn't see the locked cable!) but we still love it there. Mazatlan is a beautiful old city. Actually, now that I think about it, the entire west coast of Mexico is really underrated: there are so many amazing anchorages, the weather is generally good, the food is to die for and it's insanely affordable. I feel bad for the Pacific-bound east coast cruisers who miss it! We can't wait to go back one day.

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

The mizzen mast. A ketch rig on a 38-foot boat is cute, but our upwind sailing ability was pathetic (the mizzen would just slat and slam so we'd take it down, thus losing 1/3 of our sail area) and it was twice as expensive to replace the standing rigging before we left (not to mention the additional sail). All our other boats have been sloops or cutters and we're glad to be in the single mast club again!

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

Michael was a cruising kid as a teen, and besides sailing with his parents he crewed on a friend's boat across the Atlantic when he was 15. Our first offshore trip together was in 2000 when we sailed directly from SE Alaska to Seattle offshore. It blew about 30 knots the whole trip. It was a bit rowdy and I didn't know enough then to be nervous. In 2002-3 we sailed from Seattle to Mexico together, hopping down the coast. When it came time to leave with our two kids, we grabbed a friend to do the trip with us. We left Ucluelet, B.C. and sailed directly for San Francisco. Our daughters were 2 and 5 at the time and having a third adult made the trip so much more pleasant. We also had a crew member on our Pacific crossing from Mexico to the Marquesas. I think we're still friends.

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

All of the above: we love sailing (the feeling of the boat steering herself in tradewinds day after day just can't be beat). We love slow travel, even if it's just gunkholing locally. We love the simplicity and affordability (compared to a city mortgage!) of living on a boat even if we're not moving for years at a time. I love having my home where ever we go. Boats and cruising, for us, really is the ideal platform for an enjoyable life.

Cruiser rant: What is something that drives you crazy?

My major beef with the cruising community is this unspoken idea that you cannot “quit” (i.e. take a break from) cruising ever. To do so means you’re not a “real” cruiser. Or you’re a quitter. Or something. Also only “real” cruisers circumnavigate, or cruise for 10 years without stopping, or….you get the point. In our opinion, it doesn’t matter how long, or how far anyone cruises. It’s all about the experience, no matter how or where you sail. There isn’t any one right way to do it.

Michael and I have been on again/off again cruising since shortly after we met in 1998 and we have to take breaks from cruising -- both for our sanity and our finances. Like right now, we’re living and working and going to school in New Zealand. We’re saving money and dreaming of places we might want to go (which is far more fun aboard our own boat than in a rental, let me tell you). This is one of the best phases of cruising, the dreaming one.

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

Is cruising the best way to raise kids? 

Yes and no. It depends. Just like some adults, not all kids enjoy the constant change of actively cruising, often leaving friends behind, etc. Parents need to respect their child(ren)'s individual personalities when planning a cruising life, even if that means swallowing the anchor if a kid is really miserable or just wants to go to school, for example. Maybe part-time cruising would work better for some kids or shorter, local cruises. There are many different routes to enjoying sailing as a family.

We think the best way to raise kids is to spend time with them and provide interesting and varied experiences and there are lots of ways to find that outside of cruising. But boat life is definitely our favorite way to do that.

05 June 2017

10 Questions for Banyan

David MacDonald & Alexandra Palcic began cruising in 2012 aboard SV Banyan, a 2001 Jeanneau 40 Sun Odyssey hailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

They describe their sailing route as: "South from Nova Scotia, all the way! On the serious side though, we sailed away from our home port of Halifax in July 2012. Navigating the coast and crossing from Shelbourne to Bar Harbour (ME). We then followed the Eastern Seaboard southwards. January of 2013 had us making the “big” crossing, from NoName Harbour (Fl) to Bimini (Bahamas) where we spent two months basking in gin clear waters and beautiful beaches. In March, two back to back cold fronts appeared and we used this perfect weather window to sail from Georgetown towards Puerto Rico (via two stops, one night at Mayaguana, Bahamas, and two nights at Ocean World, Puerto Plata D.R.) The trip was all about downwind Sailing, with our spinnaker flying, wow! 

Adventuring through the Leewards & Windwards where Grenada became our home for Hurricane Season, and for the next three years we explored these amazing Caribbean Islands, going as far South as Trinidad, and as far North as Puerto Rico. In 2015 Banyan needed some work, and we needed a change, so we pointed our bow North and followed our tracks back to the US of A. We hauled out in Florida where boat jobs took precedence, and where we toured North America on our new land yacht for H-Season. The winter of 2017 had us adventuring in the beautiful Bahamas." 

You can learn more about their cruise on their blog or Facebook page.

They say: "We got married on our boat, and named her Banyan (like the tree, but not!). So what IS a Banyan? With both of our ties to the Canadian Navy (Dave, after 33 years is now retired and nicknamed The Chief. I worked on the Civilian side of things, and am affectionately known as The Admiral). We wanted a term meaningful to both. Canadian Naval Personnel use the term “Banyan” as a break in daily routine; time to enjoy a social gathering while away from the chores of daily life at sea. Loosely it translates to  “Great Times, Great Food, with Great Shipmates (Friends)”. Something we get to enjoy often with the wonderful people we’ve met along the way."

Do you have any specific advice for couples cruising?

You mean “How do you live together in 40 feet of space, 24/7?” LOL. We get asked this a lot! Well, you have to like each other. Thoughtful and respectful communication is paramount. We each have strengths & weaknesses: sometimes one person does more, and sometimes the other person does more. At the end of the day/week/cruise it all balances out.

What is the most important attribute for successful cruising? 

Flexibility, first and foremost. Weather rules all. Patience. No schedule. Nothing is as easy as it seems. And everything always happens at once. Always.

Where was your favorite place to visit and why?

Hate this question. Our favourite place? All of them! Each place is unique and special and has somethings offer in its very own way. There is nothing like the fantastically beautiful waters of the Bahamas. Or the rugged natural beauty of Dominica. Or the culture (and food!!) of the gorgeous Martinique and Guadeloupe  But what turns ME on about a place, might turn YOU off.

The key is to explore forth, have an open mind and a smile on your face, see what happens, and create your own memories.

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

Do your own research!! Know what type of cruising you’re going to be doing. If you get a heavy boat, which is safe and comfortable for long offshore/ocean passages, that’s great. But realize you need lots of wind to get a heavy boat moving. And heavy wind typically results in bigger seas. Which typically results in more spirited conditions. Some think they need all sorts of space and buy bigger. Bigger isn’t necessarily better, as the costs associated with extra-foot-itis increase exponentially (think dockage if you’re entering a marina that charge by the foot!). What’s your skill level? Don’t buy a fixer upper, if you can’t or hate to fix things. Know what it is that YOU’RE looking to do, with the experience YOU have, and for how long you’ll be out there for, and use your answers to go looking. And remember, no boat is perfect, it’s always a compromise.

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

Nothing really. We went in as minimalists, and with time, still found we had too much. But then, there was this one thing we bought while at the Annapolis Boat Show five years ago. We saw an Air Chair (a hammock type of chair that can be hung by a halyard and allow you to swing in the wind) and thought it would be the perfect way to relax, while at anchor, in idyllic conditions. IN reality? Not so much. We gave it away this year after trying to use it twice.

What do you think is a common cruising myth?

That it’s all about great sailing, in perfect weather, and then sipping margaritas on a secluded beach somewhere. It’s harder, and more work than I thought it would be. And yet, I’m continuously gobsmacked by the rewards.

How often did you face bad weather in your cruising? How bad?  

As much as we try to analyze the weather patterns of the area where we’re leaving from AND going to, nothing is ever perfect. We’ve have gotten caught a few times. During one of our crossings we looked behind us and saw some seriously black skies coming right at us. We got caught in some heavy weather, that ripped our canvas and had us coming to anchor weather whipped and soaked, and thankfully safe. And then there were these weather spouts in the Bahamas that we had to swerve away from, with the boat in front of us almost getting hit.

And then there was the Conga Line of Storms off
St Vincent & Grenadines that had us navigating through them and around them (thank goodness for radar) and turning around twice to wait them out. That experience had my knees shaking and kissing the ground when we arrived. And then there was that time we were racing in the Carriacou Regatta, and the squalls enveloped us.

What did you miss about living on land? 

Fast and furious WiFi at my Fingertips ALL the time. My very own washer and dryer. And although I have the biggest and best bathtub in the world, sometimes I miss the power of a full on, non-stop shower with massage function on the nozzle.

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

… It’s all about adjusting the sails, all the time, because the wind rarely blows the way you want it to. And the last three miles to your anchorage/mooring ball/marina? Are always the longest, ever!

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

Not so much a question but just musings from our personal experiences of the last five years. Whatever your dream, just do it. Don’t extinguish the wind in someone else’s dream unless you’ve sailed a mile on their tack. See you somewhere south of somewhere.

29 May 2017

10 Questions for Brilliant

Carl & Carrie Butler have been cruising since 2006 aboard Brilliant, a 1989 Moody 425/ 42 ft. Sloop hailing from Green Cove Springs, FL, USA.

They went up and down the eastern coast of the US, through the Bahamas and along the “thornless path” through the eastern Caribbean.  Then through the western Caribbean, back to the States for a while, then the eastern Caribbean again.

You can learn more about their voyage on their blog.

They say: "We met online in 2004, married in 2006 and have cruised together continuously during our 11 year marriage. While we have owned 4 boats together, we have never owned a home on land together."

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

As our cruising experience developed so did our needs and desires.  The very first boat we owned, a 1977 37’ Irwin center cockpit was really a coastal cruiser and not suited for long range travel.  In 2006 we purchased Sanctuary, a 1985 Soverel 41’ cutter rig that we knew was a proven blue water boat and enjoyed its performance through our first trip south to Trinidad in 2010.  But the living space was thin and we developed “2 foot-itis”,wanting a larger vessel.  We purchased a 1979 Gulfstar 50 ketch rig in 2012 in St. Thomas that was a captain chartered boat in the BVI with minimum equipment onboard, and took 2 and a half years to outfit it for long range cruising, partly in the USVI and partly in Florida.  On our trip to the western Caribbean we loved sailing the Gulfstar but unfortunately lost it to a reef in the San Blas islands, Panama in 2015.  After a short stay on shore where we did some land travel, we felt the love of cruising pulling us back to the water and purchased Brilliant, the 1989 Moody 425 sloop rig in late 2015.  It was more fully equipped and allowed us to more quickly return to the Caribbean in 2016.

We learned several axioms of cruising and boat ownership through this process.  One, a larger boat has more room but higher cost.  A larger boat is also more difficult for two people to handle, especially on offshore passages.  However, the versatility of the ketch rig made the Gulfstar something we could sail by ourselves, even offshore.

Finally, spending more money up front for a boat that already has cruising equipment installed as opposed to buying a boat cheap and installing everything yourself is not necessarily a good move; you don’t know the systems as well as if you had installed them yourself, and older systems need replacing more readily than new one.

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

Sorry, can’t come up with anything on this.  We are both prone to thoroughly research and analyze things that we are passionate about, and cruising is one of them.  Before we started cruising, even before we met, we both had read everything about cruising we could get our hands on and talked to as many people in the field as we could corner long enough to answer a question.  It was very exciting when we first met to find another person as stoked about going cruising, and it ramped up our relationship very quickly.

What do you think is a common cruising myth?

Myth:  Cruising is mainly lounging through the day off white sand beaches with calm blue waters and clear skies sipping Mai Tai’s.

Truth: While we’ve enjoyed that, cruising truly is, as some wise soul put it, “repairs in exotic places”.  The fun and sun is normally enjoyed as a break from the latest project or repair, which isn’t bad but the boat repairs always trump the snorkeling trips.  Then there’s weather, which trumps everything.  Along with those blue skies and calm waters we’ve experienced some extremely tough weather situations, both underway and at anchor.  We are constantly watching the weather and the forecasts, and have more than once cancelled plans to stay with or return to the boat when a squall pops up.

Where was your favorite place to visit and why?

Dominica. The natural beauty of the island has been a siren’s call to us for many years, but until this year we have avoided going ashore because of security concerns with overly aggressive Boat Boys.  We had a bad experience with one such individual in 2011 and have stayed clear until recently.  With the development of PAYS in Portsmouth over the last several years, we have finally been able to fully enjoy what the island and its generally warm, friendly people have to offer. Good marketing practices have also spread to Roseau where we enjoyed an equally warm reception.

In second place would be some of the French islands, Guadeloupe and Martinique.  Their laid back attitude at Customs and warm friendly atmosphere always make us feel welcome.  

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

We’ve read that the difference between an experienced and an inexperienced Cruiser is that the inexperienced Cruiser is afraid to leave safe harbor for fear something will break and need fixing.  The experienced Cruiser knows that things will break, plans accordingly, and leave the harbor for the next adventure.

What piece of gear seems to break the most often?

While we’ve had considerable trouble with overheating engines on this and our previous boat, there always seems to be something lurking out there waiting to break on us at the most inopportune time.  It’s a juggling act, and you never seem to know what going to give you troubles next.

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

Early on in our cruising we had a bad experience with a storm off the Florida coast while in or near the Gulf Stream.  We didn’t check the weather well enough before going out and paid for it.  Since then we have learned to be overly cautious and maintain proven sources of good weather forecasting.  We have also learned to have the patience to wait for decent conditions.

As a result we believe that some of the worst conditions we have faced have been at anchor. Specifically this season on two occasions we have experienced squalls during periods of light winds where the squall produced strong westerly winds with waves of long fetch in areas where there was nowhere to hide from westerly winds. In one case the best option turned out to be getting underway to ride out the resulting swells after the squall in deeper water.  

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

After 11 years of cruising, living at anchor with our hatches open most nights, we have generally felt safe in most places until just recently.  On one island we encountered an individual aggressively pestering us for “tips” in reward for “watching out dinghy”.  We decided to stand our ground but afterwards felt the vulnerability of being alone at anchor off the beach.   Perhaps we could have shrugged it off, but having read reports of assaults or even deaths experienced by other Cruisers in similar situations, we decided to leave the area that afternoon.

We have also avoided some islands because of reports of boarding and assault perpetrated upon Cruisers by local individuals.

Cruiser rant: What is something that drives you crazy?

“A place for everything and everything in its place.”  There is nothing more frustrating than going to find something onboard, be it a tool to do a job or our sunglasses, and not being able to find it.  While we are incredibly meticulous about lines in the cockpit coiled and neatly stowed or deck gear stowed neatly so it is ready to use at sea, we often search for tools and personal belongings for what seems like an eternity when we know that they are somewhere within 42 feet of us.

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 your favorite aspect of Cruising?

Two things are at the top of the list.  One is traveling to and exploring new places.  We both have a serious case of Wanderlust and after 11 years that hasn’t diminished a bit. This is a big world and there are still so many places to explore.  We’re going to need lots of years to get to them all.

The second is the Cruising Community.  To us, Cruisers as a whole are some of the best people on earth.  We have likened anchoring in a new place like a kid being let loose on a new playground.  If we don’t know someone there already it never takes very long to meet someone new and start up a new friendship.  If ever someone needs help and puts a call out on the VHF, it’s a sure bet that several will answer the call immediately, whether they know you or not.  Need a tool?  Need advice on a piece of gear?  Need directions?  Help is right there just waiting for your request.  We’ve donated blood for a cruiser who needed it that we never met before and never got to meet, but heard later that they used the blood to help stabilize her until she could fly back to her home country for treatment. It feels good to know that you can find that kind of help wherever we are and whatever the situation.