27 December 2010

10 Questions for MoonSail

moonsail1 MoonSail is a Catalina/Morgan Center-cockpit 38 hailing from Kemah, TX, USA.  Chris Mooney (Captain) and Barbara Leachman (self-titled 1st mate/galley slave) cruised aboard MoonSail from 2005 - 2009 through the Caribbean, Bahamas and US East Coast. They returned for a few years of work and hope to resume cruising in Fall 2011. You can find more details on their website or send an email (Barb@moonsail.com). Barb says:  Cruising was not my idea nor was it my dream but I am now hooked and love the lifestyle.  I moved on to the boat from a 2000 sq ft house with 2 suit cases.  I had no problem selling my house and just about everything I owned.  I was ready to leave the corporate life and go on an adventure.  I am extremely lucky to have found a very accommodating and easy going mate to teach me and learn with me the life of a cruiser.

What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?
Chris: How much we would motor-sail. For a 38 foot sailboat to go from island to island during daylight
hours, you almost always have to run the rhumb line.  There is no time for tacking and using the wind.  A 45 foot or larger boat goes fast enough to sail it.

Barbara: I can’t think of anything specific that I wished someone told me before we left.  It was a lot of fun learning from other cruisers as we went. They are all such fun loving can caring people. A lot of people asked if I was scared and thought there were pirates everywhere.  I was nervous but I can honestly say I was only scared a couple of times and that had nothing to do with pirates.

What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you found particularly accurate?
Chris: That security in the Caribbean (as far south as Grenada), for the most part, is not an issue.  The constant worry about security is overblown. Common sense and practical precautions will keep you out of trouble. Trinidad & Venezuela are a whole other story and in my opinion to be avoided.

Barbara: The most accurate statement I would say we found to be true was that all plans are cast in Jell-o or sand. 

What was the most affordable area you have cruised and the most expensive? What was affordable or expensive about each area?
Chris: Northeast US was most expensive.  $40-60/night for a mooring.  Crowded during the summer, especially weekends, since the local boaters have a short season to play in. Caribbean was not cheap, but could be done reasonably.  Food, especially US style food is expensive, as was electricity at the docks, rum & beer are cheap.  Plenty of ability to anchor as much as you want to save dockage costs.

Barbara: The cheapest area was the Dominican Republic, but it was also the poorest country.  I was not comfortable in that country and have no desire to return. The Dominican Republic is a beautiful country, but the officials are very corrupt.  The sanitary conditions left a lot to be desired and you have to continually use hand sanitizer after touching anything that was in the water you are anchored in.

I would say Grenada was very affordable and easy to live in. Grenada is affordable in for both marine services and goods.  They have one of the best open air markets in the Caribbean.  The people are still so thankful to the Americans for aiding them in the conflict in the 80’s that they will come up to you and shake your hand and say thank you to your face.

The most expensive area was Martha’s Vineyard/Nantucket/long island sound area. The Northeast of the US around Long Island sound and NYC is the most expensive place we went.  The mooring balls were $60 per night and that didn’t include launch service to shore.  In many areas that was an additional $10-15 per person 1 way.  The area is beautiful though and we are very glad we spent time in the area.

I n your own experience and your experience meeting cruising couples, can you convince a reluctant partner to go cruising and if so, how?
Chris: I think usually not well.  In our case, the dream was mine and Barb got drawn into it.  I had the plan when we met.  moonsail3She had never sailed before.  She jumped in whole-hog, learned everything about the boat without having to be taught, and loved it.  I couldn't have asked for a better cruising partner.  We met many other couples where it was his dream and she went along, but there were frequent trips home or other concessions to her in order to keep her aboard.  We met some who it flat wasn't working for and it was painfully obvious that she wasn't happy.  Some of those just were annoyingly vocal about it, and several went home (some with the spouse some without).  I wouldn't try and go with a reluctant partner.  If you did, I think the frequent trips home are a must, whether to visit grandchildren or the mall.  Also pay what it takes to have good communication so they can call home frequently.

Barbara: I wouldn’t ever attempt to convince anyone to live the life of a cruiser unless they already had a desire to do so.  If one person on a boat is not happy, the whole boat is not happy.

What is your biggest lesson learned?
Chris: Be flexible.  You are going to new places with different foods, customs, music, dress, etc.  Don't expect things to be just like home.  If you want things just like the US, only cruise in the US.  Every day you just take what your given and make the best of it.  Whether that's the weather, or dealing with officials, or fixing the boat.  Getting frustrated and bitching about things won't change them.

Barbara: I feel that if I had to, I could navigate and drive the boat by myself.  I would never want to be in a situation that I had to do that, but it’s a good feeling to know I could do it.

Where was your favorite place to visit and why?
Chris: The most common question people ask, and the hardest to answer.  I can't say there is one best place.  There were several best places for different reasons.  There were almost no "bad" places.  So here are several answers and why:
  • St. Maarten - great for boat fixing (duty free and availability) – great food on the French side - good if you like restaurants and development.
  • Dominica - Great for the opposite reason.  Least developed. Beautiful geography and friendly people.
    Guadeloupe/Martinique - great for the French food & wine.  Much better infrastructure than other islands due to support from France.
  • Grenada - Excellent for long term stay during hurricane season.  Developed enough but not over-developed.  Extremely safe and friendly. 
Barbara: We have been asked this question so many times and it’s so hard to decide.  We really enjoyed Bequia at Christmas time.  There were a lot of community lighting events and they are so cruiser friendly there.

How often have you faced bad weather in your cruising? How bad?
Chris:  You "face" the bad weather every time it happens, even if you're not out in it.  You are basically living outside after all.  So, even at anchor or at a dock, you have to be prepared properly for bad weather.  We experienced one tropical storm and numerous heavy tropical waves while at the dock in Grenada.  You just prepare accordingly.  A properly prepared boat shouldn't have trouble even up to a Cat 1 or 2 hurricane.  Boats that make the TV usually weren't prepared.

As for weather underway, the trick is to not be there.  In the Caribbean, there is little excuse for being out in very bad weather.  Most passages are day trips or a one-night overnight, so you wait for the conditions you are comfortable with.  Every person has a different level of comfort underway. You do need to have proper resources for knowing the forecast.  There are lots of options, too many to name here, but you need to have access to several, and then make your own decision based on their input.  Asking your buddy boat should NOT be your primary forecast resource.  Make your own decisions and interpretations of the data.

Barbara: Weather is the number one ruler of a cruisers life.  We live by it and give it a lot of respect.  That said, we have been chased by 3 hurricanes along the US coast.  We were on the leading edge of Alberto in 2005 going north from St. Augustine to Charleston and that was the only time we tethered ourselves to our pedestal in the cockpit and talked about hailing the Coast Guard to just to report our position every 30 minutes.  We ended up not hailing them but that was one of the scariest passages.  While at the dock in Charleston a day later a water spout passed over the boat. We were lucky it didn’t cause any damage.

Are you attracted more to sailing itself or cruising-as-travel and has that changed over time?
moonsail2 Chris: Easiest question- cruising-as-travel.  I first got the idea of buying a boat after visiting a marina a little before Christmas and seeing the live-aboard community close up.  I have had the boat for 13 years now, lived aboard until a year ago, and actively cruised four years.  I still could take or leave the actual sailing most days.  I love being able to take my whole home from place to place at my whim though.

Barbara: We were more attracted to the cruising life style and not sailing purists.  We had no problems running the engine to get from A to B before dark.

What are some of your favorite pieces of gear on your boat and why?
Chris: Furling sails - makes it easy to single hand and good as your physical strength lessens with age. Stout auto-pilot.  A wheel-drive auto-pilot doesn't belong on an offshore boat no matter what the manufacturer tells you. Great custom davits/arch - dinghy can be raised or lowered with one person, engine hoist, place for antennas, solar panels, wind generator. Biggest RIB-type dinghy you can carry, with largest motor it can carry. It's your car out there.  Engle freezer.  Low electrical draw and make having a freezer easy.

Barbara: We bought a soda machine our second year out and it was probably one of the best purchases.  We stocked spare CO2 canisters and syrup.  They pretty much lasted 3 years.  Just before we left the boat we found (through other cruisers) that there is now a place in St. Martin that will refill the CO2 canisters. 

What question do you wish I would have asked you besides the ones I've asked you and how would you answer it?
Chris: Firearms onboard? - Not worth the hassle in the US and Caribbean.  You have to either lie about it or surrender it in most places.  The risk of needing one is no worth the hassle of having one. Pets aboard? - Wonderfully fun (assuming you are a pet lover in the first place).  But, they add another level of complexity to checking in and out of some countries, you have to deal with their needs, whether that is a litter box or daily walks ashore, getting proper food and supplies in the islands can be challenging, vet availability is limited, and traveling home is more complex and expensive.

Barbara: How often did you see or keep in touch with family?  We were lucky that when we were in the US keeping in touch was easy, especially while we were in the Northeast.  While in the Caribbean, you would be surprised at how readily available the internet has become.  Using Skype you can call home and talk pretty much whenever you wanted and it was cheap.  As far as visiting family, we only had 1 visitor in 4 years and I only flew back to the US once in the 2 years were in the Eastern Caribbean.  We kept a website up to date and posted quite often, so most of our family kept up on where we were through that too.

23 December 2010

10 Questions for Atom

atom Since 1984, James Baldwin has twice circumnavigated aboard Atom, his 28-foot Pearson Triton. He has worked as boat builder and writer, and more recently as voyaging consultant from their current home port of Brunswick, Georgia. Ten years ago, Mei Huang joined him in Trinidad and since then they have made several passages across the North and South Atlantic and worked together fitting out customer's sailboats for voyaging. You can contact them through their website where you can read James articles about cruising and his online book at his website.

Why did you decide to cruise?
I was driven by a search for adventure and, I'll admit, a touch of hedonism. A cruiser of today's generation
who reads my online book might say my sailing career has been as much masochism as hedonism. There is a touch of truth there in the sense that I learned to derive pleasure from self-denial as well as all the rich rewards a cruising life brings.

After some adventurous vacations with my parents when I was a child, from northern wilderness camping trips to island-hopping through the Bahamas by small single-engine plane, my mind opened to some of the more extreme travel possibilities. Further inspiration came from the sailing classics of Joshua Slocum and Bernard Moitessier, the Roths, Hiscocks and dozens of others. As a teenager in Detroit with little money and no sailing experience, I pursued my goal to see the world from the deck of my own boat with a dogged, single-minded determination.

By twenty-one I had my boat. By twenty-five I set out on my first circumnavigation.

What else did you do besides sail?
From my first moment under sail and ever since, the art of sailing has captivated me. Beyond the sailing, I've used my boat as a tool to provide a home base for seeing the world. I found I needed more than sailing, and set goals to get off the boat to climb the mountains and live among the islanders. I also enjoy kayaking, writing, photography, and working on boats, whether it's my own or paid work on other people's boats.

With the benefit of hindsight, what are the boat selection criteria you would use to purchase a boat for long term cruising?
Over the years I've often considered the pros and cons of having boat a larger or even a bit smaller than Atom.  As I list the attributes of a good voyaging boat - inexpensive, seaworthy, as small as can be comfortable, moderate draft, tiller steering - they keep pointing to a boat very much like the one I have.

When I decided to try something radically different, I added a F-27 folding trimaran to my little fleet. What I like about a small trimaran is the shallow draft available when the daggerboard is up, the low angles of heel and less rolling underway, and trailerability. Speed was not high on my list of requirements, but sailing fast can be thrilling. With its cramped accommodations and inability to carry much equipment and supplies, it is not well-suited for long-term liveaboard or extended voyages for most people.

Each of my two boats serves its own purpose. It would be impossible to find one boat ideally suited to all situations. If, like most people, you're confined to one boat, you need to make a realistic list of your own requirements so you can define the compromises necessary to get the best boat for your needs.

How would you recommend that someone prepares to cruise?
Learn to sail on a small boat whether you sign on as crew or pay for lessons. Or buy yourself a small boat and do local cruising. Then prepare your mind by rethinking your priorities and considering what is it about your shorebound lifestyle that's worth taking afloat and what is better left ashore. Through online and face to face consulting with new cruisers I know they worry about having a boat that is "too small", how to get insurance for every potential mishap, how to finance their cruise, what will it all cost... These are valid concerns and the answers are different for each individual. Just as important is to consider what is the cost to their soul of continuing their current life ashore when the life they imagine is somewhere else. Some want to have their current life as unaltered as possible as they go on a fun cruise. They know what they want and that may work for them. Others, like myself, seek a radically different life than they had before. Being a seeker is always worthwhile.

atom3 Describe a positive experience you have had with local people somewhere you have visited?
With few exceptions, all of my thousands of experiences with local people have been positive. Off the beaten track, the world is generally kind to a traveler with an open heart, even if he has empty pockets. In many remote places, the poorer you look the better you're received. Throughout the isles of the Pacific, Asia and Indian Ocean I was taken into peoples homes, joined in their celebrations, worked alongside them in their gardens, even fell in love.

What was the most affordable area to cruise and the most expensive? What was affordable or cheap about each area?
In the 1990's Madagascar was and probably still is, one of the nicest and cheapest cruising grounds. Another favorite inexpensive cruising area was the Philippines. The idea is to buy locally produced items, not imports. Things change from place to place, year to year, but in general, the most expensive places are the more developed, Westernized or European subsidized countries such as French Polynesia. Even so, lifestyle choices determine your expenditures as much as comparing local cost of living indexes.

I spent the most time in inexpensive countries and did major provisioning there. In the expensive ports, I either worked or traded goods or kept my visit brief. My choice to spend eight years in Southeast Asia and no time at all in the Med or Europe was as much to do with the cost of living as it was my cultural and climate preferences.

Can you think of a sailing tip (e.g., sail trim, sail combination) specific to offshore passages (e.g., related to swells)?
Passage planning is always my main concern in order to keep the wind on my beam or at my back as much as possible. A whisker pole on the jib has been essential. I avoid passages with headwinds or high storm frequency. I reef early and sail conservatively.

Speed is not a concern because I'm comfortable at sea and most often arrived at my next port refreshed in body and mind. If you're uneasy being at sea, you drive the boat harder to arrive sooner, which exhausts you further.

How do you recommend securing your vessel while going ashore? And your dinghy?
I often use two anchors set 180 degrees apart with both secured to the bow, the primary with all chain rode. This way my rode is not dragging all over the bottom as the boat shifts to every tide or wind change, reducing the chance of upsetting or fouling an anchor. I've left my boat for long periods unattended and always returned to find her where I left her.

I use security bars in the companionway to allow ventilation. My dinghy is a small plywood/fiberglass pram that is considered unworthy of theft, which I consider my best defense against losing it. To prevent children from rowing it away, it's always locked alongside Atom with a cable at night, and when ashore, preferably locked to a dock or a tree above high tide mark. An outboard motor on your dinghy is like a "steal me" sign in many places. If your situation requires a motor, the smallest and oldest looking one will serve you the longest since thieves will turn up their nose at it and take a bigger, faster, more valuable one from your neighbor.

What are some of your favorite pieces of gear on your boat and why?
A partial list of my essential cruising gear in roughly their order of importance is: windvane self-steering, unshaded solar panels, a lightweight home-built dinghy, dodger/bimini, handheld GPS, manual anchor windlass, Sony SSB reciever, all LED lighting, a large battery bank and a 750-watt inverter. If I can't power it from solar panels, I don't have it aboard. I've always preferred the big view and inexpensive dependability of photocopied paper charts, but now that small chartplotters and MFD's are low-powered and less expensive, I've added one to my trimaran. I've used AIS on recent deliveries for collision avoidance and plan to put one
aboard Atom.

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

I have a page of frequently asked questions that can be read on my website.  One of the 22 questions I address is:

How much does it cost to go cruising?
The short answer is: as much as you've got. I've met people cruising on every conceivable budget and I do not think the enjoyment they got out of cruising had much to do with how much money they spent. Actually, I did not meet any people cruising on a high budget that looked like they were getting anything near the priceless experiences of some people who know how to make the most of life afloat. People ask "Can I afford to go cruising?" when they should ask if they can afford not to go. With careful choices it costs less than half as much to voyage around the world as it does to maintain a typical Western lifestyle ashore. We can calculate the dollars it costs, but how do you count the value of a life fully lived?

I left on my first circumnavigation in 1984 with just $500 in savings. That got me across the Pacific in five months without noticeable hardship for a healthy 25-year-old. When the money was nearly gone, I took a job for three months at a boatyard in New Guinea, the proceeds of which carried me across two more oceans and back home a year and a half later. Since then, tremendous inflation in costs associated with cruising, such as the 1,000% increase in fees for the Panama Canal and various extortionate government rip-offs for "cruising fees" (the $150-$300 fee per boat for entry to the Bahamas is becoming typical nowadays), mean these days you'll need to spend much more than when I first began cruising. Also, when I started earning and saving more money, I sometimes was tempted to buy more optional boat gear and spend more money on all manor of things.

As of 2003 we spent an average of about $800 a month for the two of us, including all travel, food, entertainment and boat expenses. This does not include the very occasional but unavoidable big expenses like replacing sails or major overhauls to the boat. We could spend less if we needed to and easily spend more if we're not careful. The "average" cruising couple spends at least double that, particularly when you factor in all their various insurance and marina expenses. I find when I have more money available I'm tempted to spend it on "optionals" and when I have less, I tighten my belt, so to speak. During most of my cruising years I've kept my spending down to the point where I need only work an average of three months a year. For over 20 years I never worked longer than about two years at a time without stopping for an extended cruise and have gone up to three years without earning any money other than a few small payments for articles. Not that I'm particularly lazy, but life is not all about work and wages. Another benefit of a small boat, especially an older boat like the Triton, is that your investment is small enough that you can more easily replace the entire boat if disaster strikes.

Part of how much you spend depends on what the cost of living is in the areas you cruise, but an even larger portion depends on the choices you make. Will you stay at marinas or anchor out? Eat at restaurants or onboard? Travel by plane to visit relatives or wait to see them until you finally sail home? Buy insurance for every conceivable threat or take your chances? Have a boat full of electronic gadgets that require frequent repair and replacement or become self-sufficient and choose only equipment that is essential and learn how to maintain it yourself? Will you buy imported foods that you are used to or learn how to use cheaper locally produced foods? Will you buy a new budget-busting inflatable dinghy every third year or knock something together out of plywood? The list of choices goes on and on, even to the little things like the crew giving each other haircuts to reusing washcloths for cleanups instead of buying paper towels. Mastering the art of frugal cruising means you have found how to live aboard independently and happily and perhaps even indefinitely.
This brings us back to choice of boat. A big boat is likely to cost so much that you feel compelled to buy boat insurance. A smaller, less expensive boat can be sailed without insurance and be replaced if needed through modest savings kept in reserve. For example, say I had 40K to get started cruising today. I'd rather self-insure by putting 20K into a bank CD and use it to buy another Triton-type boat if I lost mine than to buy a 40K boat and stay home working to pay for the insurance to replace it. My point is not to criticize those on bigger boats that have found a way to make it work for them. They're doing it and that's fine. My goal is to give the beginner - the undecided and inexperienced cruiser - another viewpoint to consider before getting in over his head financially. You did say you want to sail, not work, didn't you?

There is a Low Cost Voyaging forum which can help you with ideas on cutting costs. You can also read books for descriptions of how others cut their expenses. Pete and Annie Hill cover the subject in their book, Voyaging on a Small Income. Other books on the topic include, Sensible Cruising: The Thoreau Approach by Don Casey, Cost Conscious Cruiser, by Lin and Larry Pardey and many others. It's great if you can help support these authors, but I suppose the truly frugal sailor just borrows books from friends!

20 December 2010

10 Questions for Spetakkel

spetakkel1 Kjell O. Stave cruised through the Caribbean and South Pacific with Daryl from 2005-2008 aboard Spetakkel, an Ericson 29 built in 1973 and hailing from Farsund, Norway. You can read more on his website or send him an email (kjell72@gmail.com). Kjell says: I started out cruising with 14 hours experience in a 24 footer, my crew and friend had no experience at all. This was not a perfect scenario but with a lot of help and humble attitude towards tips/help from the fellow cruisers this was not really a problem.

Share a piece of cruising etiquette
Try to bring your own drink (sometimes food as well) when going to someone else’s boat for dinner. Most cruisers are on a budget.

What is something about the cruising culture you like and what is something you dislike?
The cruising culture is constantly evolving but the constant seems to be that people are always helpful and willing to help/share experiences and personal time. It is a lot harder for find something negative that is constant about the community, I really can’t think of anything right now

In your own experience and your experience meeting other cruisers, what are the common reasons people stop cruising?
I guess most of the people I met never really stopped cruising they simply took a break to work on refilling the cruising kitty or went home to reproduce themselves.

What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?
spetakkel3 Buy a new engine!, I had a great atomic 4 gasoline engine and although it was quite easy to fix, it broke down way to many times to be funny. It also used way too much gasoline. I don’t have experience with diesel engines but if you are going to cruise for 3 or more years I would have a good look at the engine and see if a new one (maybe electric?) would pay itself over the years in consumption or maintenance/stress.

What piece of gear seems to break the most often?
I think I would have to say the sails (except the engine of course) because I did not experience much else breaking more than once. At the same note I would like to brag of the Monitor self steering, it more or less worked perfectly for over 10.000 Nm.

What have been the most affordable area to cruise and the most expensive? What was affordable or expensive about each area?
At anchor, underway somewhere or wherever you are that is not in a marina will always be the cheapest but for provisioning Panama, Colombia or Ecuador will be your best bet in the Caribbean/Pacific. In the Pacific the Society Islands and Tahiti can be expensive but do stock up because this is that last stop where there is a choice until you reach Vanuatu. An interesting thing about French Polynesia is that if you stick to the staple French things like baguettes, cheese and wine you can live quite reasonable as they are the cheap items there.

Over the years, how much time do you think you spend at anchor, at marinas, sailing and motoring?
Anchor 80%, Marinas 3%, Sailing 15%, Motoring 2%

Was there anywhere you visited that you thought was underrated (better than you had heard)?
The Galapagos. It is hard to get permission etc to stay in the Galapagos islands for a long time but one month is not a long time there (they only give you ten days), stay as long as you can. It might be expensive to keep bribing the officials to be able to stay but it is worth it. If it get’s a bit dodgy try sailing to another port/island and feel out the new port captain (maybe say you have engine problems?).

spetakkel2With the benefit of hindsight, what are the boat selection criteria you would use to purchase a boat for long term cruising?
For me it is all about how much $$ I have but ideally I would have a closet for wet clothes immediately inside, new engine, hard dodger, wind vane or oversized autopilot, windlass that works, lots of chain, two solar panels and place to store 12 months of supplies when I find a cheap place to make provisioning.

What question do you wish I would have asked you besides the ones I've asked you and how would you answer it?
Where on the internet can you find a good list (easy to read not just a list) of the cruising guides that are available? I would not know.

Kjell was kind enough to answer two follow-up questions I posed to him:

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

I think I would have to say a water maker, I did just fine with my small tanks but in many places it was a pain to get water and some places almost impossible to find good tasting water. The water maker would also make my partner very happy as we would be able to take more and longer showers, wash clothes and maybe even the boat with the knowledge that we don't have to haul the water we use from a town supply somewhere. A water maker would also enable me to stay in places like the San Blas or other really great but remote places for longer periods of time.

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

It is more easy to say what I had than what I did not have. I had 4 gps's (two in the end), a bad engine, wind vane, depth sounder, two burner cook top, dingy with engine and all the necessary safety gear.

My philosophy was that I should leave with what I had and then buy along the way if I found that I really needed something. I had some money. My dilemma was not unlike a lot out there that once you have set sail and left your job behind the kitty will decide how long/far you can go. If I had spent 1000 dollars on a small radar I would have a radar but I would have had to go back home and work one month earlier than planned.

In the end I ended up purchasing nothing except a gas cook top instead of the alcohol one. I am an electrician and love all the new and old gadgets but I could never justify losing precious time from my sailing adventure for a gadget.

If I cast off and leave for distant shores again I would probably end up doing the same again, go simple and maybe you can go now!

16 December 2010


A few exciting upcoming events on the IWAC site:

- Perhaps it is the changing of seasons but I've received a flood of incoming interviews. For that reason, on occasional Thursdays I will post a second interview. At reader request, next week, two boats under 30 feet!

- Also at reader request, I am conducting just a few pilot interviews with newer cruisers which will be published on a new companion site: Newly Salted.

- Coming soon: Thanks to direct reader donations and also the trickle of revenue caused by your use of (or at least tolerance of) the ads on the sidebar, I will be posting a "liquid motivation" page to show you how those funds are being put to good use.

For those just joining the site, don't forget that you can sort the interviews by question, and suggest interviewees or questions. Also, the flyer has been updated to a tab format for posting in your community.

13 December 2010

10 Questions For Moonshadow

ms2 George Backhus and Merima Dzaferi cruise aboard Moonshadow, a Deerfoot 2-62, 62 feet hailing from Reno, Nevada, USA. George began cruising in 1994 and Merima in 2005. Since 1994, Moonshadow has traveled through the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, Hawaii, South Pacific, New Zealand, Australia, SE Asia, Indian Ocean, Red Sea, & Mediterranean Sea. Readers can find more information and contact details on their website.

Is there a place you visited where you wish you could have stayed longer?
Just about every place we've been!  We have enjoyed almost every place we've visited but the two places we most long to return to are Malaysia and Mexico.

Tell me your favorite thing about your boat
She meets our criteria of the "ultimate cruising yacht."  She is safe, comfortable, fast, and easy for the two of us to sail and maintain.  While every yacht is a compromise to some degree, we feel Moonshadow is less so than any yacht we  have seen in the same price range.

When you are offshore, what keeps you awake at night (that is, what worries you most)?
In normal conditions we worry about a collision with another object such as a container, unlit boat, reef or fishing net.  In heavy air, we worry about gear failure.

What is your favorite piece of boating related new technology?
Mobile broadband which allows us to access weather and other information and stay in touch when we're coastal cruising.  In most cases we can use Skype with our mobile.

What was the most affordable area you have cruised and the most expensive? What was affordable or expensive about each area?
The most affordable was SE Asia and the most expensive is the Med. Everything (marinas, food, diesel) was very affordable in SE Asia.  In the Med, marinas are very expensive.

What is your biggest lesson learned?
Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Where was your favorite place to visit and why?
Undoubtedly our favorite place to visit was Penang, Malaysia.  The marina wasn't too flash, but the town was fun, interesting and a delightful place to hang out.  If you go, don't miss the Friday & Saturday night buffet at the Eastern and Oriental Hotel.

What piece of gear seems to break the most often?
The autopilot.

What is something that you looked forward to about cruising when you were dreaming, that is as good or even better than imagined?
Seeing faraway places and experiencing different cultures.

ms1 What question do you wish I would have asked you besides the ones I've asked you and how would you answer it?
What are the five biggest mistakes made by novice cruisers?

The biggest problem for many of us when we start out cruising is that we are “unconsciously incompetent.” That is, we don’t know what we don’t know. We then must learn by making mistakes, watching other’s mistakes, or reading about other’s mistakes. This can end up costing a lot of money…or worse.

1. Buying the Wrong Yacht - The first and usually biggest mistake people make is buying the wrong yacht for the type of cruising they want to do. Many people step onto a yacht at a boat show or on the broker’s docks, pop down the companionway and fall in love with the interior of their cruising home while it is sitting placidly in flat water. Dreams of distant ports of call and the romance of sailing in tropical South Sea waters overtake all common sense, and all one wants to do is sign on the dotted line and sail away. Issues like sea berths, ventilation, galley layout, systems accessibility, storage, sail handling systems, safety and sea kindliness are farther from their minds than a South Pacific atoll.

Many production yachts available today are, at best, a very average compromise between racing and cruising. Once one buys the yacht and moves aboard, they soon discover that they just don’t have the storage space, if not proper layout, for long-term living and passaging. I can’t tell you how many people I have known who have purchased a yacht, then spent years of their time and loads of boat bucks (1 boat buck=$1,000) trying to make the boat work better for them. In the end, they may have spent more than if they had purchased the right boat in the first place.

I think the most practical solution is to do your homework before you even look at a yacht. I suggest one read as many books as possible on cruising and yacht design and then talk to as many cruisers as possible about what they like and dislike about their yachts. Armed with this information you should have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t, and then be able to choose the sort of cruising yacht that best suits your budget and requirements.

I spent nearly a year in research before I purchased Moonshadow. I found both Jimmy Cornell’s World Cruising Survey and Steve and Linda Dashew’s Offshore Cruising Encyclopedia immensely helpful. I also found numerous excellent articles in Cruising World, Sail, Ocean Navigator, Practical Sailor and Latitude 38 magazines.

From this, I developed a “must have” list of criteria for any yacht I would consider. In my particular case, they were:
1. Safety-minimum Category I offshore standard with watertight crash bulkheads fore and aft.
2. Minimum of 50′ for comfortable offshore passaging and long–term live aboard and gear storage.
3. Speed–must be capable of averaging 200 miles per day on passage–at least 50′ of waterline.
4. Short handed capability–must be able to single/double hand as well as mostly maintain myself. And NO TEAK DECKS!

For budgetary reasons, I went to the second-hand market to see what was available that met my criteria. At the time, there were three Deerfoots, and one Amel available. I chose the Deerfoot and, after nearly ten years and 55,000+ nautical miles of sailing, still think I made the right decision for my own requirements.

2. Not Being Thoroughly Familiar with Your Yacht Before Going Cruising - I was as guilty as anyone of this one. I purchased Moonshadow in Ft. Lauderdale in July of 1994 and immediately put her into a yard there to do some refitting. She needed a new engine, as well as maintenance and repair to many of her systems, as she had been lying unused for nearly two years. By the time I finished all the work that I needed to do, I had only had the chance to do five relatively easy day sails before departing Florida to sail to San Francisco. Wow, what a learning curve! Shortly after departing Dry Tortugas for Isla Mujeres, Mexico, we encountered a gale in the Gulf Stream. This was not the place to learn about reefing and heavy weather sailing on an unfamiliar yacht.

I have seen this many times with new cruisers. They are so busy getting the yacht prepared to go cruising, that they have not had time to go out and do any sailing. Some literally finish the last project the day that they leave. When they start cruising, they might encounter a less than favorable experience due to lack of knowledge of the yacht’s handling characteristics, not to mention gear failures due to lack of any proper shakedown.

I would suggest some local cruising before heading out on the “big cruise.” Sail the yacht in as many conditions as possible so you can become familiar with reefing, heaving to, sail handling in adverse conditions, night sailing, docking, anchoring, life under way, etc. Spend enough time on the hook to become familiar with all the systems you will need when you are not plugged into a marina, i.e. battery charging, refrigeration, water maker, windlass, dinghy and outboard, etc. You will also need to be familiar with all your electronics and communication gear before you head offshore. Reading the manual while attempting to program the weather fax when you are bashing into a gale just doesn’t cut it.

3. Making Changes to the Yacht without Cruising Experience - Making changes to your yacht before cruising it would be like altering your clothes without having ever put them on. Get out, sail the yacht, live on board for at least a few months to a year, and then start to formulate a list of what works and what needs improvement.

My good friend Jeff Erdmann, owner of Bollman Yachts in Ft. Lauderdale and the person who sold Moonshadow to me, gave me this bit of advice. He suggested that I make only the repairs necessary to sail her to San Francisco. Once I had gotten there, I would be in a much better position to figure out what I would alter or improve. I can tell you that after three months and nearly 6000 ocean miles, my mindset changed dramatically from when I was in Ft. Lauderdale. He saved me lots of money, because a lot of things that didn’t quite seem right in the marina made a whole lot more sense when I put to sea and did some cruising. I also discovered a few things that I had not even considered until I spent some time at sea and on the hook.

4. Some Cruisers Haven’t Taken the Time to Learn Basic Maintenance- If you don’t maintain a yacht, it will wear out faster or break, usually when you least expect it, and probably when you are at the furthest point from where you can get it fixed. I think Murphy loves messing about on yachts! I like to joke that cruising is just “extensive repair and maintenance in beautiful and exotic places.” That said, if you spend just a few hours a week on maintenance, you are less likely to have to spend days or weeks stuck in some third-world hellhole while you await parts or make major repairs.

I have always been pretty handy, and owned another yacht for 13 years before I purchased MOONSHADOW, so I was pretty familiar with the drill. On the other hand, a full-fledged cruising yacht has many systems on board that aren’t found on a day/weekend sailor. It is important to become familiar with all the systems on your yacht. If you don’t know how they work or how to maintain them, get an expert in to do the work and at the same time show you how. You can also get lots of good information about systems from books like Nigel Calder’s Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual.

I also suggest you keep all the manuals for all your on board equipment handy. Mine are organized in three binders that I keep handy at the nav station. It’s also important to have a scheduled maintenance checklist for your yacht’s systems. I use the Cap’n Administration program to keep track of everything.Proper maintenance and a bit of D.I.Y. (do it yourself) repair capabilities, along with a reasonable inventory of spares can mean the difference between pleasurable cruising and costly, inconvenient and possibly dangerous breakdowns.

5. Waiting till the Last Minute to Organize One’s Affairs before Going Cruising - Many people seem to wait till the very last minute to get their personal and/or business affairs in order before sailing off in to the sunset. I’ve seen people trying to rent or sell their home, flog off the car and sort out other affairs with just a week to go before they depart. This invariably adds to the stress level already imposed by a significant lifestyle change, and can also lead to errors in judgment in the handling of one’s affairs, if not the yacht.

If you have your affairs sorted out a few months before your planned departure date, your mind will be free to focus on getting yourself and your yacht ready for the upcoming cruise, as well as to enjoy some quality time with the friends and loved ones who will remain behind.

06 December 2010

10 Questions For Nine Of Cups

NOC UNDERWAY David & Marcie Lynn have been cruising since 2000 aboard Nine of Cups, a  Liberty 458 cutter - 45'/14M  hailing from Denver, CO, USA. Since 2000 they have cruised the East coast US and maritime Canada, Bahamas, Caribbean, 2 Panama Canal transits, circumnavigation of South America including Patagonian canals, Tierra del Fuego, Cape Horn, etc., Cape Town, South Africa and two trans-Atlantic crossings, South Atlantic islands of Tristan de Cunha, St. Helena and Ascension, trans-Pacific from Puerto Montt, Chile to Opua, NZ with ports of call at Juan Fernandez Island, Easter Island, Pitcairn Island,  French Polynesia, Cook Islands including Suwarrow Atoll, Niue and Tonga. You can find out more on their website, blog, or through email (nineofcups1@yahoo.com).

Over the time that you have been cruising, has the world of cruising changed?
Not considerably. For instance, internet and ATMs were available back in 2000 which are two big pluses for cruisers, but sometimes access in remote places was very limited. Access has improved over the past few years. We've still found places without ATMs (e.g. the Gambiers, Tristan, Pitcairn), but wifi seems available about everywhere now, even on the boat.

What is your favorite piece of boating related new technology?
Chartplotter...It's not all that new as far as technologygoes, just new to us as of 2 years ago and we love it.

Is there anywhere you sailed to that was a disappointment?
No.  Some places are not as fun as others or as interesting, but each place has its own charm and allure if you take the time and effort to find it.

When have you felt most in danger and what was the source?
We feel uncomfortable during storms sometimes. We hit a rock coming out of an anchorage in Tierra del Fuego, far from any other boat or port and felt some concern. Though we've had our share of mishaps and bad weather, we rarely feel we're in extreme danger. We work at staying calm and coming up with solutions and ways of handling  the situation.

What type of watch schedule do you normally use while offshore?
3 hours on/3 hours off from 9pm-9am, then a loose schedule during daylight hours with someone always in the cockpit.

With the benefit of hindsight, what are the boat selection criteria you would use to purchase a boat for long term cruising?
We've lived aboard for 11 years  and not regretted buying “Nine of Cups” after 60,000 miles of sailing. Heavy displacement (she's 20+ tons); modified full keel; 45' is roomy enough for two people and can still be handled by two people without extra crew; lots of lockers and stowage space; easy access to engine;

What do you miss about living on land?
Proximity to relatives and old friends; a garden; space for more “stuff”

Have you found "trade goods" to be useful on your cruise? If so, what kinds?
Depending upon where you sail, different items are of interest to the locals. In the San Blas Islands of Panama, for instance, reading glasses and sewing needles were of particular interest. In the Cook Islands, “Crocs” were a hot item, along with fishing hooks and gear. Cigarettes, wine, liquor (small bottles of rum purchased in Central/South America) are always welcome trade and gift items with fishermen. Children's clothes are always welcome. Typically, we received fresh veggies, fish and local crafts.
Was there anywhere you visited that you thought was overrated (not as good as you had heard)?
Again, a place is what you make it. Things change; places change; people change. I think we don't go to a place with high expectations. We make our cruising itinerary choices carefully based on what we're interested in doing and seeing and we do quite a bit of research in advance using lots of different sources. We particularly like the SSCA Bulletin for real cruiser stories versus sailing magazines which tend to glorify  experiences.

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

Why do you cruise?

Because we can. Because we love to travel and experience new countries and cultures. We'd never have the same experiences if we just flew to a place and stayed the usual couple of weeks.  Because we think cruising affords us the opportunity to experience one of the last freedoms available to people. Because we like being off the beaten track. Because we like being more conscious of nature and our natural surroundings; Because we like being as self-sufficient as possible. A perfect day for us  is catching a fish for dinner (sushi...so no propane-use/cooking required); enough wind on a broad reach to sail in the right direction; enough wind and solar so we don't have to start the engine to recharge the batteries.

29 November 2010

10 Questions for Raven

raven1 Jan & Signe Twardowski cruised from 1999 - 2005 aboard Raven, a Sundeer 64 hailing from Gig Harbor, Washington. They cruised Alaska, British Columbia, US West Coast, Mexico, Marquesas, Tuamotus, Tahiti & Society Islands, Rarotonga, Niue, Tonga, New Zealand, & Fiji. Readers can find more information on their website or by contacting them via email (jands@ravencruise.com).

What is your most common sail combination on passage?
Single-reefed mainsail (1,000 square feet without the reef, a handful) and 150% code-zero/reacher. But we also had the asymmetric chute up for five days and nights on the 15-day passage from Mexico to the Marquesas, and used it on other passages as well. We often found ourselves tacking downwind in light apparent wind, needing as much sail area as possible.

How did you (or did you) gain offshore experience prior to leaving?
We had no true offshore/bluewater experience before departing Puerto Vallarta for Hiva Oa in March 2002. We did have coastal sailing experience, sailing from Gig Harbor (near Seattle) down the West Coast to San Francisco and south as far as Zihuatenejo. We had to cope with plenty of wind off that coast at various times, and in fact the highest winds we saw throughout our cruising years -- 45 knots -- were 20 miles off the capes of northern California. Oh wait, I take that back . . . we had 50 knots while tied to the dock in the Bayswater Marina (affectionately known as Blowswater) in Auckland Harbor!

raven3 Describe a "typical day" at anchor on your boat
Mornings, if there was no shore hike, dive, or tourist visit planned, usually involved projects like changing the engine or generator oil, backwashing the watermaker, diving to clean the prop and shaft, replacing yet another broken pump, and so on. The adage that "cruising is fixing your boat in exotic places" is no joke. Then, if we were anchored near a village or town, both of us might pile into the dinghy with our canvas ice bag collection and head for the local market or -- joy of joys -- a supermarket. Friends back home who asked the inevitable "Whaddya do all day?" question were always shocked that food shopping always involved both of us for several hours of bus rides, lugging full ice bags, dinghy rides, bus rides, and removing cardboard to avoid bugs, and so on. Or maybe the dinghy trip into town was to schlep bags of laundry if we happened to be fortunate enough to find a laundromat. Signe says she often thought she should write an article about "Laundries I Have Known."

Afternoons tended to be more relaxed: swimming, reading, writing emails or website entries, or organizing photos. We found that cruising was pretty social, with someone often inviting the anchorage over to their boat for drinks in the evening. Where else in the world can you organize a 6pm party by making an announcement on the VHF at 5:30, and not have to do anything to prepare because everyone knows to bring their own drinks and a nibble to share? And at night when the propagation was good there might be a ham radio net to check into. It gets dark early in the tropics, so lights were usually out pretty early.

What is your impression of the cruising community?
We found that cruisers, at least in Mexico and the South Pacific islands, were surprisingly social and community-oriented. After being part of it for a couple of years, we wrote on our website what appeared to be the tenets of "The Cruiser's Code": 
- We have no plans and we're sticking to them.
- No one has a last name; your boat name is your last name.
- No one ever asks the old cocktail party question: "Whaddya do?" It's a bit like the French Foreign Legion, and no one cares who you are or what you used to be.
- Everyone needs a little help sometimes, and everyone pitches in to help those with boat problems. If you can fix autopilots or refrigeration, you're going to be the cruisers' hero.  
- Respect the local people, which is part of the "leave a clean wake" ethos.

raven6Is there something you wish you had bought or installed before starting cruising?
No. In fact we had too much gear installed. Inmarsat C and Mini M turned out to be expensive and not useful, a waste of money and effort. If you want a sat phone, Iridium is hard to beat at a buck or so a minute, from anywhere on the planet. Phoning Mom from mid-ocean, when you haven't seen land for weeks, is a kick for everyone. Oh, and the Interphase forward-looking "sonar" could only be used when moving at about one knot in flat water and over very short ranges -- not very helpful when we smacked a couple of coral heads in Tonga's Ha'apai Group.

One item we highly recommend is the hardware to download NOAA weather images directly to your laptop as the satellites pass overhead: it's getting cheaper all the time, and nothing was more valuable for our passage planning than up-to-the-minute infrared and visible light images.

While cruising, what do you do about health & boat insurance, medical issues, banking and mail delivery?
We were able to stay in Jan's company's medical plan after he retired, but had to pay the full premium: expensive, but comforting. But in fact, we found that good medical care was a bargain in Mexico and New Zeland, both times we needed it. We were lucky enough to have our boat insurer continue our coverage when we went cruising, after we made a detailed written case why we had enough experience, training, and preparation. Our mail was sorted by our house sitter, and she gave the bills to our banker, who emailed the payment list for our approval. The wonders of dealing with a hometown bank. We cleared up the rest of the mail on trips home once or twice a year.

raven7 What was the most affordable area to cruise and the most expensive? What was affordable or cheap about each area?
Mexico  can be amazingly cheap, as long as you anchor out. And French Polynesia is unbelievably expensive -- you might as well be in Paris. New Zealand was a nice bargain when we were there (2002-2004), but it might be less so now with the US dollar's slide.

Marinas on Mexico's West Coast are even more expensive than in San Diego, which is saying something, but otherwise it was cheap. We enjoyed the Mexican people, had wonderful meals for low prices, and never had any security issues. French Polynesia, on the other hand, has higher-than-European prices in the South Pacific. The only things cheap there are the delicious and heavily subsidized French baguettes. How about paying $9 for a few lettuce leaves on Fakarava atoll, when were were becoming desperate, not having seen fresh vegetables since Mexico two months earlier? That week we held movie night in Raven's cockpit, and three couples dinghied over to watch "When Harry Met Sally". At a key point in the film, one of the livelier women burst out: "The hell with the sex, I want that salad she's eating!" By the time you get to Tahiti, the Carrefour "hypermarket" in Papeete is an exquisite sensory overload, but you need careful budgeting to afford groceries. If money gets tight, move along to Rarotonga, which has New Zealand-level prices.

Do you have any specific advice for couples cruising?
raven2. Yes. The most important element of successful couple-cruising is the personal relationship. Before we left, a couple of Jan's male friends simply could not get their minds around the idea that we could survive being together for years at a time, cooped up on a boat the size of a living room. We knew -- well, we were pretty sure -- from many years of chartering overseas and cruising the Pacific Northwest in our own boat -- that'd we'd be fine. So be sure to try out the intense "togetherness" on your boat long before you commit to going cruising full time. We also never said "We're going to sail across the Pacific to New Zealand." There are so many reasons that cruises get cut short that it just seemed to us like tempting fate to make declarations like that. It was family health issues that brought us home, when we would happily have cruised for a few more years, to Vanuatu, Australia, and Asia.

What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?
Signe: That we'd survive!

What question do you wish I would have asked you besides the ones I've asked you and how would you answer it?
Yes, a question on sailing your boat well, especially downwind.

It's critically important to know how to make your boat go as fast as it possibly can in all conditions. Very few cruisers think a shorthanded ocean passage is a relaxing picnic in the park. After a few days of keeping 24 hour watches, you're deeply fatigued, sometimes dangerously so, with no way to recover. You just want to GET THERE, as quickly as possible, so you can have a good night's sleep and stop walking like a drunk in your pitching home afloat. So the best advice we can give prospective cruisers is to get lots of sailing practice in your own boat. Local informal races are probably the best way, especially if you can get an experienced racer to crew and give you a lot of pointers on sail combinations and trim. The main cruising routes of the world are mostly downwind, often with modest breezes, so it's critical to be able to hoist enough sail area to go fast off the wind. It's not enough to just pole out a jib or two and head straight downwind: that's slow and incredibly rolly in any sort of seaway. An asymmetric chute, a big overlapping lightweight genoa, there are lots of ways to get it done, but you need to have the right sails for your boat before you depart. And you need to know how to use them best.

22 November 2010

10 Questions for Do It

Angus & Ruth Ross-Thomson have been cruising aboard ‘Do It…’ since April 2005. Do It is a steel cutter rigged monohull, a Subrero Petit Prince, 12.5 metres (41ft), hailing from Portsmouth, UK. They have completd three quarters of a circumnavigation via the milk run (Europe – Caribbean – Panama – Pacific Islands – NZ/Australia) and are currently in Indonesia heading for Malaysia and Thailand. You can read more about them, warts and all, on their website.

What is the most important attribute for successful cruising?
Angus: For the crew, a team who has confidence and pride in each other, for the boat, a vessel in which the crew has confidence and pride.

Ruth: The ability to slow down.

Most cruisers have come from the world of work, where time pressures dominate. When cruising, the only schedule which must be followed is the change of the seasons – avoiding the cyclones/hurricanes. There is no need to dash between anchorages at full speed. If the wind eases, try sailing slowly. It is permissible to progress at less than 5k. It isn’t a race.

The clearance procedures on many islands are tortuous, long-winded, and may not appear completely relevant to sailing yachts. However, getting stressed and abusive to officials just ruins everyone’s day. Sit back. Relax. OK, the clearance process might take all day – so what?

What are some of your favorite pieces of gear on your boat and why?
Angus: The Aries wind vane.  It has reliably and uncomplainingly steered the boat for tens of thousands of miles at apparent wind speeds down to 3-4 kts with nothing more than the odd squirt of WD40, the odd new bush and some new control lines.

Ruth: Looking at my list of three pieces of gear, I realise they all provide us with an increased independence.

Sailrite sewing machine - These machines have a well-deserved reputation, being able to stitch through a dozen layers of acrylic canvas or sailcloth. The Sailrite has helped us save money by avoiding the dockside sail makers (some of whom are excellent, others are decidedly less so), however where it really scores is on passage and in remote islands where there is no sail maker. On several occasions the machine has been brought on deck to fix splits or tears. Without the Sailrite, we’d have been faced with long, long periods of hand sewing.

Aries wind vane - The Aries windvane is our stalwart third crew member, he never complains about steering 24 hours a day, requires no food (or electricity), and only asks for the occasional new retaining pin. The Aries has even taught us how to trim our sails better.

Pactor modem - The Pactor modem, linking our SSB and laptop, has enabled us to keep in touch with friends and family even when we are mid ocean. Of course it also enables us to access the info necessary for the business of sailing – weather forecasts.

What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you didn't find to be true?
Angus:  “To cruise, it is essential that you have...”.  Before we set off. we kept reading about all sort of things that were essential, watermakers, generators, RIBs, huge outboards, biminis, electronic chart plotters, various hull types, various rigs.  The most important things would appear to be a reliable boat, a good crew and a sense of fun and adventure.

Ruth: The nastiest shock at the end of the Pacific Ocean crossing was discovering that prices in New Zealand and Australia were certainly not similar to those in Pamama – as one leading cruising guide had indicated.

When have you felt most in danger and what was the source?
Angus:  Being rammed while we were at anchor by a short sighted 300 tonne tourist cruise vessel in Puerto Ayora harbour, Galapagos.  Just before impact my main fear was that the hull would be stove in and we would loose the rig as the impact point was around amidships by the upper stays. I was wondering how in heck we were going to fix the damage out here in the middle of the Pacific.  Fortunately being a steel boat, she took the impact in her stride, keeled over 40 degrees and bounced back with no damage other than bent stanchions and broken guard wires.  I still don’t understand why the rig was not damaged.  The ship’s Captain was most apologetic and offered to pay for the damage.  We were on our way 5 days later.

Ruth: During a passage from Tonga to New Zealand, we found ourselves in the path of a tightening depression, along with several other yachts. The radio scheds were alive with news from vessels which had already started to feel the effects of the increasing winds, with over 60k being reported. The anticipation of “violent storm” force winds left me terrified, despite assurances from my husband that the synoptic charts just didn’t support such conditions.

As the system passed, the winds never exceeded 35k. I have learnt that whilst the radio can be used to provide support and assistance, it also encourages the predilection of many cruisers to spread bad news.

What type of watch schedule do you normally use while offshore?
Angus:  For the two of us, 3 hours on, 3 hours off, 24 hours a day.  The changeover timings (0100, 0400, 0700, 1000, etc) are based on my wife being on watch during the BBC radio soap opera “The Archers” so she could listen in when we were in the UK.  We haven’t seen the need to change the timings since.

Ruth: We always use a 3 on, 3 off watch system, with my watches starting at 0700, 1300, 1900 and the dreaded 0100. We find this works well for providing a shared time for lunch and supper.

What are your impressions of the cruising community?
Angus:  Generally, a varied, community spirited, wonderful people.  There are the odd exceptions but they are a small minority.

Ruth:  The cruising community is as diverse as those individuals who make it up. There are those who are happy spending decades exploring one area, and those set on circumnavigating within two years, there are those who hop from one full service marina to another, and those who spend years at anchor. There is no “right” way to cruise.

We find that as the density of yachts in an area increases, the camaraderie decreases. I guess this reflects the difference between village and city living.

In general, we find the cruising community to be extremely supportive. Need a widget? Need advice? A call on the VHF will usually bring an answer.

Finish this sentence. "Generally when I am provisioning..."
Angus:  “…we try to have plenty of treats.”

Ruth: “… I am happy”

Firstly there is the monster shopping trip required to fill the lockers before departing on a long passage, working through the six page list of stores, filling multiple supermarket trolleys, and then trying to figure out how to get everything out to the boat.

Then there’s the first trip to the supermarket in a new country. Not looking for what you can buy at home, but seeking out the weird and unknown. Why not buy a can of “Sweat” instead of “Coke”? It may turn out to be your new favourite drink.

Finally there are the produce markets, where a little of the local language goes a long way with the village ladies. OK the produce may not look as shiny and uniformly shaped as it does in supermarkets, but boy does it taste good.

Was there anywhere you visited that you thought was underrated (better than you had heard)?
Angus:  The south coast of Cuba.  Wonderful friendly people, music, dance, cars, buildings and officials (if you treat them with respect).  The Government tourist industry (including the compulsory marinas sadly) is overpriced and of poor quality, you just need to use some imagination to keep away from the official system

Ruth: Top of the list must be Cuba. Haven’t you heard about the officials and the paperwork???

Yes, there were many forms to fill in, but all officials came to our boat with smiles, and all brought an assistant to fill in the paperwork. An afternoon for chat and formalities was rewarded with a complimentary Cuba Libre (rum & coke) from the marina. 
The music, people & culture of Cuba is unique, and certainly worth the effort of half a day of paperwork.

Of the changes, choices and compromises you had to make along the way, which were you happiest and most satisfied about, which do you wish you had chosen otherwise and why?
Angus:  We were happiest about keeping the boat simple and not buying all the latest gizmos and toys.  The one mistake was the fitting of a PSS carbon face seal propellor shaft seal.  We could never get it to seal properly and removed after three months to fit a Volvo shaft seal which has performed faultlessly for 5 years since.

Ruth: Change/choice/compromise happiest with? The choice of yacht for extended cruising is the ultimate compromise. We opted for a steel yacht, thereby sacrificing speed for security. It would be nice to cruise at 7k in a light breeze, however when hitting semi-submerged logs at speed, in the dark, the security of steel is unbeatable. We have met a steel yacht which had spent weeks grinding on a remote reef, awaiting a rescue tow. The boat didn’t look pretty after the experience, but it was afloat and the crew were safe.

Change/choice/compromise wish chosen otherwise? We elected to visit Australia for a season to undertake some extensive metal repair work. We didn’t do sufficient research, and discovered that prices, regulations and weather were all against us. A better decision would have been to continue on to Malaysia or Thailand and undertake the work there.

What question do you wish I would have asked you besides the ones I've asked you and how would you answer it?  
Angus:  “What is your top tip?”.  Keep the boat simple and inexpensive and go as soon as possible.  A disadvantage of this approach is that the endless cruiser conversations about how to fix/get spares for the generator/watermaker/chartplotter, air conditioning, etc will be very dull and of no interest.

Ruth: “How have you made the transition back to “normal” life?”  In 2-3 years time, we will be returning to the UK and will need to make the transition back to jobs, houses, and two-week summer holidays. Much is written about how to prepare for setting off, little about how to return. I have no answer to this question – but would love to know how others have coped with the transition.

15 November 2010

10 Questions for Bondi Tram

BondiTram Bondi Tram is a Beneteau Cyclades 50.3' (15.67m) hailing from Sydney, Australia. Peter and Sandra Colquhuon have been cruising aboard since 2004 through SE Asia,  the Indian Ocean, Red Sea, Mediterranean, and Atlantic. You can find more information about them on their blog.

They say: “We bought our boat new and had to make a lot of decisions about what to add to the basic boat for cruising.  While I think (as a novice) I did a reasonable job, there are a number of things I would now like to have done. However, this is a wish list, and we have managed very well without them: furling reacher instead of asymmetric spinnaker and sock, feathering propeller, 120 litres per hour watermaker instead of 60 litres per hour , wind generator and solar panels, and powered jib furler.”

What piece of gear seems to break the most often?
We have had several breakages, but none seem to be repeating frequently.  Breakages/failures include:
- Burnt out starter motor (with 80 hours on the engine!).  Fixed by a Thai guy who took it way, rewound it and delivered it back in two hours, for $20!  And it still works perfectly!
- Burnt out engine starter solenoid points (fixed in 10 minutes in an automotive shop in the back streets of Aden)
- Seized windlass causing windlass motor to burn out (rewound in Malaysia, still going strong)
- Spinnaker halyard snapped, Indian Ocean
- Jib halyard snapped, Indian Ocean
- Main halyard snapped, Croatia (all these halyards were less than 3 years old).
At one stage we were going through an excessive amount of generator impellers, but that may have been caused by a bad batch of impellers as we are going much better now...touch wood.

When have you felt most in danger and what was the source?
We were motoring in the Sea of Marmara on the way to Istanbul.  The wind got up, and we put the sails up and started to heel.  Fortunately, Sandra went below at that point and found a lot of salt water in the cabin..the bilge boards on the lee side were starting to float!  I started the motor and dropped the sails and went below to find the source of the leak.  I had trouble getting in to the aft starboard cabin because a floating bilge board was blocking the door.  The water was halfway up the batteries.  Sandra operated the bilge pump, but I realised quite quickly that now the boat was up upright, the water had stopped coming in and I soon found the problem.

We had turned one head into a laundry with a washing machine.  We removed the head, put in a platform, and t-barred the washing machine intake to the sink/shower tap.  For the outlet, we use the toilet water intake hose.  The toilet outlet was not used, and was just lying inside the cupboard below the sink.

Normally we turn all the sea-cocks in the laundry off, but the unused toilet outlet sea-cock, the biggest pipe, had inadvertently been turned on.  When we were motoring, all was fine, but as soon as we heeled, the pipe was below water and in it gushed.

So we were nearly sunk by a washing machine! If Sandra had not gone below when she did, I reckon the starboard batteries would have been under water in another 2 or 3 minutes.
No damage was done, I just spent a day cleaning up with fresh water
While cruising, what do you do about health & boat insurance, medical issues, banking and mail delivery?
Most of our regular expenses are handled with automatic payments.  ATMs and internet access has made managing financial affairs relatively easy compared with the past.  All our mail gets delivered to our daughter, but with email there is very little snail mail any more for her to worry about.  She is an accountant and takes care of our tax returns as well.

Across a year, what do you spend the most money on while cruising?
Food, fuel, insurance, tourist activities, airfares home for the winter and maintenance.  We spent relatively little time in marinas in the Mediterranean, apart from two winters. Both times we went home to Sydney for the winter.

Describe a "typical day" at anchor on your boat
A lot of that depends on what part of the world you are in.  In the Mediterranean, at nearly every anchorage we spend part of the day ashore sightseeing.  During the summer we were on the move a lot, and any time we spent in one place we did washing and boat chores.

How did you (or did you) gain offshore experience prior to leaving?
We raced a dinghy on Sydney Harbour for many years.  To get bigger boat experience, we bought a yacht and put it in charter with Sunsail in the Whitsunday Islands.  We went on the ferry trip from Sydney to Hamilton Island with the ferry crew and this was our first big experience.

Our arrangement with Sunsail gave us 4 weeks use of the boat every year, as well as 'swapping time' at other Sunsail bases. This allowed us to spend 2 weeks a year in the Whitsundays, and another 2 weeks at various Sunsail locations - for example we cruised in Thailand, French Polynesia (twice), Tonga, and  from Auckland to the Bay of Islands.

What do you miss about living on land?
Not a lot really.

Finish this sentence. "Generally when I am provisioning..."
...I leave it to Sandra!  She does an excellent job and we mostly eat on board.  If we go to a restaurant, it's more for entertainment than the food.

Sandra keeps a spreadsheet of stores, which is handy for long passages.  In the med, you can shop every day if you want.

The longest we have been between supermarkets was 10 days .. Phuket, Thailand to Male in the Maldives.  Of course, with the Atlantic and Pacific coming up, I guess we will be a bit longer between shops.

What question do you wish I would have asked you besides the ones I've asked you and how would you answer it?
What can you expect as a cruiser?

Always expect the UNEXPECTED...whether its weather or breakages, you cannot assume that things will remain as they are!  Take care where when you anchor, make sure you power set....think about what might happen if 40 knots of wind arrives at 2  in the morning!

12 November 2010

You spoke. I listened.

...and I acted.

Last week I asked for your opinions on the question bank and I asked what type of interviewees you would like to see and for suggestions on where to find those types of cruisers.

Regarding questions, I'm going to assume that the fact that no one responded to this issue means that they are good as is for now. That's great.

Regarding types of people to interview, by email and comments to that post, I heard two major suggestions:
  1. Cruisers on budget and/or in smaller boats.
  2. Newer cruisers (< 2 years) with the caveat that these would either need to be on a separate site or marked clearly somehow so that they don't defeat the purpose of having experienced cruisers answer questions.
Here is what I'm doing:
  1. Renewed my efforts to track down smaller/budget cruisers. Since the first day I started this project, I've been trying very hard to find budget cruisers in smaller boats. What I've found is that they are extremely difficult to track down. There seem to be fewer of them "out there" (the average boat size is increasing) and those that are out there seem to be more likely to not have an online presence (website/blog) and to have a shorter than 2 year cruise. With that being said, I've sent a bunch of emails following  up on some more leads and am renewing my efforts to try to find these cruisers. I have an interview in this category coming out on December 20th. I think once my husband and I sail South this summer I will meet more of these people in person and have a better chance of finding them. If you can think of anyone in this category, please do suggest them. I can only ask people and I can only ask people I can find - there are limits to my powers as a non-paying site.
  2. I'm mulling this one over. I think it is an excellent suggestion. Because I'm doing this for free*, in my free time, while I'm cruising myself, I need to make sure that this site stays on the fun side of the fun-to-suck ratio for me and for that reason I don't want to bite off more than I can chew. Still, I love the idea so I'm considering it and even have a few ideas on how to make it a fun occasional add on to this site without diluting the initial purpose. What I have done in the meantime while I'm mulling over options is to add 3 questions to the bank which I've already started sending out to interviewees: In your own experience and your experience meeting other cruisers, what are the common reasons people stop cruising? / In your first year of cruising, what transitions did you find the most difficult? / What mistakes did you make in your first year of cruising?

Also, please remember that once I "act" it can take months for those interviews to appear on the website. First, there is a back-and-forth email chain between two sets of people who are both traveling which can take months. Then, once I have their interview I try to keep a backlog of 2 months of interviews ready in advance so the new interview won't see the front page for weeks or months after I have it in hand.

Thank you very much to everyone who responded on the post and those who emailed me directly with your feedback. I appreciate your time and involvement. For those people that gave specific suggestions on cruisers to ask, thank you - I will have looked into each one by the end of the week.

*actually, with the Google ads you readers have to put up with, I'm probably earning a pint or two a month. I like to measure progress in frosty cold ones.

08 November 2010

10 Questions for Sea Life

sealife5 Sea Life is a Beneteau Oceanis 393 (39 feet/ 11.62 meters) captained by Mark Jensen and hailing from Sydney, Australia. Nicolle Jean completed the first 25,000nm and has since returned home. Sea Life was purchased in April 2008 in the Caribbean and has since cruised from the Caribbean, through the Pacific, Australia,. Asia, Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, Mediterranean, and Atlantic.  Mark will complete Sea Life’s circumnavigation at the end of 2010 in the Caribbean and then plans to do it again – slowly. More information and contact details can be found on the website.

With the benefit of hindsight, what are the boat selection criteria you would use to purchase a boat for long term cruising?
We were extremely lucky to be able to buy a production boat ex-charter. Production boats have put good cruising boats at a price-point low enough so many people can set off, and ex-charter boats are even cheaper.

sealife2 We love our long ocean passages and I have just finished my first 1,500nms solo and have a 3,000nm single hander coming up so cruising boats need a great emphasis on the living attributes. Our boat has a kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms, headroom and storage. We didn’t want some ‘sailors’ boat with galley, heads, bilges and black holes.

So look to lifestyle and how the boat will let you achieve it. The only major thing that would be truly wonderful would be a big watermaker.

Cruising is about visiting exotic places, but there is a sheer enjoyment to be had when on a voyage with more than a thousand miles to go and a thousand already covered. Every moment at sea is a wonder we are so lucky to experience in comfort, dryness and with great hot food and ice cool drinks.

What is something about the cruising culture you like and what is something you dislike?
I love the comradeship and the help given by the cruising folks. What goes around comes around so you better be willing to help everyone else too.

There are very few grumble bunnies on boats. Pretty well anyone will ask you aboard for a cup of tea and have an interesting story to tell.

sealife1Describe a "typical day" at anchor on your boat
I have a set work roster. Only one hour per day boat work. Lots of days off too! The rest is for leisure. If I can’t maintain my boat in 365 hours per year then I need to work smarter, faster and harder within the time given. 

What else happens is dependant on location. If it’s a good provisioning port then stock up and get out. If the transports good we just jump on a bus to anywhere – and hope we can find the one back…

What did you do to make your dream a reality?
By stopping dreaming and setting achievable goals.

After the goal was set we were on our own boat cruising within 14 months.

If you set a goal and associated deadline the things that can hinder it will fall by the wayside. I just keep my eye on the goal.

Describe a perfect cruising moment that will make cruisers-to-be drool with anticipation
sealife3We had arrived at an anchorage 2 days previous and this morning I woke early stretching as I climbed the companionway into the cockpit I thought I heard a snuffling sound. Wiping my sleepy eyes I quietly went aft and looked over onto the swim platform to be greeted by two eyes!  Big, soft eyes of our very own Sea Lion pup! Quickly waking Nicolle we went and watched our Sea Lion. A few weeks later as we pulled up the anchor and motored out our pup swam after us imploring us to stay just a little longer. The Galapagos Islands captured our hearts forever.

Can you think of a sailing tip (e.g., sail trim, sail combination) specific to offshore passages (e.g., related to swells)?
The Red Sea is a notorious 1,000 nms with a strong wind right on the nose. When headwinds get too strong just pinch the boat a bit far to windward. The boat speed falls off, the motion becomes more comfortable and it’s a bit more relaxing. The leeway increases but that’s OK. You’re not hove to and still headed in the right direction.

What piece(s) of gear would you leave on the dock next time? Why?
Any piece of paper that appears to look like a chart. Go electronic with backups. We have 3 plotters with 3 GPS units on 3 battery systems.

Do you have any specific advice for couples cruising?
Funny you should ask that because Nicolle has just gone home to take a ‘normal’ job to achieve some of her other goals.

sealife4 I think our 2 ½ years cruising through some difficult situations such as Cyclone Hamish ( a Category 5 Cyclone/Hurricane) and the Gulf of Aden ‘Pirate Alley’ past Somalia, has given her the courage to know she can do anything in life. One thing she wants is a farm – with lots of animals. We can have that together in 10 or 15 years time, but this way she can achieve it herself in the next 2 or 3 years.

Being on watch alone and at night guiding us and protecting us with courage and tenacity has earned her the right to say: “I need to leave Sea Life to achieve my other goals”.

One thing younger people should take note is that most cruisers are retirees and to find people of different age groups is not easy. Nic was 25 when we started 27 at the end and her cruising friends were splattered across the oceans and not close enough to give her ‘girl time’ - the simple ability to go shopping or having coffee and a natter with another girl her age.

For many our brains need more than a boat supplies, perhaps prior to cruising taking course in history, geography, biology or photography would be good. Even keep a study regime and do courses while aboard.
Even now I sail past a bird or dolphin and I don’t know what type it is, where its from, how it breeds…. I’m cruising, but I need to be learning more.

What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you didn't find to be true?
sealife6 Yes, almost everything we hear from cruisers is wrong! “Your boat will be crushed in the Panama Canal!” ,“You can’t visit the Galapagos unless your engine has broken down” , “There’s no free anchorages near Cannes in France!”

Don’t be afraid, just have faith that you’ll receive better information as you get closer. Or just arrive – you will find someone happily there before you.

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

Why have you done your circumnavigation so quickly? Only 2 ½ years you must have missed a lot?

Our plan was to do one fast one and one slow one. The first lap gives an overview of the world and the second can be spent lingering in the really great places.

Many cruisers have been on their voyage for 10 years or more but I can’t wait a decade to see everything. I want it all and I want it now! The first one is nearly completed there is so much more to see and I better not slow down too much – there’s all South America, North America and a few more Mediterranean visits in the next few years. Then a slow one through the Pacific…. Then…. Southern Africa?