28 June 2010

10 Questions for Tackless II

Gwen Hamlin & Don Wilson cruise aboard Tackless II, a CSY 44 Walk-thru, 44' cutter hailing from St. Thomas, USVI. Gwen spent 1988 - 1990 as a dive instructor and first mate on a liveaboard dive boat, 1991 - 1999 as owner/operator/captain/chef of Whisper, a dive/sail charter yacht in the Virgins Islands (including several down island trips) and 1999 - 2009 cruising aboard sv Tackless II. Over they years they cruised the Virgin Islands, Eastern Caribbean, Southern Carribbean, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Galapagos, Cocos, Panama again, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Mexico West Coast including two summers in the Sea of Cortez, and then five years across the Pacific to Australia (nine months in French Polynesia, one year in Tonga, and one year in Fiji). You can read more about their cruising lives on their website.

Gwen is the author of the Admirals' Angle column in Latitudes & Attitudes magazine. They have sold the boat in Australia and have settled in Tarpon Springs, FL for family time. They started a new business that is a mobile espresso café...sort of a Starbucks on wheels. They can also be contacted via email (info@cafe-getaway.com, admiralsangle@yahoo.com).

What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?
We were fortunate to have some good input from friends with the same boat who left a few years before us (and inspired us to make the decision and go). And we acted on a lot of that input, for example adding solar panels instead of a wind generator - very wise move, as was getting a multi-system TV and VCR before leaving the Americas (the Pacific is all PAL). Nowadays, you would want to be sure you have an all-region DVD player. Now there's something no one tells you, that DVDs are region specific! (Although the cheap Chinese copies you start finding mid-Pacific don't seem to be. Of course their quality is unreliable!)

It would also be nice to know that most of the things you are liable to worry about before leaving won't as big a concern as you build them up to be. Foreign peoples are not out to get you and weather, if you plan prudently, is not liable to be horrible.

On the other hand, the best kept secret about the Pacific is its preponderance of blustery squalls and confused seas. Very rarely is it the rolling 15 knots you imagine.

What do you dislike about cruising that surprised you?
Downwind sailing is not all it is cracked up to be, especially in confused seas. It is hard on your posterior!

Over the time that you have been cruising, has the world of cruising changed?
Quite a bit. The biggest change is communications. Email was just getting going about the time we left. I got my ham license in Trinidad, and radio email turned out to be a hugely important asset for us while cruising. Five years into the 10 year trip we added a Satellite phone which we had shipped to us in Samoa at which point radio connections were not as good. It would have been comforting to have had on the crossing, especially for weather downloads.

Our last few years, were able to get cellular broadband in Fiji and in Australia. This brings in the Internet and Skype. How incredible to be sitting at anchor in some remote spot and be able to upload and download or chat with family. In Australia we watched our grandson open his Christmas presents.

Also, electronic charting was just getting established when we were setting out. We used both computer based navigation and later a chart plotter. Wouldn't leave home without either.

Do you have advice for having visitors?
Ironically, after being a charter boat for 8-9 years and having guests professionally, we had relatively few while cruising. I did an Admiral's Angle column on the subject which is available on Women & Cruising. My best advice is to be very sure you want to commit to being somewhere you aren't already. Trying to make a scheduled rendezvous cannot only expose you to having to move in bad conditions, but you might not be ready to move on from where you are. Plus having guests in a place you’ve had some time to get to know will make a better trip for your guests.

We had a friend come visit us in Fiji. It was a long way for him to come, and we were concerned about the impact that weather might have on what we could fit in. We suggested he make his flight reservations for five weeks. If he wanted to get off early, he would pay his own ticket change fee (or find someplace to stay ashore), and if we wanted him off the boat early, WE would pay the ticket change fee. It worked out great. (He stayed aboard the whole time; he was good crew!)

Share a piece of cruising etiquette
Respect both the rules and the customs of the country you are visiting. It is very easy to persuade ourselves that our floating community is exempt or above the local laws. Not only is this rude, it can ruin things for cruisers coming next. Many rules (like dogs going ashore) have reasons for being that we can't see. And there is nothing that is ruder than filling your boat's freezer -- lobster or fish -- from one island's ecosystem. Take what you need for a night or two, and leave the rest. Don’t be selfish!

How did you (or did you) gain offshore experience prior to leaving?
My first offshore trip was eight days from Ft. Lauderdale to the Virgin Islands in my newly-purchased boat (Whisper-CSY 44 wal-over) that I aimed to put in charter. I hired two experienced friends to come with me and an inexperienced friend across the Gulfstream, through the Bahamas and the down "I65" right to St. Thomas. That trip predated affordable GPS, and we were relying on the intermittent updates of SatNav. We had a smooth trip with knowledgeable people to help with the few issues that came up (my friend was seasick the whole way and couldn’t always stand his watches, and that was an easy watch schedule; autopilot failure solved by rigging the Aries; ran out of fuel when we failed to switch tanks in time and so we learned how to bleed the Perkins!) I still remember the foolish thrill of arriving exactly where we were supposed to be! From there, I (and later we) gradually built up our experience (and equipment) with trips through the years between the islands, then overnights, then 2-3 night passages and finally onward to the Pacific crossing.

When have you felt most in danger and what was the source?
I think for both Don and me, anxiety about potential problems was always greater than reality. Fortunately, we both subscribe to the take all precautions every time before trouble raises its ugly head (a lesson we learned living in hurricane territory!) That's why we have had very few bad moments.

Our first really nasty thunderstorm -- coming in a huge ink blot off the coast of Colombia during a night passage -- was pretty tense, especially as we were sailing with four other boats. Would we lose track of them in the melee...and the spreading blob of green on the radar?! Between us, we did all the right things, reefing way down before it hit, ensuring every hatch was securely dogged, harnesses clipped in, radar adjusted, etc. In all those few stressful moments, we seem to put emotional reaction aside until later.

Oh, come to think of it, the scariest moment was a bar crossing out of Altada in Mexico when a big wave rose up and dumped on our deck, drenching the cockpit and skewing us all around in the narrow channel. The GPS and its nice little sequence of waypoints were all askew. I had a flash of the boat put on the shoal and pounded to matchsticks (or whatever fiberglass pounds to!). Fortunately, we carried on and it was all over after that one wave! But, even when carefully prepared, stuff can come out of nowhere.

And there was the time our reefing line on the genoa chafed through. We were tripled reefed with staysail and had but a handkerchief of headsail out as we were crossing an underwater ridge formation on the approach to Australia. The seas were short and steep, and that handkerchief of headsail translate to a lot of forward way, but it was not a good time for the full 110% sail! It's very easy to say we should have had the pin in the drum as Harken recommends, but those conditions are not the kind anyone really wants to go to the bow to either put a pin in or to take it out again when you want to get furl the rest of the sail in entirely! We hove to, and waited til daylight to drop the sail. An anxious few hours in big seas. But HEAVING TO WORKS!!!!

Is there something you wish you had bought or installed before starting cruising?
Thanks to our years chartering, a few interisland trips and one season cruising in the Eastern Caribbean before taking off, we had a pretty good idea of the things we wanted aboard. And we spent the $ to have them: good sails, a stout electric windlass, big anchors (and several spares), the integrated instruments, radar and chart plotter, an email ready SSB, and a wind vane steering gear. We also had some luxuries: the Minus 40 chest freezer, the Splendide washer, the breadmachine, the dive compressor...all of which we loved having. Taking time to see what you really need.

I wish we had set the boat up better for downwind sailing. And I don't mean a spinnaker. That was a huge waste of money for us. The margin between enough wind for the spinnaker and enough wind for the poled out genoa was very small, and having that big sail up was stressful. Why waste the money and $, not to mention space aboard. We sold it in Tonga and were thrilled to get the space back. Perhaps, as it turned out, one of those storm jibs that slide up over the headstay would have been a better investment. But a double headsail rig with two poles on the mast like the Amels have, or some kind of set up with double staysail (we saw a boat with such a set up and it seemed ingenious) would have been neat and much more manageable than the spinnaker. Not as pretty though. We often thought about swapping our self-tending staysail (on a boom of its own and necessarily raised at the mast) for a roller furling one, but, I don’t know, that staysail worked mighty well as it was.

What is something about the cruising culture you like and what is something you dislike?
I like everything about the cruising culture. The friendships you make are the best ever. The support -- moral and actual -- that you get not just from friends and acquaintances, but complete strangers always boggles me. Ditto the warmth, kindness and generosity so quickly and genuinely extended by locals who often have so much less in material comforts than we. I was not the one who was ready to get off the boat.

Rarely, I see cruisers abuse those kindnesses, both from other cruisers and from locals. I don't like that. We once knew a cruising boat who never had spares because they knew they could get what they needed from someone better equipped! That's poor cruising etiquette. And again, when I see cruisers disregard local regulations and customs. That makes me uncomfortable. Like walking around town bare-chested or in bathing suits when local custom calls for having shoulders and thighs covered (not just the Pacific, but Caribbean towns too!) And careless anchoring -- for other boaters and for the ecosystem below. Fortunately, this is rare among real cruisers.

What question do you wish I would have asked you besides the ones I've asked you and how would you answer it?
I’d answer your whole question bank if it was in front of me. J

((Livia: Then if I may be so bold, "Where was your favorite place to visit and why?"))

Even that one is hard to answer. But I guess our favorite place was Mexico. All the more special for the fact that Mexico was not in the original plan. It was a turn north inspired by the West Coast cruisers we crossed paths with in the Southern Caribbean and Panama on our way to the Canal. We'd enjoyed Central America along the way, but when we crossed over into Mexico, it was hard to believe the change, evident particularly in the food! We loved almost every place we went, but most particularly the Sea of Cortez.

It was a surprise that we loved it, because the water isn't gorgeous: it's cold until July by which time the air is really hot, there's virtually no coral, and there are often stingy things necessitating at least a Lycra suit all the time. In the summer months, most all the cruisers leave, returning to California or hauling and storing their boats in San Carlos. But for those who stay, you have this awesome playground of dramatic desert landscapes with very little sign of man, and an underwater world that is full of life: whales spouting by, sea lions frolicking, mobulas (small manta ray-type rays) popping out the water like popcorn, dolphins arcing,  even whale sharks. For the first time in our lives we actually learned to spearfish and collect clams and scallops, catch fish from the dinghy, and troll productively from the boat (I even hooked a sailfish accidentally...when I was singlehanding and hoping for a mackerel!... But that's another story!)...or these three-foot long squid that sluice you like water cannon as you try to land them. Yes it is hot, Hot, HOT, but you learn to take siestas midday, swim in the mornings and afternoons, and eat and socialize in the evenings. And yes, it is hurricane season, but the radio nets are active with good weather, and there are good hurricane holes for those who are properly prepared. We got run over once by Hurricane Marty, but the twenty-six boats taking refuge in Puerto Don Juan were organized and ready and suffered no damage!) And what's not to love about the staples of Mexican cuisine: homemade tortillas, avocados, cabbage, tomatoes, and cilantro available in almost every town (we made our own version of fish tacos nearly every day), a broad selection of great beers and all the makings of margaritas, which taste awfully good of a Mexican evening as the stars glitter unimpeded in the night sky. WE lucked into a really special small group of cruising friends with whom we came and went and played a lot of cribbage. It was outstanding.

All that and ashore, the inland travel was so rich, the Spanish and Mayan cultures, the elaborate churches, the pottery, the ruins. We traveled inland to the Colonial heartland, Copper Canyon, and Oaxaca, as well as, of course, all the coastal cities. The people everywhere were always friendly and welcoming, and for me there was the fun challenge of teaching myself Spanish. I love language, and Spanish is a fun language to learn.

21 June 2010

10 Questions for Infidien

Patti, Rick and Jessica Miller circumnavigated from August 2001 until May 2006 on Infidien, a Lavranos South African custom built aluminium cutter hailing from Golden, Colorado. More information can be found on their website and they can be contacted via email (pattimiller747@yahoo.com).

Describe a perfect cruising moment that will make cruisers-to-be drool with anticipation
Making landfall at a tropical island in the Pacific. We had a seventeen day passage from the Galapagos to the Marquesas, our longest passage. We arrived at Nuku Hiva under a full moon. It was truly lovely, and it was wonderful to in arrive in tropical paradise.

What is difficult for the parents of cruising children and what is difficult for the children themselves?
Many children had trouble with not having enough friends. But our daughter made friends easily and we as parents had to make the effort to be around other boats with kids.

What do you dislike about cruising that surprised you?
Not enough independence. I didn't like having to coordinate schedules to use the dinghy or basically to go anywhere.

Over the years, how much time do you think you spend at anchor, at marinas, sailing and motoring?
- Sailing and motoring 10% overall time - (motoring maybe 20% of that)
- At anchor 55%
- At marinas - 35%

How do you fund your cruise?
From the Dot Com

Describe a positive experience you have had with local people somewhere you have visited?
Kapingamarangi - We hauled over 2500 lbs of supplies out to this atoll. The islanders were most appreciative. They gave us many fine crafts.

What do you miss about living on land?
We missed doing all the kid activities like choir or gymnastics classes.

What is your biggest lesson learned?
Self reliance. We helped rescue a boat that hit Minerva Reef (on passage between Tonga and New Zealand). The yachting community did a great job without the help of the Coast Guard or any other official group.

What piece of gear seems to break the most often?
GPS - We went through three GPS units, about one computer laptop a year, and anything else electronic seemed to fail. I think the marine environment is just hard on electronics. Well - OK I had a hatch open on passage and a wave came over the deck and that did in one computer. That was probably my fault...

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

What else did you do besides sail?

We are also rock climbers. We climbed in New Zealand, Thailand, and South Africa. It was awesome!

14 June 2010

10 Questions for Cetus

Terry & Heidi Kotas hail from Gig Harbor, WA. From 1992-1994 they cruised from Gig Harbor to Hawaii and across the South Pacific aboard their first cruising boat Cassiopeia, a Golden Gate 30. From 1998-2003 they cruised the West coast of US and Mexico, Marquesas, Tuamotus, Tahiti and Hawaii aboard Cetus, a Fantasia 35. Beginning again in 2009 they have been cruising the San Juan Islands, West Coast of US, Mexican Baja and the Sea of Cortez with plans to sail to the Galapagos and beyond. Their earlier cruises included their daughter Carly and ship's cat Cali. More information can be found on their blog and they can be contacted by email (FollowCetus@gmail.com). Terry is currently finishing the sequel to his first novel, Adventures Aboard Rick’s Place, which is a humorous adventure novel based on their experiences building a boat in their back yard and then sailing it across the South Pacific.

What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?
“This too shall pass.” All the things that are very scary for the novice cruiser are usually short lived. Storms pass, rocky anchorages smooth out, and dark gray clouds give way to sun. Now when we face adverse conditions, we know it is usually just a matter of hours before things start improving, where in the beginning we felt that it would never end

Are you attracted more to sailing itself or cruising-as-travel and has that changed over time?
Though we love nothing better than a good long beam reach, we have always been most interested in cruising as a way to travel so we could see the world from the comforts of our own home. From the beginning we chose a heavy, full keeled boat, as we were looking for comfort and safety over performance.

Share a piece of cruising etiquette
Always give plenty of room to others in an anchorage when you come in. Don’t try to squeeze in between other boats. Always think about the possible wind shifts and where that will place you – you don’t want to be sitting over someone’s anchor when they are ready to pull it up to leave.

What is your favorite piece of boating related new technology?
AIS. Large ship traffic at night was one of the most worrisome aspects especially of coastal cruising. You could see their lights and even pick them up on radar, but still be uncertain of exactly where they were heading – and they never seemed to answer a call on the VHF. Now, you not only can tell how far away they are, where they are headed, if you’re on a collision course, but also the name and MMSI number to easily contact the vessel.

Tell me your least favorite thing about your boat
Teak Decks. Though they look beautiful, they take a lot of time and effort to keep them in good repair and they get extremely hot in the sun.

What is difficult for the parents of cruising children and what is difficult for the children themselves?
For us as cruising parents, the most difficult thing was to balance where we might like to go with our daughter’s desires. Her choice would be to follow along with her friends on other “kid boats” and we might have other ideas.

For the children themselves I think the hardest thing is saying goodbye to new found friends when it is time to leave an area.

Where was your favorite place to visit and why?
We loved the Tuamotus. We visited several atolls and enjoyed them all. The snorkeling was outstanding with a wide variety of colorful corals and sealife, and the motus on the fringing reefs with their swaying palm trees, white sand beaches and turquoise water were everything you’d expect of a South Pacific Isle.

How did you secure your valuables (in and on your vessel) while going ashore? And your dinghy?
We keep excess cash and passports in a semi hidden small compartment and we will put a lock on the main hatch if we were going to be away from the boat for more than a couple hours. Depending on the area we’re in, or if we’re at a dock, we will disconnect the electronics in the cockpit (GPS and VHF remote) and store them below. If we’re just away for a short time, we simply turn on some music, so if someone approaches the boat they’ll think someone is on board.

As for the dinghy, we have a lock on the outboard and a cable with a lock that we can secure it if it’s at a dock – the cable also runs through the oars to keep them attached to the dinghy. We also have the dinghy set up with a harness that we can lift it to the side of the boat for safe keeping at night, but must admit we rarely use that.

Across a year, what do you spend the most money on while cruising?
Food and drink. You can cut back on everything else: staying at marinas, fuel, upkeep, entertainment, etc, but you always have to eat.

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 the key to making the cruising life enjoyable?

As Sheryl Crow sings, “It’s not having what you want, but wanting what you’ve got.”

We’ve been running into so many couples lately that having just set out on their “dream of a lifetime” cruise are finding themselves disgruntled and disappointed because it’s not what they thought it would be, so they are not enjoying it.

People often set out thinking it’s going to be a vacation – it’s not. It’s simply a different way of life and there is work involved. But for every hardship or inconvenience there are innumerable rewards such as watching dolphin play in your bow wake, swimming in crystal clear water, watching glorious sunrises and sunsets and much much more.

So we think the real key to happy cruising is your attitude – just enjoy what you have and where you are instead of thinking that the grass is greener somewhere else.

Be happy with your boat. Every boat is a compromise, and instead of wishing you had something else, make the best of what you have.

07 June 2010

10 Questions for Puff

Brian Pucella, Captain, and Jeannette Pucella, Admiral, commenced their cruise in 2001 in Puff, a Bayfield 32C hailing from Ocracoke, NC. So far, they've cruised the US Southeast coast, the Bahamas, and the Eastern Caribbean. More information about them can be found on their cruising website or their Bahamas travel site.

What do you enjoy about cruising that you didn't expect to enjoy
When we first started cruising, we expected to enjoy everything! We were idealists. We eventually discovered a few things we didn't enjoy, like seasickness, gear failure, and having to take breaks from cruising to go to work, so we can do it again.

Do you have any specific advice for couples cruising
Be very forgiving of each other, grudges just don't work on a boat. Just let it go! Also, give each other space. A day of from each other can work wonders.

What piece(s) of gear would you leave on the dock next time
We can't think of anything we would leave behind. We didn't have a lot of money for our first year cruising, so our boat wasn't heavily outfitted. It was just the basics. Over the years, we've put a lot of thought into every piece of equipment we decide to bring on board. We're still minimalists.

When you are offshore, what keeps you awake at night (that is, what worries you most)?
When we're offshore, the only that worries us at all is the danger of colliding with a freighter. However, we keep a vigilant watch and are comfortable with sighting ships at sea, so it doesn't worry us that much.

Do friends visit and how often?
We never have visitors. Our boat is just too small to accommodate them. If we know we will be in one spot for awhile, then family or friends can stay in a hotel and visit us.

Share a piece of cruising etiquette
Do not anchor too close to your neighbor, it's intrusive and unsettling! Please give other boats in the anchorage as much space as possible. We don't all like to travel in packs. Speaking for ourselves, we enjoy our privacy. We don't want to be in shouting distance of another boat, that's what the VHF radio is for!

What do you miss about living on land?
We would love to live on land part time, so we can have a garden and a place for visitors to stay. We've been living on the boat for ten years, so we are ready for a house at least for part of the year.

Why did you decide to cruise?
It was an irresistible adventure for us, and it still is.

Describe a negative experience you have had with local people somewhere you have visited.
We have had very few negative experiences with local people. The only one that comes to mind is when we were visiting a remote shore on the island of Martinique. We were not only completely ignored, they stared through us and kept walking, people gathered their children and ran away from us. Surely it was some sort of cultural barrier or misunderstanding. Maybe we were just having a really bad hair day!

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

What about pets aboard?

We have a dog and a cat. When we sailed through the Caribbean islands, we chose to leave our dog with family members because the British and French islands do not allow dogs on land. We would have been very limited. We sail with our animals in the Bahamas and they love it