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?

05 November 2010

Got opinions?

I know that many of you readers out there have read every single one of the more than 30 interviews on this site and at this point are starting to form strong opinions about what you would like to see more of and less of with your Monday morning coffee.

I've opened up the comments to this post - so please, speak and be heard.

1) Of the questions that I ask, which would you like to see asked more often and which would you like to see asked less often? Or is there a question you would like to see added?

2) What other types of cruisers would you like to see? And can you recommend any? I've made a push to include more cruisers with children (some of those interviews have started to come out) and am currently struggling to find more non-American/Canadian cruisers. What other types of cruisers should I ask? And do you know of anyone who fits that category? I am willing to spend a limited amount of time on Google to push for a type of cruiser but I rely heavily on suggestions from YOU on whom to interview. Please, pretty please, with sugar on top, use the power of your own "blog reading list" or google or friends lists to suggest people to me to interview.

01 November 2010

10 Questions For Raptor Dance

raptordance2Bill Finkelstein & Mary Mack have been cruising since 2004 on Raptor Dance, a Valiant 50 cutter hailing from Tiburon, CA, USA. During those years they have done laps between Zihuatanejo Mexico and the West end of Vancouver Island including the inner waters to 51N. More information and contact information can be found on their website and blog. Bill & Mary are married and as two retired type A personalities, didn't know if they could stand each other 24/7.  After 6 years of cruising they still love it.

They say: “We've written a lot about cruising and what we recommend.  You can find many of our articles on our website. We've written on a wide range of topics from getting ready to cruise, to how to optimize your Winlink/Sailmail operation, we also collaborated on a free cruisers guide to the Barra de Navidad/Tenacatita area.  We invite you to check out the resources available and drop us an email (see "Contact Us" on our website) if you have any questions! Fair winds!”

What is your most common sail combination on passage?
Mainsail (vertical stabilizer) and Engine!  Seriously along the Pacific Coast, you will do a lot more motoring than you think - especially if you want to get to the next anchorage before sundown.  When we do have wind, it's our 115 Jib and main.  If the sail angle is conducive, we LOVE to fly our Asymmetric Spinnaker.  When the wind really starts blowing (25+) We reef down and use our Staysail.  Our preferred heavy weather configuration is a double reefed main and Staysail.

What piece of gear seems to break the most often?
Anything we don't have a spare for!  And if you have a spare and it still breaks, it means your spare is the wrong size!  When you are cruising stuff is constantly breaking, so get used to always fixing something.

Actually the one item that broke most often was our hot water heater.  Surprisingly, most of the marine hot water heaters sold today have aluminum tanks.  If you are a live aboard cruiser who always keeps their hot water hot, the aluminum hot water tank doesn't last that long (a year or two at most).  We went through 4 hot water heaters in 7 years until we switch to a water heater with a true stainless tank (Isotherm).  Earlier we were bamboozled into buying a Stainless Steel hot water heater that we thought had a Stainless Tank - it didn't, just a Stainless cover!  It only lasted 2 years.

raptordance4 What do you enjoy about cruising that you didn't expect to enjoy?
The most enjoyable part of cruising for us is meeting all the fellow cruisers and socializing.  You get to meet people from all walks of live with a wide range of experiences and interesting stories.  That's the best part for us.

Also, meeting the local people and culture of the areas where you are cruising we found extremely rewarding.  Often we would be the only boat in an anchorage during Christmas or a local fiesta and celebrated with the local families.  Great fun and a very enlightening experience.

Yes, being in a tranquil anchorage is great - but once you get over your post work/retirement burnout it's great to have interesting folks to talk to.

What is your favorite piece of boating related new technology?
Automatic Ship ID (AIS) - we have just the receiver, but it's a great comfort on those night passages in areas with lots of commercial traffic.  Not new technology, but we consider a Marine SSB Radio to be a necessity and not an option.

raptordance3 In your own experience and your experience meeting cruising couples, can you convince a reluctant partner to go cruising and if so, how?
In short, NO.  If you're partner has no interest and isn't "hookable" on the experience, forget it.  Try by taking them sailing or for short cruises and make it enjoyable for them, not a pain.  Get them involved in doing something, not just being a passenger.  Make sure you have sea-sickness medication on board!

What is the most difficult aspect of the cruising lifestyle?
Boat maintenance.  Even with a very well maintained vessel, stuff is still going to break and if you're in a remote area, you better have a spare or a good way to jury rig and have the skills to fix it yourself.  We do, but it is the major source of cruising stress for us.

With the benefit of hindsight, what are the boat selection criteria you would use to purchase a boat for long term cruising?
We're happy with our choice of a Valiant.  They are proven Blue Water Cruising Sailboats.  Even though some of the major brands produce more boats in a month than Valiant has in 30 years, more Valiants have circumnavigated than any other recreational vessel.   Our Valiant can take a heck of a lot more than we can!

Was there anywhere you visited that you thought was overrated (not as good as you had heard)?
Cabo and Zihuatanejo.  We much prefer: La Paz, Nuevo Vallarta and Barra de Navidad.  Cabo is like Vegas - not a real experience and Zihuatanejo harbor is very "nutrient rich"!

While cruising, what do you do about health & boat insurance, medical issues, banking and mail delivery?
raptordance5Medical: We have good (but pricey) health insurance back in the US and Medivac insurance from Divers Alert Network if we need it.  But generally the quality of health care in Mexico where we spent the bulk of our time is outstanding and the prices low enough to just pay cash and not worry about insurance.  We've had friends with major health problems taken care of in Mexican hospitals with first rate care for a tiny fraction of what the cost would be in the US.

Boat Insurance:  We have full coverage through IMIS (Jackline).  Cruising Couple worldwide is available and we had it for a number of years, but the last few we've saved money with one of their coastal policies.

Banking:  Not a problem.  As a retired Banking executive, I know that your best and lowest cost option is to just take money out of a local bank ATM using your US (or Canadian) Bank ATM Card.  You get the best rates and lowest fees that way.  That's all you need.  Credit Cards overseas are socked with generally a 3% Foreign Exchange fee and many overseas merchants charge up to 10% more if you use a charge card.  Also, with Internet Banking, you can pay bills and manage your finances back in the US safely and securely (I know, I invented Internet Banking!).  We've paid most of our bills remotely using either direct deposit or Internet Banking.

Mail: We use and are very happy with St. Brendan's Island.   They will scan the envelop of the mail you receive and have it available for your review on the internet.  You can then have them scan the contents of the envelope, forward it, hold it, or shred it.  You can also have them pay bills for you - unfortunately, they pay the bills with YOUR money ;-)

On request St. Brendan's will ship your mail to you in a big package on demand and as often as you wish.  They have a lot of experience so they know what works best for each country.  Note that we found this to be prohibitively expensive in some countries, like Mexico: our last 5 pound package of mail and magazines cost $150 via DHL.  So what we've done the last few years is find a fellow cruiser or relative coming back down and asked them to bring our mail in their luggage.

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

What do you wish you knew before you started that you know now?

Before we set out, we had the usual romantic notions of what cruising would be like. The reality was quite different. We found that we much prefer the social aspects and visiting local cultures. The passage making and sitting in remote anchorages quickly lost it's charm for us. So this caused a reassessment of our long term plans and a change in strategy. So be open to changes! You should be cruising for enjoyment! We found we were leaving the notion of achieving goals behind. In our opinion, goals belong in the workplace, not the cruising life.

Slow down and take your time. Our biggest mistake was only allowing a single season in Mexico before continuing on. A year later we came back and spent another 4 years in Mexico. The only schedule you should pay attention to is the weather.

People meet their basic needs around the world - you don't need to stock up with 6 months of food, 2 year supply of tissue, etc. Local provisions are fine. If you have particular gourmet likes, treat yourself and bring your favorite wine or chocolate along - but remember the local cuisine and drink is usually fantastic! Overseas the food tastes better than in the US as it's not the factory farm trash available in US markets. For example, chickens overseas actually taste like chicken, not Styrofoam!

Bring spare boat parts, they're hard to get or pricey to get in many countries.

Relax and have a great time! Leave your type "A" behavior at the workplace!