Lesley, Trond, Camilla and Colin Åsdam are a family who cruised from 2005 – 2008 aboard Coconut, a 1985 Contest 41S hailing from Oslo, Norway. They cruised Northern and Southern Europe, the Caribbean, and the Pacific. Trond says: I have sailed since I was a little boy. Lesley however had her first sailing trip in 88 when we met. That trip was from Knysna in South Africa to Turkey. For 7 years prior to the 2005 – 2008 trip, we sailed professionally. I was the captain and Lesley the cook. Our cruising grounds followed the yearly cycle of the Med in the summer and the Caribbean in the winter. A couple of times we sailed north to Scandinavia as well for the summer making sure to be in the Med before the cold weather.
Is there something you wish you had bought or installed before starting cruising?
Not really. We wanted to keep it simple and feel that is good advice. Don’t add too much complexity, remember you'll have to fix it when it breaks and maintain it so it doesn’t.
Is there a place you visited where you wish you could have stayed longer?
Yes, many places. We would like to mention the San Blas Islands which are very very lovely. The people are fascinating and welcoming. Then of course you have Polynesia which has so much to offer, and the Cook Islands and Vanuatu and.... The world is full of lovely places and lovely people. The most beautiful place on earth however is Moorea!
Tell me your favorite thing about your boat
Coconut is very safe and comfortable and reliable. She never let us down! Her centre cockpit with a fixed dodger is great. You are always safe and dry in her cockpit. Also the cockpit benches are long enough to sleep on. She has three cabins and two heads, one on each side of the boat. That is very handy.
What do you dislike about cruising that surprised you?
Nothing really. We have done the trip before a few times and sort of knew what was in store for us. Anyone with romantic ideas of quiet solitude will have to think twice however. There is a lot of people around in the Caribbean! Also many seem surprised that it is so windy and that the swell is so large. Sailing between the islands is pretty much offshore cruising. The Med is very crowded in places as well. By carefully planning you trip you can avoid the masses however, if that's what you want. You see, most yachts follow the same time schedule.
Can you think of a sailing tip (e.g., sail trim, sail combination) specific to offshore passages (e.g., related to swells)?
Sail conservatively, check chafe and think safety. Never sail with a boat with a cockpit that's open in the stern as seem to be the fashion. Choose your boat carefully. Remember it is a very different thing sailing for days and weeks on end offshore than sailing for a couple of hours every day. Choose a boat with a smaller mainsail. Most of your sailing will be downwind and a large main with a large boom is dangerous. Sail wing on wing at night. Use two headsails and drop the main. One can be set without a forestay. The spinnaker boom can pole out the one to windward. The main boom can pole out the other one to leeward. You attach a block to the end of the boom and run the sheet through it. Then strap the boom down with a preventer. This way you avoid having a dangerous main that might take your head off and you move the centre of effort forward. Your boat will then most likely keep her course nicely without the need for much action from the autopilot. Try it. We love this rig. Remember to always lock things down with ample preventers.
While cruising, what do you do about health & boat insurance, medical issues, banking and mail delivery?
We had insurance and my family took care of any business.
Why did you decide to cruise?
To show our kids the world and experience it all together as a family.
Sailing has been a big part of our life. My wife and I met in the Azores when she was sailing to Turkey from South Africa and I was on my way home to Norway from the Caribbean. Since then we have crossed the oceans together. It was important for us to share this lifestyle with our kids. We hoped to teach them that the world is a large and wonderful place. That the people that live in it are friendly loving people and not what you hear about in the media. The special camaraderie you experience being part of the sailing community is also something that we wanted our kids to experience. This are friendships that disregard age, nationality or sociocultural background. It was as natural for them to approach someone that was 60 as 6 to play or chat, all depending on their needs at the moment.
The journey we had together has influenced us as a family tremendously, and had a large impact on the kids personalities. We are very close. We are used to having to rely on each other and to share experiences. The kids have learned that whatever hits you you can find a way. That there are many different ways to live your life and that you can actually choose. You do not have to think like everyone else or to do as they do. They have developed their social skills and are comfortable and assertive when meeting new people.
What are your impressions of the cruising community?
Great people! Every one of them resourceful and interesting, helpful, supportive. These are people who have managed to break out and live differently. People are pack animals; it takes guts and character to break out. We have found some of our dearest friends cruising. For our kids, and for us, it is amazing what a great leveller cruising is. Age, culture, socioeconomic background doesn’t mean much on the high seas, but your character does.
In your own experience and your experience meeting other cruisers, what are the common reasons people stop cruising?
Most do their trip and then when completed go home. Apart from that grand children and family issues rank high. Of course many need to go back to work. Also life ashore is not too bad. We are just very lucky we can do both! For us also the kids education is very important. Homeschooling worked very well, but as they get older it becomes more difficult. Also the social development that they get by interacting with their classmates is valuable.
What question do you wish I would have asked you besides the ones I've asked you and how would you answer it?
Oh, this is a tricky one. There are many interesting angles into cruising; the psychology onboard, the boat and the route. I feel much is said about cruising routes. Some is said about boats but no one has thoroughly investigated what actually works for long distance sailing. The psychology of the whole thing interest me being a psychologist myself. Who makes it and who doesn’t? As you sail through the ports of the world you find many that did not make it. I don’t think the dream comes alive for quite a few. They underestimate the stress, the planning, the weather, the repairs, the expenses.... How many actually enjoy it? Don't know but far from everyone, perhaps as much as a third do not find what they were looking for.