Gary Pierce and Julie, his wife of 36 years, cruised aboard Shadowtime, an Island Packet 35 footer that was cutter rigged and hailed from The Woodlands, Texas, USA. Gary jokes: I often said I single-handed in the Caribbean with my wife aboard…just kidding. They bought Shadowtime in May of 1994, left from Kemah, Texas in November 1994 taking 22 days with to stops to reach Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands. Shadowtime never left the Caribbean. Gary & Julie went from Venezuela and Trinidad in the South to the Virgin Islands in the North, up and down the Windward's and Leeward's for eight years until selling the boat in October 2002. They have a website that covers sailboat cruising and a number of other frugal lifestyles.
What did you do to make your dream a reality?
I first got the inspiration for the sailboat cruising lifestyle when we are in St. Thomas on a cruise ship in 1989. We took a shore excursion on a 36 foot sailboat that took us and two other couples out for four hours on a sailboat…I had never been on a sailboat before… It was love at first sight…when the cruise ship left St. Thomas that evening I looked down at the boats that were swinging at anchor and resolved that one day I would be down there looking back the cruise ships leaving to go back to the US.
Five years later we did just that. We watched cruise ships leave Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands from the cockpit of Shadowtime.
Since I didn't know how to sail. I subscribed to Sail magazine, Cruising World, read every book I could get my hands on about sailing. I took crewed charters from the Moorings. Sailing classes on Clear Lake near home in Houston. It was a crash course. I was still green when we left for the Caribbean.
What is something you think potential cruisers are afraid about that they shouldn't fear? What is something potential cruisers don't worry about that perhaps they should worry about?
The number one thing that cruise you should not be afraid of is that they don't know enough about sailing... You pick it up as you go. The docks are full of people that say I'm going sailing once I get a bigger boat, Capt.'s license, ham license, etc. They are still there on the dock.
Another fear that is overrated is the fear of piracy. I never heard of anyone encountering pirates in our eight years in the Caribbean.
You should worry about having too much fun.
What mistakes did you make in your first year of cruising?
Too many to list here… One example we’ve written about was our dinghy and outboard motor selection and anchoring, we made some real bonehead mistakes. You make a lot of mistakes but shall also learn a lot your first year. Do not worry about making mistakes everyone makes them. Remember, those that state that they never drug their anchor at night have only been cruising for a week or they are lying.
How did you fund your cruise?
From meager savings that we had accumulated in our working careers. Once you are in the Caribbean sailboat cruising is a very frugal way to live. We figured we spent about $1000 a month when we were in the islands.
What is the most important attribute for successful cruising?
Getting along with your first mate or partner. There is no personal space on a 35 foot sailboat. Trust me on this one. Do couples argue and still cruise? Sure... But you learn to avoid them.
What do you think is a common cruising myth?
Piracy and crime in the Caribbean. These myths are right up there with you got to know everything about your boat before you go cruising… you don't… you pick it up as you go.
Were you more attracted to sailing itself or cruising as travel or lifestyle and has that changed over time?
In my humble opinion there is a big difference between cruising and sailing. 99% of the time we were swinging on the hook or rarely at the dock, (Trinidad). You go for the stressless lifestyle that sailboat cruising affords. Cruisers don't hang much with the yellow slicker crowd in the Caribbean. You can always tell a cruiser from a sailor. The cruising boats all have wind generators and solar panels.
It's the lifestyle that makes cruising so wonderful especially in the Caribbean. I really don't want to be on a boat if I can't wear swim trunks and a T-shirt and be warm.
What compromises did you make in your budget to enjoy the sailing cruising lifestyle?
Not much of anything. You need to know the basics. Know where your thru hulls are. Know how to bleed a diesel engine. Learn to clean the carburetor in your outboard motor. Enjoying cruising on a sailboat is not rocket science.
You will find that there is very much a sense of community among sailboat cruisers. You swap parts. You swap expertise, someone may need some electrical work, and be willing to swap that for some
sewing for instance.
What piece of gear would you leave on the dock?
You make a mistake by buying what you think you'll need when you go cruising. It is much better, to wait until you reach your cruising grounds. Then simply observe what everybody else is doing using. The mistakes we made with our dinghy and outboard motor bear testimony to this. Talk about dumb and dumber.
We also kept an accurate inventory of what was on board Shadowtime. If we didn't use it in a year off it went... All space on a sailboat is precious.
What question do you wish I had asked you?
The eight years we spent on Shadowtime in the Caribbean, were probably the highlight of our 36 years together. We didn't worry about hurricanes, because we hauled the boat out of the water during the
summer time. It is no fun to be dodging tropical storms and hurricanes, in looking for safe harbor under the again.
There is there is no downside to the sailing cruising lifestyle if you get along with your spouse or partner. When we bought our sailboat in May of 1994, and announced that we were going cruising in the Caribbean later that year, lots of folks laughed at us. They said we would never do it. Some of the same people are
still on the same dock. Don't let this happen to you. Nike has it right: Just do it... And enjoy yourselves.
If there is a more fun, more relaxing, lifestyle than sailboat cruising in warm water. I don't know what it is. I hope this encourages you to take the plunge ,so to speak, throw off the lines and live the life Jimmy Buffett sings about.