28 February 2011

10 Questions for Shibui

shibui Brian & Mary Alice O’Neill have been cruising since 1987 aboard Shibui, a Norseman 447 (47’) hailing from Seattle, WA, USA. From 1987 – 1989 they sailed through the South Pacific to NZ (on different boat which they sold there). From 1992 to 1997 they completed a circumnavigation (Mexico to New Zealand via South Pacific: French Polynesia, Cook Is.; Niue; Tonga; Fiji, New Zealand. New Zealand to Mediterranean via the Red Sea: New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, PNG, Indonesia, Borneo, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Djibouti, Eritrea, Egypt, Israel, Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Spain. Atlantic Crossing: Gibralter; Canary Is. to Caribbean. West Coast of Central and North America via the Panama Canal). Since August 2009 they have been cruising Hawaii; Palmyra Reef; Micronesia (Marshall Islands, Kwajalene, Kosrae, Pohnpei, Yap). I caught up with them via email at the end of 2010 in Palau. You can see some of their photos on their web album or contact them via email (svshibui@gmail.com).

What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?
Can’t think of anything specific. One of the fun things about cruising is learning, whether it be about boat maintenance, navigation, cultures, geography, history.  It’s the best liberal arts education you can get.  Perhaps I would caution people to keep the boat systems simple and have a backup system for everything.

Is there a place you visited where you wish you could have stayed longer?
New Zealand, Turkey and now Palau.  After 7 months of cruising Palau it will be difficult to leave although we are looking forward to our next port of call in the Philippine Islands.

What is your most common sail combination on passage?
Current trip: Reef in main with poled out jib.  We had brisk NE tradewinds on this journey. Generally we have tried to plan voyages where the wind is behind the beam.  Going downwind if the winds are light we fly a traditional chute otherwise we use a poled out yankee.  Going to weather in light air we use a spectra 125 percent.  When the winds get to around 12 knots true, we switch to a 95 percent yankee.  If the winds get to around 20 knots (true) we rig our staysail and get rid of the headsail.  Because we have been in the trades on this voyage we have only had to motor for a few hours.

Over the time that you have been cruising, has the world of cruising changed?
YES!  There are more people out cruising with the advent of GPS and other electronic devices.  Mexico has become much more crowded with sailors and power yachts in the past 20 years.  The Mexican's have capitalized on the yacht boom by building many first class marinas, most of which are expensive.  However, they are fun to visit, we just try and limit how long we stay at a marina.  We hear that Central America is also getting somewhat crowded.  All this said, I think a person can still find many unspoiled parts of the world.  Our present voyage through Micronesia has given us wonderful opportunities to explore remote islands and learn their history and culture.Also, Sailmail and the internet make communication much easier.

shibui2 Describe the compromises (if any) that you have made in your cruising in order to stay on budget
Hasn’t been necessary.

In your own experience and your experience meeting other cruisers, what are the common reasons people stop cruising?
A diverse variety of reasons from health, finances, family issues to looking for something else to do. 

In your first year of cruising, what transitions did you find the most difficult?
Learning how the boat performed in a variety of conditions. On our earlier voyages getting mail and staying in contact was very difficult.  Also getting money was a big issue.  With the advent of Sailmail, ATMs and other electronic media we can now stay in contact with family and friends.   Also, when we first started cruising we did not anticipate how much of our time would be spent doing boat maintenance.  Generally we find traveling on the ocean a wonderful experience and each new country a  great learning experience.

Have you found "trade goods" to be useful on your cruise? If so, what kinds?
We always carry school supplies and after visiting the chief the school is our next stop.  Also appreciated are t-shirts, food, candy, balloons, videos. Also willingness to assist them with any specific needs they may have such as outboard motor repair.

Which spares do you wish you had more of? Less of?
More of: Spare parts for the generator.
Less off – nothing  We don’t tend to overload the boat.

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 your future cruising plans? 

Philippines to Japan and home to Bainbridge Island, WA via Alaska. We will be happy to respond to any questions about our journey from readers via email.

21 February 2011

10 Questions for Queen Jane

QueenJane Kate, Jordan and Jonah Bigel cruised from 2000-2006 through California, Polynesia, Melanesia, New Zealand, Australia, & Micronesia aboard Queen Jane, a Shannon 50 hailing from Seattle, WA, USA. Readers can learn more about their cruise on their website or through email (queenjane@bigel.net). They say: When we left the US in 2000 our son Jonah was 4 years old. He is now 14 and a student at Venice High School. We continue to live aboard in Marina del Rey, CA and plan to return to cruising when our son goes to college. 

What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?
That food and fuel were easily available almost everywhere. When we were preparing to cruise, the books we had all were written 10-20 years earlier when supplies and diesel fuel were all harder to come by than they were in 2000, or now. As a result, we ended up with way too much canned food, which we eventually threw out years later!

What piece(s) of gear would you leave on the dock next time? Why?
We installed a pneumatic tank level monitoring system (Tank Tender) which failed early on in our cruising and was totally useless.

In your experience, how much does cruising cost?
There is no one answer to that question except to say, it depends. Three things carry the greatest costs and managing these four determines the result; food, fuel, repairs and flying home to visit family.

I’ve known cruisers who purchase only basic staples like rice, flour, beans and catch their own dinner every day – their food costs are much lower than ours. I knew a couple once who spent 13 days making a 600 mile passage – they spent 6 of those days drifting in doldrums. We choose to burn diesel and arrive in half the time, increasing our costs accordingly. Finally, something is about to break. In our experience, cruisers who can fix anything on their boats don’t spend much on repairs, except for parts. We had to find and pay local refrigeration guys twice during the 6 years we cruised since we do not have that expertise (we know several friends who can and do work on their own reefers). We also had to haul and do bottom paint twice in 6 years (both times in Australia). If you are willing to do that work yourself, you can trim a good chunk of expense off your budget. Finally, some cruisers we know, including us, with aging or infirm parents (or with grandchildren) can find an annual or bi-annual flight home to visit family eating a big chunk of their budget.

So, to sum up, it all depends.

Is there anywhere you sailed to that was a disappointment?
No. We wracked our brains and couldn’t think of one. Some places we knew not to expect much, so we were not surprised, but most places we visited exceeded our expectations in every way.

When have you felt most in danger and what was the source?
Hand steering, at night, in a tropical storm. The source of the danger was exhaustion.

On a passage between Majuro, RMI and Pohnpei, FSM we encountered Tropical Storm Nan Midol, named after the ruins at the island of Pohnpei, for which we were bound. On this passage of 700 odd miles we had experienced 4 days of sailing bliss. But on the 5th day – about 120 miles from our destination – the TS formed nearly on top of us (our latitude was about 7N). By sundown we had a steady 45k from dead astern and had torn our mainsail. We were running under bare poles and making 6-8k surfing down the swells coming up from astern. Fortunately the storm was heading the same direction we were and moving much faster than us. By 2am the wind was gusting to 55+ (my wife put a rag over the instruments so she wouldn’t have to look at it).

QueenJane2 By dawn the wind had eased to 30k and we had out a small bit of staysail (which is on a roller furler). But during the night we had to hand steer, partly due to fear of broaching in the big seas, but also because the autopilot was making a clunking sound which meant the tiller arm holding bolts were coming loose (which is a chronic problem on our boat which requires periodic attention). We took 1 or 2  hour shifts, shackled in with our harnesses on (which we rarely wear) in pouring rain and tropical chillness (ok, it was down to 68F – practically freezing!). I for one had a hard time staying awake, standing at the wheel, soaking wet, steering down 25ft+ waves in 50k of wind. You’d think in those conditions you would just be so in the moment, but I just stood there, wheel in hand, for hour on end and I nodded off several times. Each time would force myself awake just as we screamed down the next roller – hitting 10+k occasionally. We never worried about the boat – down below all was peaceful and calm – she was more than tough enough to handle this, but I worried about myself being able to stay awake and prevent a broach!

Share a piece of cruising etiquette
Always respect local customs (and in some cases dress). If the port captain insists on feeding you kava before signing the inbound clearance papers, just drink it! Also, don’t scream at your crewmate while anchoring!

What do you miss about living on land?
We live aboard at a marina since we’re no longer cruising. But when we were cruising, the only thing we missed was the presence of friends and family.

What type of watch schedule do you normally use while offshore?
During the day we coordinated in an ad-hoc fashion, taking naps one at a time at some point during the day. At night we used 4 hour shifts except in bad weather when it would go to 3 or even 2 hours in severe weather.

What is the most difficult aspect of the cruising lifestyle?
Being separated from close family who are experiencing serious illness.

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 your two favorite non-essential pieces of equipment you have on board and why do you have them if they are not essential?

1.Desalinator Why? The ability to spend long periods of time in remote places that have either little or no fresh water resources makes a desalinator a must-have in our opinion. We’re always very careful about water usage and keep 100 gallons in reserve so when the watermaker breaks down, as it must, we get by fine until we fix it ourselves (with our well stock supply of spare water maker parts). When it’s working, it extends our ability to remain in remote and dry areas where we would otherwise have to head to a source of water to replenish. Am I wasting my energy writing this in 2010? Is there anyone left out there who DOESN’T have one (except Lin and Larry)?

2: Freezer. Why?  1)To  carry frozen meats/poultry, 2)To  freeze excess fish for future use and 3) To make ice. My family is happy to “rough it” for a few weeks, or even more. But for years? We actually turned off our freezer 4 years ago, when we became marina-bound. We prefer to shop for fresh food every few days. But when we were cruising, having a freezer was a luxury and makes cruising simply a more enjoyable overall experience, especially in remote areas where fresh meats cannot be had. I almost forgot the ice! I happen to feel that ice is a great civilizing influence and it is in important part of my day – frozen margheritas in the cockpit at sunset? Oh yeah, we got that.

17 February 2011

10 Questions for Mico Verde

Tanna Island, Vanuatu
Warren Johnson and Stephanie Parry cruised from 2004 to 2007 aboard Mico Verde, a Westsail 32’ hailing from Seattle, WA, USA. They left Washington, heading down the US Coast through Mexico as far South as Zihuatanejo and then across the South Pacific from the Marquesas to Australia and through Indonesia and Singapore. You can learn more about their travels on their website or via email (micoverde@gmail.com). They say: We started cruising when we were both 29, and ended when we were 33. We stopped cruising in Singapore where we sold Mico Verde. Two months after leaving the boat, we moved to Beijing, China where we worked, got master’s degrees, and had a baby (not necessarily in that order). Still in China as of December 2010.

What did you do to make your dream a reality?

Bought a small, cheap 25’ boat on which we practiced sailing and moved aboard so that we could save on housing expenses. We moved aboard in the spring and had all summer in Seattle to enjoy living on board but with fall and winter looming, we wanted to be living more comfortably aboard the cruising boat by the end of summer. So we kicked our research/shopping around into high gear. We decided on a Westsail because of the price (at the time they could be had for ~$50k), the offshore seaworthiness, and the look. Warren visited a few Westsails on the west coast and we decided on one that was in San Diego, CA. We had her put on a trailer and towed up to Seattle. She had been cruising in Mexico relatively recently so was in great condition and we really didn’t have to do too much work on her through the winter and summer. We had always planned to leave Seattle sometime in August 2004 and get down the west coast to California by September, and we were able to stick to that schedule.

Finish this sentence. "Generally when I am provisioning..."

I have been in the country I’m provisioning in for a couple months, and the port I’m provisioning in for a few weeks, so I know what is available. I list 15-20 meals that can be made with items in the local markets and then build a matrix assuming that we will feed ourselves from those meals for 3 months. The meals I plan are usually the main meals you’d consider for dinner planning, so I also have a list going of what we’ll need for breakfast and snacks. Lunch stuff just seemed to come together on its own and was less of a planned affair.

Then, I make a massive list and it usually takes a few trips that result in several full carts. Warren came along as a pack mule but I wouldn’t let him influence my list or decisions once in the store or he would try to cut back, always thinking that we were buying way more than necessary. But in the end it was usually just about right. Sometimes we would buy too much of something that in the end we didn’t like (canned broccoli – sounded so practical, tasted so awful) but we could usually find people that would trade for it.

I’d often cook from my meal plan, especially on passage, but in port dinners were much more improvised based on local restaurants or whatever was available fresh.

Over the years, how much time do you think you spend at anchor, at marinas, sailing and motoring?

Lizard Island, Australia, anchorage
This is hard to answer because different cruisers have different lifestyles. Some ports have people living aboard their sailboats that are anchored, and have been so for years. Those people will say they spend 100% of their time anchored. But does that sound like the kind of cruising life you’d like to lead?

Our cruising style was generally not to be in too much of a rush. We were very careful to make sure weather would be favorable, we had the charts for our destination, and that we both felt up to making a passage. Warren also loved to get to know a place, whereas I was always champing at the bit to see the next anchorage. But because Warren was the captain, his pace generally won out. So I would say we generally were at the end of the pack during the cruising season, and might not always get to the most remote or un-charted anchorages.

With that said, on passages we sailed as much as we could – if we had 8 knots of apparent wind, we’d sail unless we wanted to reach an anchorage before night and needed to move faster in order to do so.

If anchorages were comfortable, we’d always choose to anchor. We only pulled into marinas to make life easier, for instance if we needed to do some work on the boat or if the anchorages were non-existent or extremely uncomfortable. But if an anchorage is really uncomfortable, we’d usually move to a better one unless there was some reason to go into shore, like to check in or get provisions.

Is there a place you visited where you wish you could have stayed longer?

Suwarrow, Cook Islands, was probably the only single anchorage where we wish we could have stayed longer. Because of weather and visas, we had to leave French Polynesia, but we’d go back to all the island chains in FP again in a heartbeat. Wish we could have seen more of the Puget Sound.

Describe a positive experience you have had with local people somewhere you have visited?

There were so many, it is hard to just list one. In Indonesia, we stopped at a town called Bima. A man and his son approached Warren and asked him if he’d like to come home with them. Warren went home with them, met the rest of their family and their pet monkey, and agreed to come meet the man’s class of students at the local business vocational school. The next day both Warren and I went with him to his school where we each gave short talks to the students (who all had a fair understanding of English) about what we did in our careers, and then took questions from the students. Some students asked very thoughtful questions, like “How can we attract more tourists to Bima?” while others asked some questions exhibiting their curiosity about other cultures, like, “Do you have children? Why not?” It was a lot of fun to be able to interact with this small sampling of Indonesian teenagers.

What do you miss about living on land?

We missed: a rectangular mattress, steady flow of electricity, showers, being able to walk on land without a dinghy ride first.

What do you do about mail?

When we knew we’d be in a place for a while that had a post office or an address we could use (e.g., a marina), we’d ask our mail service to send us everything that had accumulated to that point. Our mail service was really bad and would often not send us mail even after we’d requested it, so eventually we learned to deal without mail. Occasionally friends or family would want to send us something, but I suspect now you could get away without mail at all, or very rarely, as long as you can get email or an Internet connection every once in a while.

How did you secure your valuables (in and on your vessel) while going ashore? And your dinghy?

Padlock on the main hatch of the boat, and closed the rest of the hatches from the inside. We had a padlock on the outboard that made it difficult to remove from the dinghy. The dinghy itself we usually didn’t lock up, though I seem to remember once or twice we had a really clumsy system with a chain and a padlock securing it to the dock. After Cabo San Lucas, we never left anything in the dinghy. Someone stole our flashlight out of it when we went ashore there at night. Our last night at anchor (in Indonesia, before heading for Singapore) someone stole Warren’s flip-flop shoes out of the dinghy. We had the last laugh because Warren’s feet were so big we had a really hard time finding shoes in Indonesia that would fit him. I’m sure the thief got home with his new pair of shoes and realized they were several sizes too big for him, or anyone, to wear.

What do you enjoy about cruising that you didn't expect to enjoy?

Warren working on the engine in Darwin, Australia
For me (Stephanie): the sailing. Don’t get me wrong, I never liked the sailing all THAT much, but when conditions are in that perfect state – downwind, calm seas, fair weather – it can be pretty awesome. I’m not sure what Warren would say – he’d probably say the satisfaction of knowing his Perkins 4-108 intimately and being confident that it would see us through thanks to his hard work.

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

After 3 years of living on land, do you still wish you were cruising? 

We were pretty burned out when we decided to stop cruising. We went cheap and low-tech so we could do it sooner rather than later. But after a while, modern convenience started to look really nice. We have no regrets about it, and of course the hard times recede into distant memory while the good times stand in stark contrast to the every-day-ness of living on land. But that cruise did teach us that living simply is possible and desirable, that being close to nature is something we both love and miss, and that missing a shower or two isn’t that bad if you can live in a bathing suit most days. We’re starting to talk about the next cruise and how important it is for our daughter to get to experience some of it. We’re still in the negotiation phase (Warren later, me sooner), but I think it made such an impression on us that we do want to do it again. It’s a great life.

14 February 2011

10 Questions for Ventana

ventana Rob and Dee Dubin cruise aboard an Island Packet 40 named Ventana hailing from Conifer, Colorado. They moved aboard in November of 1995 – still cruising and living aboard full time. They cruised from 1996- 2001 mostly in the Caribbean but also as far north as Maine and covering the entire Eastern and Western Caribbean including Venezuela, Columbia, Panama, Central America and Mexico. In 2001 Rob & Dee departed for another trip through the Caribbean and then through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific.  They spent several years in Australia and several more in Thailand. In 2009 they sailed from Thailand to the Red Sea and into the Mediterranean and expect to cross back to the Caribbean completing their circumnavigation in December of 2011. You can read more about them as well as information on outfitting a boat, passage planning, weather, seamanship, sail trim and most of the issues they discuss in this interview on their website or you contact them via email (ventanaweb@aol.com).

What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?
Two things:
1.   Learn everything you can about fixing everything on the boat before you take off.
2.  Despite a lifetime of owning businesses, directing others, being a group leader and decision maker and even being a pilot with others’ lives in my hands- sometimes command on a boat is a lonely business.

Be aware there will be a significant weight on the shoulders of the Captain.  Spending every day at the whim of wind and wave and weather and boat breakdowns you have to get used to not always making the best choice and sometimes paying for it with the discomfort of your crew and yourself.  Just think things through well and do the best you can, then compare your experiences to others so you can keep learning and improving.

Is there a place you visited where you wish you could have stayed longer?
Many places - especially the Tuamotos, Fiji, Vanuatu and the Red Sea.

How often have you faced bad weather in your cruising? How bad?
I know you have to ask this question and everyone spends lots of time fretting about safety gear and storm sails and parachutes and sea anchors.  You need the gear and you need to know how to use it, BUT this is rarely an issue.  If you cruise the usual trade wind routes you have only 3-4 passages that are longer than the weather predictions and many circumnavigators never see a major storm. Get good weather forecasts and be patient enough to sit in port until a good window is at hand.  The only weather you control is the weather you leave port in.

Having said that we have had only three really bad storms at sea in over 50,000 miles.  The first one when we were crew on another boat and that experience gave us lots of confidence for when we faced a rough storm on our own.  As one of our sailing mentor’s Steve Black, founder of the Caribbean 1500 Rally says, “You need to know the difference between life threatening and extremely uncomfortable.”  Most bad storms are just really uncomfortable.  Our boats can usually take much more than we can.

On our own boat we have had one bad storm in the So. Pacific between Tahiti and the Cook Islands and one in the Indian Ocean between the Maldives and Oman.  In the Pacific storm it was raining so hard seeing another ship would have been impossible and radar was useless.  We hoisted a strobe in the rigging and went below with double reefed main and part of the staysail.  We went slowly on course and never needed to heave to or to revert to our storm trysail.  The autopilot steered the entire time.  We were off the wind.

In the Indian Ocean storm the wind and waves were also just aft of the beam.  In both cases waves were about spreader height and some broke on and over the boat, with green water on the coachroof.   The waves that broke onto the boat would often shove us sideways through the water 5-10 feet.  I would have worried for the safety of the rudder on a spade rudder boat, but our Island Packet has a very sturdy steel support at the bottom of the rudder. 

In the Indian Ocean storm we used the same sails and tactics continuing slowly on our way.  The slow speed prevented us from falling off of any waves which is usually what damages boats.  AIS gave us some comfort that we would not be run down by a big ship.  In this storm a few times my wife had to hand steer while I adjusted sails to balance the boat so there was minimal helm and the autopilot could handle it.  Mostly we stayed below in our berths with lee cloths and let the autohlem 6000 steer the boat. 

The main bits of advice I would suggest is to get experience on other’s boats if possible.  Also practice heaving to.  You should first do this on a light wind day so you can practice, but then also do it on a day of 25-35 knots so you see how your boat really handles hove to in rough weather.  It is also good to go out for a short sail on rough weather days.  Much better to experience this when you can do it for 2-3 hours then get back to the marina, rather than your first experience be for 36 hours offshore. 

We also went through a hurricane at anchor during our first year of cruising.  We could have left the boat and stayed ashore but chose to stay aboard.  Next time we probably would make a different choice.  There is detailed coverage of all of the hurricane preparedness as well as all sorts of advice on our website.
What is your most common sail combination on passage?
ventana3 Unfortunately the combination most cruisers use far more often than any one ever thinks will be the case is the sails stowed and the engine on with light or no wind, or wind on the nose.  We have also sometimes found light winds and huge swells on the beam.  The big swells cause you to roll side to side terribly so the sails fill and empty on every wave slatting then popping, filling then emptying which takes a terrible toll on them in no time.  In these instances we use the engine and our staysail only which we sheet in very hard so it is flat and dampens the roll a bit. 

Having given you the downside we have also experienced day after day of perfect beam reaching with no need to even touch a sheet for 5 days or nights.  In strong winds from astern  (approaching 30 knots) we can often go hull speed with just our genoa or even part of the genoa.  In slightly less winds we use the genoa and the staysail both poled out.  This double headsail rig provides a completely flat steady ride and is far superior to main and genoa, which causes most boat to waddle side to side  as they go downwind.  

We also often use a poled out genoa and the main on the same side if the wind is medium to light and a bit aft of the beam.  This provides a fantastic trade wind ride and we have enjoyed dozens of days at sea zooming along comfortably with that rig.  (We think a whisker pole is essential for cruising boats).

We are firm believers that a cutter is the BEST rig.  We have found our 130% genoa ideal though you MUST have a rope or foam luff in it so it gets flat enough for having good shape when it is reefed and you are hard on the wind as you will almost always be sailing the eastern Caribbean. 

The staysail gives lots of options and is much superior to a reefed genoa in strong winds.  We especially like Island Packet’s with the Gary Hoyt designed staysail boom.  We also find our full batten main with Harken batt cars and a Dutchman system perfect.  With minimum effort I can raise the sails to within a foot of the masthead by hand from the cockpit and only use the winch to tighten the last foot.  The battens provide MUCH better sail shape than in boom or in mast sails.  Reefing the main takes less than a minute as does dropping it and all is done from the cockpit. 

We feel a ketch rig adds a huge amount of complexity, rigging, weight and expense for almost no benefit. 

What do you dislike about cruising that surprised you?
How much time is spent repairing the boat.

In your experience, how much does cruising cost?
As much as you have to spend.  When we started in 1995 we tracked our budget very carefully and spent about $2,200 per month.  At the time we knew others cruising on budgets from $ 1,000 per month to $ 7,000 per month.  It is still possible to cruise very inexpensively if you avoid marinas, do not eat out often, do your own repair work, don’t travel inland and do not make visits home. I would guess the average well off retired cruiser on a well equipped 45 foot boat who does all those expensive things in reasonable moderation spends about $50K per year. 

One important lesson we learned was about boat maintenance.  We bought our boat new and after the initial outfitting expense did not spend much on the boat our first years out.  But then after 6 or 7 years we had a few years of large outlays to replace equipment. 

What did you do to make your dream a reality?
ventana2 DECIDE.  If you want to go cruising you need to simply DECIDE to go cruising. That is - stop wishing or wanting or talking about going cruising but rather DECIDE to go cruising.   After that you will figure out HOW to make it happen.  

Another important step is to set a date.  This is especially important for people who spend years getting a boat ready then never leave the dock.  (The “to do” list never gets done.. you will have items on it from the moment you leave the dock.. just get the big stuff done and GO.)

How did you secure your valuables (in and on your vessel) while going ashore? And your dinghy?
This is a pretty low priority item I would think. The dinghy- lock the outboard to the dinghy.  Have a loooong chain or cable bolted into the dinghy and chain it up when you go ashore.  Thieves are lazy- if you make your dinghy and outboard hard to steal they will take one from another boat.   DO NOT paint the vessels name on the dinghy transom.  They see the dinghy ashore and know the boat is likely vacant. 

Most boats have some good hiding place for money, but leave $20 bucks in some obvious place too. Ashore I guess pepper spray might be carried. 

What are some of your favorite pieces of gear on your boat and why?
AIS receiver- our new best friend.  I rate AIS as almost as big an addition to sailing as GPS was when it first came out.  Do not leave home without one. We use electronic charts almost exclusively.  Since you will also have guidebooks with harbor charts you do not need much paper backup.  Just a few small scale charts to help you find land- from then on you can use your guidebooks.

Cruisers depend on their SSB radios to keep in touch so get a good installation.  A good watermaker is essential for the Pacific and Red Sea.  Make sure you have good comfortable well lit places to read for each crew member.

Carry good heavy anchors and chain.  We make recommendations on our website.  And make sure you have a powerful windlass.  We consider our anchors, chain and windlass by far our most important gear on board.  MUCH more important than ALL the other safety gear.  Often you will anchor and when you settle you may be closer than expected to a rock, reef or other danger.  If it is hard to raise anchor you will not do so.  If it is a matter of stepping on a toe switch for a minute or two and effortlessly moving a few feet to a safer spot you are likely to do so.  I cannot stress the importance of this enough.

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

I guess the best advice I can offer cruisers facing the challenge of jumping off is to get in the habit of asking what if? 

What if I tack now will I clear that obstruction?
What if we don’t make landfall before dark?
What would I do if my mainsail tore?
What would I do if my partner was injured?
What would I do if the roller furler jammed?
What would I do if the fresh water pump broke?
What would I do if the anchor dragged or snagged on a rock and would not come up?
How would I raise the anchor if the windlass quit?
Where would I move to if the wind changed and made this anchorage a lee shore?
What would I do now if my mate fell overboard?
What would I do if the wind builds to 30 knots?
How would I escape this cabin if there was a fire near the main companionway?
Which fire extinguisher would I grab if there was a stove fire?

The exercise is NOT designed to scare you off from cruising.  Rather it is designed to do just the opposite.  
The unknown is fearful.  The known is not.  By identifying the possible challenges in advance you prevent many problems from happening, and for those that can’t be prevented you can pre-solve them in your mind.  By having a plan in advance you turn the unknown into the known and it becomes less fearful.  Just knowing in the back of your mind that you already have a solution to almost any problem can remove much of the anxiety.   It also plants a seed in your mind that ALL problems are solvable- and knowing this you can usually come up with solutions for the problems you did not anticipate.

Another bit of advice:
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         In my observation most people start off learning about sailing by going on other people’s boats until they really get the bug and buy their own boat.  That is when their learning curve flattens out, as from then on they are the captain and they only learn by trial and error.  I think it much better to sometimes leave your boat at the dock and sail with others just to see how they do certain things differently.  Or invite experienced hands onto your boat and listen to their suggestions.

Closing thoughts:
Someone once told me that when you start sailing you have two buckets.  One labeled “luck” and the other labeled “experience”.  Hopefully you fill up the second bucket before you empty the first.  Every time you get up at 2 am to check the anchor for dragging, or buy a spare part or learn a new technique or practice heaving to or man overboard drills, you are filling up the second bucket.  Keep filling it and you’ll do fine.

Looking forward to sharing an anchorage with you soon.

07 February 2011

10 Questions for Indigo Moon

im1This is the fearsome Atlantic Ocean several hundred miles from shore; good weather windows make for enjoyable passages and when starting out always err on the side of super-calm seas versus spirited sailing. Go slow and let your skills and the seas build up naturally together. Buddy and Melissa Stockwell cruise aboard Indigo Moon, a Lagoon 380 (38’) catamaran hailing from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA. They set off on New Years Day 2005 and returned to put the boat for sale Sept 2010. They spent that time cruising the US East Coast and the entire Caribbean: 18,749 miles in 5.5 years. You can find more information including bios and published articles on their website.

How would you recommend that someone prepares to cruise?
There were two main categories of preparation for us: 1) sailing skills to be able to deliver our vessel safely to distant shores; and 2) recreational skills to provide us with the ability to really enjoy the lifestyle and the destinations. As far as sailing skills, I have to say that from what we saw out there cruising for over five years, it does not take much experience and “book learning” to be ready if you are physically fit, agile, are coordinated, and have an intuitive mechanical aptitude as well (I call it the “McGyver Factor”). We saw many people buy boats, even huge million-dollar catamarans, and set out totally “green” and do perfectly well because they had great natural aptitudes; within a few weeks and months of full time cruising they were way more skilled than that resident “know-it-all” down at your local marina. On the other hand, one couple we met had read all the books, took all the courses, and even had a fine large sailing yacht built brand new, but their adventure was not fun at all. They encountered mishap after mishap, and even broke some bones in the process. Within two years they were through. So, as cruel as it sounds, a very large degree of real success as a cruiser comes from natural physical and mental aptitudes and not classes and courses and books. im4SCUBA: get your recreational credentials! Some experiences cannot be had by just snorkeling, such as Melissa making friends with this huge grouper: Cruising is a very physical endeavor and being “young” and agile with good reflexes at whatever age you are plays a huge role, as you might imagine. That said, across the board as to all new cruisers, the only thing you can really screw up at first is not waiting for really calm weather windows to get to know your limits and the boat’s limits slowly. Stick to coastal cruising and moving in very good weather when first starting out. Never ever be on a schedule. Be patient. Go slow, literally and figuratively. Also, make sure to take turns and rotate all jobs until all crew can single hand the boat and get home in an emergency. It’s best for a couple to alternate days as captain and deckhand. When you begin cruising full time, you’ll learn faster than you think while in the company of others in the cruising community. In the meantime, all you have to do is not get hurt and not hit anything with the boat. In the fullness of time, the rest of cruising will take care of itself if you have any common sense. It’s just that simple. As for recreational skills, get in physical shape! Be ready to hike and bike and walk for miles and miles to provision, etc. I would also strongly recommend getting certified to SCUBA dive so that you can make the most of those exotic destinations.  

In your own experience and your experience meeting other cruisers, what are the common reasons people stop cruising?
There are two categories: 1) the natural, average lifespan of cruising; and, 2) superseding and intervening events that will most-likely to send folks home early. As for the natural lifespan of cruising, this totally freaks out all the romantics who envision “sailing off into the sunset forever.” But it is a fact: cruising is not a forever, end-all adventure for most people. Ninety percent of the Caribbean Fleet we sailed with, and knew personally, has sold their boats too, and we are all happily on land: fulfilled, satisfied and totally “been there, done that, and got the T Shirt” satisfied and completely done with cruising. The average cruising time: five to seven years. Nothing in this life can be done over and over again and retain the initial excitement that was so thrilling at the outset. Cruising and covering thousands of miles is very hard work, and so is maintaining a vessel being subjected to aggressive wear and tear. So, after a few years the initial excitement wanes, the life is not so new and novel anymore, and the sensation of adventure lessens to a large degree. Passages are “just another day at the office.” Going anywhere twice became a total bore. In the end, only brand new horizons could even “move the needle” toward the “emotional adventure zone” again. So in the end, while the hard work never let up, the adventure and excitement waned . . . most particularly on those days when you broke out the tool bag to replace/fix that same part/problem you fixed ten times already over the years. It just gets really old.      

As for the reasons that cut the natural lifespan of cruising short, they are the likely suspects that cut any lifestyle short: failures of financial status and/or health status. After the severe economic recession set in two years ago, lack of funds sent many cruisers back to work, even those in their sixties and seventies who thought they were permanently retired. Failing health also sends many cruisers back to shore, and in the most heartbreaking cases, back home to the graveyard. One cruiser we met was happy and having fun and three months later passed away from pancreatic cancer. Any number of these types of risks can end the cruise “out of the blue” and in a matter of days or even hours. You never know. That is why it is so important to take a shot and head out now if you can.

What mistakes did you make in your first year of cruising?
This sounds pretty arrogant, but we did a fantastic job of outfitting the boat, bringing a ton of tools and spares, and we had not one incident or “awakening” that would indicate a “worst mistake” as newbies. We were ready; we went slowly at first; we were VERY patient with weather windows; and, we worked very hard to take every precaution. In our entire cruise of close to 19,000 miles, we never sustained any serious injury, never even scratched the boat, never had any rig problems, never broke down, never got towed in, never hailed for help on the VHF or asked another cruiser for any assistance whatsoever, and never got lost, stuck, or failed to make port safely and on time. I am very proud of that pristine record and until we sold the boat I would never admit it . . . Neptune would have seen to it that my “bragging rights” be taken away instantly with some terrible calamity, and I am sure Neptune is now fuming because I slipped by with a perfect record. It was 1% luck and 99% fastidious preparation.  

When have you felt most in danger and what was the source?
Hurricane Season is the single source of the greatest angst we experienced in all of cruising. The most terrifying event for us was when we were at the island of Bonaire off the north coast of Venezuela and the fastest forming Category 5 hurricane in history (Felix) came very close to us in its early stages. We were lucky and it missed us, but the forecast changed very quickly and a non-threatening forecasted track for the storm changed to a chance it would hit us head on, and we would have lost the boat. Luckily, we were spared, but the winds were over 100 miles per hour only 35 miles to our north when the hurricane passed by. Hurricane season is the Big Bad Wolf of cruising. Insurance policy constraints force cruisers to leave idyllic areas like the Bahamas, Virgin Islands and upper Eastern Caribbean that lie in the hurricane belt, and cruisers must go up the US east coast (and lose all that precious easting they made to get to the Virgin Islands), or hole-up in dangerous places way down south in the Caribbean . . . dangerous as in crime in places like Trinidad, Venezuela, and Guatemala, where Rule of Law is almost non-existent and the murder rates are often through-the-roof, or else hide in places where wicked summer weather is routine such as Panama’s San Blas Islands where epic lightning and rain storms ensue, with striking many vessels per season (sometimes twice!). Hurricane Season, and all that is forces cruisers to do, is the very worst thing about cruising if you ask me.

Share a piece of cruising etiquette
im3Sometimes you have unwelcome guests aboard like this Red Tailed Boa that we found one morning in Panama’s San Blas islands. And this is representative of people too. Just because someone is out cruising, it does not mean they are folks you want anything to do with, so take your time getting to know people and don’t become bosom-buddies too quickly Here are a three of my pet peeves: 1) never, ever anchor upwind and in front of another boat unless you have absolutely no other choice, and if you must do it, immediately take your dinghy to the vessel behind you (or try and hail on the VHF) and introduce yourself; apologize for anchoring “on top of” the other boat, and ask if they are comfortable with how close you are (also, be ready to share how much scope you put out and that you checked your anchor); 2) never, ever tilt your dinghy outboard up at the dinghy dock because it will be a menace to others and their dinghies; and 3) when cruising in a fleet of friends, or anchored in a pack, pick your own “community” VHF channel such as 72 to converse and do NOT use channel 16 to keep hailing each other all day and night. Others on the same passages, or in the same anchorages, want peace and quiet and are most assuredly not interested in all the mindless banter that goes on between the ever-present “radioactive” boats with crews that can’t seem to let five minutes pass without some “diarrhea-of-the-mouth” drivel being chatted about on the radio.

What did you do to make your dream a reality?
I made a no-nonsense, simple, pragmatic “straight ahead” list of what had to be done to really go, and I worked extremely hard to follow the list: 1) buy a boat that my wife picked out and she loves; 2) sell my business; 3) liquidate my home and automobiles and take all that money and buy the boat; 4) accept the fact that our savings will be significantly impacted to fund the adventure and that we will go back to work eventually anyway and pay the price for having gone cruising; 5) outfit the boat quickly to a totally ocean-ready level; 4) take a deep breath, say goodbye, and untie the lines and LEAVE, come what may. It’s so very, very hard to accomplish such a list because the effort involved, physically and especially emotionally, is quite simply astounding. It’s easier to keep delaying things by say “maybe we need another sailing course first” or “perhaps we’ll go after the grandkids are older” or “we probably need more money” or “I don’t want to go until we can retire for good” . . . the list is endless, and usually comprised of layers of fear-based veneers that are all “excuses” and not really legitimate barriers to cruising. It takes a lot of GUTS to “go right at it” and take a list like that and attack it with all your might and not back down, let up, or allow fear and doubt the come aboard for more than a few moments now and then. Knowing what I know now, the biggest impediment to cruising is pure fear of the unknown coupled with the stunning amount of effort it takes to pull it all together. It was one of the hardest physical and emotional endeavors of our lives. It was, predictably, also equally the most rewarding project we have ever accomplished. It’s been said that “no result worth having is easy” and that certainly describes cruising.

Describe a perfect cruising moment that will make cruisers-to-be drool with anticipation
im2Although harder to find, there are still amazing areas of tropical beauty that will leave even the most jaded word-traveler breathless, such as the Coco Banderos Cays in Panama’s San Blas Islands Rather than recite some re-hashed story of a perfect sunrise at sea, or describe that spiritual starlit night watch, I want to paint here with a broader brush. For me the greatest beauty of cruising was the progression of learning what is really important to me. At first, cruising was all about experiencing the beauty of the sea and exotic ports from a tourist's standpoint. As time went on, I was much more interested in the history, culture and the people of foreign lands, rather than just gawking at the natural settings we sailed through (and after a few years those idyllic palm-lined tropical beaches become pretty pedestrian anyway . . . yawn). Then, it was mostly about people more so than the places. I so very much enjoyed meeting so many diverse people, no matter what the setting. And, then as time went on and I interacted with so many diverse people, I began to realize that I was discovering, above all, more and more about myself in the process. People ask “what is the coolest thing you found along the way while cruising” and I always answer: “ME!” Cruising provides one with a priceless experience of freedom to be oneself at all times and settle down and reach a true, unfettered equilibrium of who they really are. That alone was worth the price of admission of cruising.

Can you think of a sailing tip (e.g., sail trim, sail combination) specific to offshore passages (e.g., related to swells)?
Not really. There are so many different boats and designs that there is no generic sail trim tip I can offer. The only “Mother-of-all” offshore tips I can offer is that it has to be the LAW on your vessel: never ever, not even once, not even for a second, not even in perfect conditions, ever go on deck alone without being tethered to the boat. The mission is to come back home alive and if you never break that LAW the odds are you will make it back to home base.

Over the time that you have been cruising, has the world of cruising changed?
im5Fishing: this does not happen every day, or even every week or month, but it is nice when it does! Yes, it is changing in many ways. The advent if GPS has allowed more people the ability to cruise farther into more remote areas and do so more safely as to navigational hazards like reefs, etc. Electric winches and windlasses and more sophisticated running rigging has allowed the single-handing and short-crew sailing of larger vessels. Vessel designs are changing too. For one thing, catamarans have finally been recognized as very seaworthy cruising vessels and also as vastly superior platforms for living aboard in the tropics. Ocean sailing itself has never been safer, what with EPRIB’s and Iridium Phones, and technology that can provide instant communication and real time weather information. All of this means that cruising is accessible to a much wider range of people with a much wider range of skills (or lack thereof). More cruisers mean more tourist traps down island, and there is more crime now too. It’s getting very hard to find those truly remote, pristine areas without another vessel in sight. Those “Blue Lagoon” dream destinations are still out there, but with the growing cruising population, in some areas down south cruisers have now moved in, become liveaboards, and are there in such numbers that they obscure the local culture and diminish the authenticity of what once was. Also, it is of note to mention that cruisers are now as diverse as the people in your subdivision back home. They run the gamut all the way from what we all usually envision as “nice folks out cruising” to dangerous criminals and the mentally ill. That is why one should be very cautious about becoming “fast friends” with new acquaintances while cruising. Just because someone lives on a boat does not mean anything at all as to what kind of person they are or whether you should allow them on your vessel or go aboard theirs. When you head out cruising, take you streets smarts aboard with you. Cruising is becoming as much an industry as it is an adventure with both good and bad attributes. Cruising will always be a terrific adventure and I would do it all again, no matter what. All one can do is work hard, be informed, and adjust plans according to one’s own comfort zones. The only way one can really totally screw up cruising is to not do it their way and not have fun. There is no right or wrong way or style of cruising in the end. You get to do it precisely your way. And life does not get much better than that.

I wish everyone great success in getting their adventures underway and in their ongoing cruising efforts!

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

"What kind of firearms do you have to protect yourselves?"

The "guns onboard issue" spawns endless, passionate debates and for good reason.  Obviously, there are two very polarized schools of thought.  As for me, I am a Louisiana sportsman and a keen marksman too. I respect and appreciate firearms and I absolutely believe in the right to bear arms and the right to protect one's self and loved ones. My wife, Melissa, on the other hand, grew up in a Californian family that never owned guns. She is terrified of guns and was very uncomfortable about the thought of having a gun on our boat. Her feeling was that the utility of a gun on board far outweighed the risks it posed to us.

After much research, and after long internal and external conflict, I opted for protective measures that did not include firearms. That is NOT the decision you would have expected from a "Southern Boy" from a politically "Red State" is it? But an objective analysis rendered that result nonetheless. Among the various factors I considered, the shooting of famous New Zealand yachtsman Peter Blake, weighed heavily. While anchored off the Brazilian coast on December 7, 2001, Blake was shot and killed by a band of young pirates. Some critics have argued that Blake's shooting can be attributed to his escalation of a robbery into a "firefight" by resisting the robbers with a rifle. 

From the sailing publication Latitude 38:  "Tragically, Blake's decision to defend his boat and crew probably precipitated his death.  If Peter did not arm himself, this maybe would not have happened. The robbers would have taken the objects and left it at that." One of the greatest sailors in the World, Peter Blake's death rocked the sailing community around the globe and the "guns on board" debate reached fever pitch after that tragic incident.

Aside from Peter Blake's murder, I am old and wise enough to know that "successful" gunfights are a fantasy that has been instilled in us by Hollywood!  In reality, when guns come into play it will probably end very, Very, VERY badly for all the parties involved, even if you do "win" and "get the other guy."
Also, I read John S. Burnett's sobering look at modern day piracy I his book "Dangerous Waters: Modern Piracy and Terror on the High Seas" (Plume Books, published by the Penguin Group, 2002). Burnett's overview on piracy is dramatic and one comes away with a complete understanding of two main points: 1) all vessels, even Supertankers are successfully attacked by pirates around the world and no locale is immune; and, 2) engaging the pirates in a fire fight is the worst course of action - cooperation and ending the episode as quickly as possible is the only viable course of action.

I have concluded piracy attacks are of two basic types: Type 1: a lone thief (maybe with a buddy waiting for him in a small boat), climbs aboard and tries to steal your wallet or dinghy while you sleep, perhaps armed with a machete at worst. Type 2: a fast boat loaded with four or more well-armed robbers comes along side and they board you (sometimes the crooks are even in official military uniforms, as has happened to boats anchored at Isle De Margarita in Venezuela, for example).

It does not take much mental energy to conclude that it's stupid to try and engage a boat load of seriously armed men, no matter what guns you have on a sailboat.  They will probably outgun you and then your death warrant is signed.   As for the machete guy, we ultimately decided we could fight him (and that may not be wise anyway) with pepper spray and flare guns and the like if he tries to break into the boat. In fact, we can just keep the hatches locked and let him have the damned dinghy. That would be better than winding up is some Third World courtroom.

We were out cruising to have fun. Take it from me as an attorney, engaging the legal system (anywhere in the world), is as far from fun as you can possibly get! Also, aside from guns potentially escalating theft-only situations into deadly firefights, guns on board pose a more likely and imminent risk to the cruisers who carry them. Many countries require a declaration of firearms and often require you to surrender the firearm and ammo during your stay.  So, that leaves you unarmed anyway, with the added hassle of returning to the port of entry to retrieve your firearm when you check out a country.

If you tell a lie about the firearm and don't declare it, you are taking huge risks.  If caught, you could face long prison time and seizure of your vessel and all its contents.  Ignorance of the law is no excuse. A couple of years ago a cruiser was arrested, fined tens of thousands of dollars and has been criminally prosecuted in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands for having undeclared firearms on his boat. Virgin Islands Customs and Immigration Officers do not ask about weapons when you check in. There is no question on the written form you fill out. You are just supposed to know! Despite the risks, most cruisers I know with guns simply don't declare them and hope they don't get caught. But, what is the point of that? Who cares if a gun was hidden successfully? Where is the security in that? The point of having the gun is to be able to use it successfully for self-defense.

If a hidden, undeclared gun is used to shoot or even merely threaten an assailant in foreign country, then the risks become extremely high for the gun owner.  There is no available defense for the gun owner such as: "Well, gee whiz, Judge; I know I didn't declare the gun, but come on! We were being assaulted and I really needed to use the gun."  That won't fly.  In short, if you hide a gun and don't declare it and then use it, you could very well lose your boat and everything on it, plus in many jurisdictions you will find yourself in a Third World jail cell for a long time, probably more than the assailant(s).

At this point in guns-on-boats discussions around campfires and at potluck dinners, the gun-hiding cruisers always retort: "Well, after I shoot that son-of-a-bitch, I'll just pull anchor and leave!"  But that leaves the shooter in a position of always looking back at his wake, forever. Will a shooting catch up to you? There is no statute of limitations on murder. Will that boat that was anchored next to the shooter's boat give a description of the shooter's boat and turn him in?  Will a local fisherman, out dragging nets at night, see you exit the anchorage and give a description?

From another angle altogether, forget everything else and just think only about this for a moment: wouldn't it be tragic if after all the effort it took to go cruising you came away from the entire experience with the act of killing someone being the most memorable event of the whole adventure?  It would absolutely reduce the Cruising Dream into nightmarish rubble. So, against the backdrop of all that, I finally came to the conclusion to leave firearms at home and risk being unarmed versus risk being armed, rightly or wrongly. 

Nonetheless, the gun issue is very emotional and no clear answers present themselves.When it comes down to it, guns are such a personal choice that my opinion, and everybody else's opinion, is wholly irrelevant to you. You must look at all the different "angles" and decide the gun issue on your own. There are no hard a fast rules. Some cruisers have in fact successfully used guns to fend off attacks and gotten away with it. Some have lost their lives, however, like Peter Blake did after firing the first shot.

Of course, I always feared that one situation where I would never forgive myself for not having brought a firearm. No matter what the consequences would be for me in the end, if I could have totally prevented physical harm to Melissa and failed to do so for lack of a gun, I would be hard pressed to ever forgive myself. Melissa and I talked about all of these issues very candidly, but in the end Melissa did not want any part of a Cruising Life with a gun on board. And so it was for us. The "guns on board" decision is a very personal one indeed and I can offer no real advice whatsoever, other than to share what the process was like for us.

03 February 2011

10 Questions for Driver

driver2Dave, Jaja, Chris, Holly, Teiga cruised from 1988 until 2003 first aboard Direction (Cal 25 hailing from Seattle, WA, USA) and then aboard Driver (Chattam 33, hailing from Oriental, NC, USA). They completed a circumnavigation plus a trip to the Arctic. You can read more about their trip on their website or reach them via email (jaja@midcoast.com).

What advice would you give to parents thinking about taking their children cruising?

Don’t over-prepare. For someone who is currently living a land based life, it’s difficult to know exactly what will be needed on the boat. Living aboard ifs extremely different than a land based life. Entertainment, education, privacy, cleanliness, space constraints, noise and discipline are a few of the everyday things that might be concerns.

On board life with children is incredibly rewarding. Each day presents new learning opportunities and bonding moments. For us, being able to spent so much time with our children was incalculably valuable for us and our children. Often boat kids are precocious and adult savvy. Since they spend so much time with adults, listening to and understanding conversations, they are able to contribute in mature ways. On our boat we almost always included our children in decision making in one capacity or another. Because we became such a close family unit it was important to each person to have a say in major decisions - even when our children were very young.

Some of the challenges to bringing up children on a boat are noise, space constraints and privacy. Each person has a unique threshold of noise level tolerance. Although I was rarely bothered by loud, excited children, Dave sometimes needed a little quiet time to think. The problem was finally solved one day when I came home with a pair of industrial ear protectors used by people working in airports. This was a wonderful and easy solution.

driver3 The biggest difficulty often concerns space - there never seems to be enough. Toys can take up an amazing amount of room and become a bone of contention when they’re strewn around a small cabin. To prevent toy overload think about bringing toys that can be used in conjunction with other toys as well as everyday hardware - like Lego. Lego also stows well. Depending on your boat storage capacity, it might be a good idea to have a  designated toy locker. Whatever fits is all the kids can have. If they only bring a few toys, and the locker is half empty, there will be room to get new stuff. Also, cruisers often trade toys to keep things interesting.

Biggest advice - Have fun with your kids everyday!!!!

Where was your favorite place to visit and why?

This is a hard question to answer because the criterion for what constitutes a “favorite” place morphed for us over time. Before we had children we loved the places where there was solitude and beauty, like the Tuamotu atolls. It was paradise for us to walk hand and hand, naked along an endless, deserted beach. White sand, sun, turquoise water and palm trees - it makes me want to go back just thinking about it! When our kids were little, they shared our love for deserted beaches. We spent hours beach combing, playing in the sand, swimming snorkeling, and walking. Australia and New Zealand stand out as being “favorite” places at that time, with low key, cool people and welcoming play groups for the kids.

When our kids grew to school age we loved each of the communities we settled in. Iceland, Norway, and Newfoundland were all places where the people were unbelievably accepting, kind and supportive. All three of those places have natural beauty and opportunities to experience raw nature. It would be impossible to leave out Spitsbergen. This was one of the most unique and captivating places we visited.

But when we’re pressed to answer which place we loved the best we usually come up with Cocos Keeling in the Indian Ocean. The reason? Well, it is a beautiful island with protected bays, deserted white sand beaches and a small community. But the reason we remember it so well is because it was a haven in a storm. We crossed the Indian Ocean early in the season and subsequently we experienced very rough seas and strong winds every single day. Cocos was a brief and welcome respite.

Describe your first sailing experience

The first time I went sailing was on the Shrewsbury River in New Jersey with my Dad. I was eight at the time and my father was new to sailing. He had joined a small club that had half a dozen 420’s. Sailing was the best thing I had ever done. I loved it from day one. I wanted the boat to heel farther, the wind to blow stronger, and I wanted to capsize and go swimming.

Dave's first sailing experience took place on the Cal 25 at age eight. He went out on Seattle's lake Washington with his mom, dad and sister. He hated it. Every time the boat heeled he screamed! At age 22, he rebuilt this same boat and renamed it "Direction".

My first ocean passage was on Direction with Dave. We crossed the Bay of Biscay in November. This was the best thing I had ever done up till that point. The passage was rough, windy, chilly and everything my heart could have desired.

What do you think is a common cruising myth?

Everyday is a holiday.

driver1With the benefit of hindsight, what are the boat selection criteria you would use to purchase a boat for long term cruising?

  • Price
  • Cruising destination
  • Hull integrity
  • Sailing performance

What is something you think potential cruisers are afraid about that they shouldn't fear? And what is something potential cruisers don't worry about that perhaps they should?

Be fearful of getting stuck on land, and not going!

Things I wouldn’t worry about:

  • Don’t try to bring everything with you - it’s easy to find stuff along the way. - Don’t worry overly much about medical problems - there are good doctors everywhere.
  • Don’t try to bring every type of medicine along - pharmacies exist in most places.
  • If you have kids don’t worry about education - living on a boat is an experience that surpasses almost anything they can learn while sitting behind a desk.
  • Once you’re out there and committed to a long passage, don’t worry about adverse weather - most boats are designed to survive extreme weather conditions. Sometimes the boat does better than the crew.

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

We swam under our boat and scraped the bottom weekly instead of buying bottom paint. Never used paper towels, or disposable diapers, and rarely used a laundromat. Stayed away from marinas and restaurants.

Basically we spent as little money as we could. We worked often. We never felt deprived. We never felt that we were making compromises. It was our lifestyle, and we loved it (even scraping the boat!)

driver5 How often have you faced bad weather in your cruising? How bad?

We had our share of storms. Some were pretty bad. Two that come to mind are our passage between New Zealand and Fiji (we experienced 50 knots for several days with our 5month old and two year old as crew). The other, was our passage between Northern Norway and Spitsbergen. It was blowing a gale and the seas were large, stacked and confused.

In your first year of cruising, what transitions did you find the most difficult?

When I first started to cruise with Dave, I was in my young 20's and all my belongings fit in a backpack. Dave and I met in the Virgin Islands where we were both working for a resort giving out snorkeling gear and teaching sailing. After a while, when I moved aboard Direction I wasn't really changing my lifestyle and didn't have to figure out what to "pack". And, cruising to bays where the wind blew us was what I had been doing metaphorically since college. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the transition to cruising life for me was fairly seamless. I was cruising through life on a boat instead of on land, which was actually easier in many ways.

Space could have been an issue, but I didn't have much stuff, and Dave and I spent most of our time outside. Given the warm, tropical weather we never felt cramped. I had no ties or commitments to shore other than writing the odd letter to siblings a few times a year. All that I owned was on the boat. Dave and I had no house, apartment, insurance, bank account, bills, stuff in storage, cars ... nothing. I believe, at that time in our lives, we truly experienced freedom. Probably, the hardest transition was trying to figure out how to make a phone call from different ports. Back in the 80's you had to go to a post office to place a long distance call. If you were lucky and your call went through you were directed to a "cabin" to talk. Between the business hours of the PO and the time differences between countries it was sometimes a challenge to get a line through.

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

How did you deal with diapers?

driver4I hand washed cloth diapers for all three kids. Every morning I washed out dirty diapers (10 - 12 of them) using two buckets, a pair of gloves, a scrub brush, and as little water as I could get away with. Dave carried the water aboard in heavy five gallon jugs so I tried hard to conserve. I used solar power to dry them (i.e. the sun) a clothes line and clothes pins. Consequently, all three kids were potty trained, both day and night, by 14 months. We rarely had an accident. When at sea, it was more tricky but we managed. Using salt water to wash diapers doesn't work. I never even considered trying it, although it was advise frequently given to me. "Imagine washing your underwear in salt water" was the observation I would throw back.