31 March 2011

Interviews with 11 cruising couples

Lin Pardey shared a chapter from her book The Capable Cruiser (also available on Kindle) in two parts on the Women and Cruising site. These two parts focus on interviews she conducted with 11 cruising couples. Check them out!

Part 1
Part 2

If you know of any cruising interview projects available for free online, that I haven't shared, please feel free to send me information about them (iwac.project@gmail.com).

28 March 2011

10 Questions for Location

location3 James “J” Mills cruised aboard Location, a Calatline 470 hailing from Newport Beach, CA, USA from 2006 until 2010. In October 2006, with his wife LeDean, his dog “Escrow”, and two friends Terry & Jim, he sailed off for Mexico with the 2006 Baja Ha Ha. LeDean, Escrow, and “commuter cruised” the Sea of Cortez, primarily around La Paz for the next two and a half years. In March 2009, he set out single-handed and sailed from La Paz to Conception Bay, back to La Paz, and then across the Sea to Mazatlan, and from there south to Banderas Bay, Manzanillo, and finally back to Newport Beach in June 2010. Interested readers can find articles, essays, and stories of his years of cruising at his website, view his photo page or contact him via facebook. He has been an avid sailor, scuba diver, skier, entrepreneur, workaholic, life-seeker, most of his life. In 2006, after a long business career, he took a sabbatical to pursue his dream of sailing around the world, and to focus on becoming a writer. He is currently writing two books based on his sailing experiences.

What is something about the cruising culture / experience you liked and what is something you disliked?
Wow… there was so much that was positive, and wonderful, and amazing, and so little that I would describe as negative, at least in hindsight.

Right from the beginning, with the Baja Ha Ha in 2006, there was always a great feeling of camaraderie among the cruisers that we encountered throughout our travels. One of the things that always amazed me was how common our experiences were, or would become. If you stay out long enough, you’ll experience all of the good things, and most of the bad things that cruisers go through eventually. The VHF Cruiser Nets in the more popular ports are a great resource. If you start talking with other cruisers, and listen and learn from their experiences as you go you will certainly enhance your experience and in particular learn how to handle the rough spots more easily. When cruisers got into trouble, weathered a storm, or some other event, something broke on board, or whatever, the VHF Cruiser Net, or just talking with other cruisers in the marinas and anchorages where we were, almost always led to help and an eventual solution.

My last 18 months were spent single-handed, and that was probably more difficult than I had imagined it would be; not so much the loneliness (because single-handing was a choice), but the “lone-ness”. A lot of the culture is based on “couples” out there cruising, and it’s more difficult I think for a single-hander to bond with the “group”. There seems to be some apprehension from others about why you’re out there by yourself. I have my theories about that, both serious and not. 

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?
There were many variables in my life during the four years I spent cruising, too many things that could have been done differently, and it would be easy to have regrets, but I don’t really, and there’s not much that I would seriously do differently, all things considered.

I would have liked to have spent more time further up in the Sea of Cortez, but in between the hurricane season and winter you only have about three months of ideal cruising, so you have to decide how to spend the hurricane season, and whether you want warm water in the winter. My first year out single-handed I left La Paz in March with plans to stay up in the Sea through June at least, and maybe summer in the “hurricane hole” in San Carlos / Guaymas. I got into a gale one night in April near Bahia Conception that damaged my rig though, and after patching things up I had to go back to La Paz to make repairs. I took my time going back and really enjoyed that cruise down the coast of Baja, but it was late June by the time the repairs were complete. I had already spent three summers in La Paz so I decided to head across the Sea to Mazatlan. That summer in Mazatlan was very hot, humid, and uncomfortable, and I think I would have preferred to be in La Paz, but I was also very happy that I had not ended up in San Carlos, as I had planned, because it got hit by a serious hurricane that year. Still, my boat did sustain some damage from a hurricane that grazed Mazatlan, and a lightning strike. But if I hadn’t been there then, I might never have gotten over to that side of the Sea.

Ultimately, you never know what to expect. You just have to weigh all your options, evaluate the risks and rewards, and then step out there and do it, and deal with whatever comes your way. Most of it will be incredibly good.

location Describe a perfect cruising moment that will make cruisers-to-be drool with anticipation.
I don’t think that there is anything “perfect” about cruising (except perhaps some of the sunrises and sunsets, a cold beer over ice sitting under the bimini on a warm afternoon at anchor, a morning swim in clear, warm water, a spinnaker run in ten knot winds and flat seas, a full moon on a quiet night…..OK, maybe a few things!).

One of the more amazing experiences I had was after our second night out, going south on the Baja Ha Ha. We were sailing along the west side of Cedros Island, with our spinnaker up,  in fifteen knot winds and five foot seas as the sun rose, when we were suddenly surrounded by a large pod of grey whales. You could see their blow-spouts erupting all around us. I was up on the bow getting ready to drop the spinnaker in the growing wind and seas, when my wife at the helm yelled my name in a rather panicked mode. I looked back just as a huge whale, coming up behind us, rose up on the surface and then dove beneath Location’s stern with its tail raised, filling the air as if it would swat us from behind, and then disappearing into the sea, very close. We were sailing at nearly nine knots, and this big whale then surfaced right along-side us and rolled over on his side, and kind of waved at us with his big flipper, and I could see his eye looking at me. He was as long as we were, and he rolled under the water and the boat, and then came up on our other side, and took another look, blowing a gust of air and water over us, still moving right along with us in the big seas. We got so excited watching that whale as he watched us, literally no more than ten feet away, pacing us, that we lost the spinnaker and it wrapped on the forestay, which created another whole set of problems. The whale kept pace with us for another fifteen minutes, swimming along our side, diving under us from one side to the next, watching us as we struggled to unwrap the spinnaker sail, and avoid a collision, which was really pointless since the whale had a lot more maneuverability than us at that point. Finally, he swam ahead of us in a sudden spurt of speed and rolled up on the surface again, flashed his huge tail in the air about twenty feet off our bow, and disappeared beneath the water.

Another very truly evocative experience was waking up in Matanchen Bay to calm, warm water, tropical green hills, and golden warm sunlight, after arriving there in a very dark cold night, from a rather difficult 32 hour single-handed passage (made with no instruments or autopilot) from Mazatlan. That was about as “perfect” a feeling of peace and transition as I have ever experienced. Setting off on a passage was always exciting, being short or single-handed was always a challenge, arriving at a destination was always wonderful. 

What did you miss about living on land?
Provisioning was always a challenge. Not the shopping itself or finding what you want so much as the logistics of getting to and from the store. I missed the freedom of being able to just get in my car and go to the store. When we were commuter cruising in the early years, we would drive down to La Paz from Southern California most of the time, so we had a car, and it was relatively easy going back and forth from the marina and town. Later, when I was single-handing, and out on the Sea cruising from one anchorage or port to another, it became more of a challenge; first finding out where you needed to go, and then finding transportation, and handling all of the bundles and bags of goods and groceries. If I needed to go to more than one store, then it usually required more than one trip, which usually meant more than one day.
In Mexico the bus systems are pretty good and easy, especially on the mainland. The buses will stop and pick you up or drop you off anywhere along their routes; they run consistently and you seldom have to wait long for the next bus to come by; they are cheap, but comfortable, and usually air conditioned; and riding the bus is a great way to get to know the cities. Taxis give you more freedom, but are far more expensive. Sometimes I would take a bus to the store, but since I had bought so many supplies and couldn’t carry them all, I would have to take a taxi back to the boat. I guess this is fairly common, since there were always taxis waiting outside or near the major stores. 

Did you find "trade goods" to be useful on your cruise? If so, what kinds?
We didn’t take anything with us specifically as a “trade good”, but at times we did barter and trade some of our supplies with local fishermen. Along the coast of Baja in particular, there are isolated little fish camps that the fishermen work out of and live at. These camps are often a long way from civilization, and so the fishermen, some of them with families, have a difficult time provisioning themselves.

Along the coast of Baja between Puerto Escondido and La Paz I came upon one fisherman who approached me at anchor and wanted to trade a couple of lobsters he had yet to catch for a six-pack of beer and fifty pesos. I agreed, and about an hour later he returned with two very nice lobsters for a total price of about 110 pesos or eight dollars.

On my way up the Pacific side of Baja (doing the Bash) I was anchored at Bahia Santa Maria, which is very isolated and hard to reach by both land and sea, waiting for a storm to pass. The fishermen were stranded as well, and a small panga with three men on board came by and wanted to trade either lobsters or fish they had caught for meat. I took two lobsters from them and gave them two cans of Chili Con Carne, two cans of Corned Beef Hash, and two bottles of water in exchange, which amounted to about eight dollars in cost to me. They would have preferred a couple of steaks, but I didn’t have any fresh meat on board then. They also asked for batteries, which they needed for their hand-held GPS and radios.

In Mexico at least, the locals can buy almost anything they want or need, and usually cheaper than we might pay for it, so we typically didn’t have anything onboard that might be a valuable trade good. In the more remote regions of the world, such as the South Pacific and Far East Islands, trade goods would probably be more valuable to have onboard. 

location2 What piece(s) of gear would you leave on the dock next time? Why?
Location was very well equipped when we left the States, and the only things that we didn’t use were probably the two heaters we had stowed away (until my “bash” back up the coast in 2010). We also had a portable ice machine that took up some space in the main cabin, and didn’t get used very much. It was a 110 volt model that required a lot of power, and so we never used it at anchor, and only occasionally while in a marina and hooked to shore-power. Ice was always available in the villages and marinas, and kept well in the freezer, and the freezer also worked well enough to make ice in some aluminum ice-trays that I had, so really the ice maker wasn’t needed.

In your experience, how much does cruising cost?
This really depends on your lifestyle. If you are staying in marinas and eating out a lot, which we did in the beginning in La Paz, then it cost about $1,500 a month for the two of us and our dog. We could have spent more if we had taken a lot of side excursions, but we stuck pretty much to the sea, and cruising the islands.
Later, when I was single-handed, and my funds were more limited, I spent a lot less time in marinas, and lived pretty well on about $500 per month, which covered five or six days a month in marinas, two or three meals a week on shore, and all of my food, fuel, and other necessities. Traveling back and forth from the States, boat maintenance while away, cell phone and satellite phone costs, insurance, and occasional boat repairs added more expense. Cruising full-time is cheaper than commuter cruising, because of the extra travel and marina expenses. If everything else is paid for then I would say that a couple can live very well, and experience the local sights in Mexico, on $1,000 a month, cruising and living aboard full-time.

What is the most difficult aspect of the cruising lifestyle?
As I mentioned above, provisioning was probably the most challenging regular chore that we had while cruising. Laundry and making repairs to the boat were also challenging and time consuming chores that had to be done regularly.

Dealing with sudden, and unexpected changes in the weather was probably the most difficult and challenging aspect of cruising overall, especially when I was single-handed. Yes, I always checked the weather, but the weather was not always as predicted, and once you’re “out there”, you’re out there! I went through a sixty knot gale with thirty foot seas on my first single-handed over-night passage, sailing from Puerto Escondido to Bahia Conception; the weather forecast had no clue of it. I weathered numerous late night blows at anchor with winds at thirty to forty knots that just came up with no warning, several “chubasco” thunderstorms along the coast of mainland Mexico, with winds up to seventy knots, and a “weather bomb” in Banderas Bay that smacked the cruising fleet anchored in La Cruz late one night with ninety knot winds and high seas. Location also weathered three minor hurricanes while berthed in La Paz and Mazatlan. All in all, these storms were few and far between, when you consider the four year time frame, but they kicked the @#$%^&* out of both me and my boat, and make you wonder at times what the hell you are doing out there. After you have been through a couple of fifty and sixty knot blows, thirty and forty knot winds don’t seem so bad, and you begin to trust your preparation and get used to the surprises. A couple of good days of fair weather and fair winds, and the storms were quickly forgotten, though the lesson was learned to always prepare for the worst, and relish in the typical calm.

In your own experience and your experience meeting cruising couples, can you convince a reluctant partner to go cruising and if so, how?
Can you?..... Maybe. Should you?.... probably not! If your partner is reluctant then it is probably based on fear, either of what they know or suspect, or of the unknown, or they just plain don’t want to go; leaving friends and family can be difficult. You can’t train, or teach, or learn how to overcome reluctance. It won’t do any good to soft-pedal the experience; basing expectations on the “feel good” articles typical of the sailing magazines will surely turn any reluctance into staunch resistance once the reality of the cruising experience has struck.
Cruising is wonderful, exciting, relaxing, invigorating, frightening, marvelous, challenging, mysterious, and life evoking. It is not easy! It needs to be experienced to be appreciated. You can inch into that experience with weekend cruises, and weeklong cruises, and then two week cruises, but you can’t be afraid to experience the bad with the good, and if someone is not open to new experiences then cruising is probably not something that they will ever be comfortable with.

If you are out there full-time then you will surely experience some difficult times. If you are cruising seasonally you can reduce some of that exposure, but not all of it, and the bad will happen along with the good. In my case, I found myself single-handed after two years of commuter cruising, trying to convince my partner of the merits of a worldwide cruise…. It may have been my fault, since I have a tendency to push the envelope, but I don’t think that you can cruise without a certain amount of potential mayhem. I tried, but ultimately it just wasn’t in her, and our good experiences together did nothing to change her reluctance.

What question do you wish I would have asked you besides the ones I've asked you and how would you answer it?
Where was your favorite cruising area?

location4 The Sea of Cortez is an amazing cruising area, and I would have to say that wherever I was at the time was my favorite area. La Paz was logistically the most convenient location for commuter cruising from the western US. It is a very friendly and comfortable city that always felt safe and secure, with great restaurants, and a very uncluttered, unhurried, family based ambiance.

Banderas Bay offered the best sailing, and it was not uncommon to sail completely around the Bay without changing tacks just following the typical shifts in the wind through the day. I also enjoyed La Cruz a great deal, with its friendly cruiser community and small town feel, and of course tropical and isolated Yelapa on the south side of the Bay.

Mazatlan was a wonderful cosmopolitan city, very “old Mexico” and cultural, and I particularly enjoyed visiting the Old Town Historical District with its renovated buildings, the Cathedral, and parks, and patio restaurants. It had the best bus system as well, and a great boat yard with very affordable and expert boat services from Total Yacht Works at the Fonatur Marina.

Weather was always a defining element of course. I spent a wonderful two weeks over Christmas anchored in Chacala on the mainland coast north of Banderas Bay. Matanchen Bay and San Blas were sublime, except for the jejennes at night (no-see-ems). And the entire Baja coast and the islands from Bahia de los Muertos to Conception Bay offered the best and most beautiful white-sand beaches and anchorages, and good fishing and diving, with the occasional challenge of a late-night Coromuel wind to keep things interesting.

I could easily have spent another two years on the Sea of Cortez and in Mexico, and still had more to see. Not once did I ever feel unsafe at any place or time while in Mexico, including the many drives we made up and down Baja, and while there are obviously some problems in certain areas of the country they are easy to avoid with a little common sense (there are areas in the US that you just don’t go to either, but the Press doesn’t talk about that!), and I would never hesitate cruising that area again.

21 March 2011

10 Questions for Sohcahtoa

Casey, Jeff and Matt cruised from 2005 to 2007 aboard Sohcahtoa, a LaFitte 44 hailing from Seattle, WA, USA. They completed a two year circumnavigation by way of the Cape of Good Hope and through the Panama Canal stopping in Mexico, French Polynesia (Marquesas, Tuamotus and Society Islands), The Cook Islands, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, Australia, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Mascarene Islands (Rodrigues and Mauritius), Republic of South Africa, St Helena, Ascension Island, Brazil, Bonaire, Panama and Costa Rica.  You can learn more about their cruise on their website. Casey says: “On Nov. 20th I married Majella van Hoof, an amazing Australian gal whom I met while we were cruising in Tonga in 2006. She isn't mentioned in the Sohcahtoa blog because I was superstitious that doing so might jinx the relationship. We're currently living in the Seattle area but were married in Australia. Matt and Jeff were both in the wedding.

How did you (or did you) gain offshore experience prior to leaving?
To gain offshore experience we headed to the west side of Vancouver Island one weekend a few months before we had planned to start our cruise. By the time we got there, it was nearly dead calm. We bobbed around for a couple hours and went home. Our next experience was the passage from Neah Bay, Washington to San Diego.

What is something about the cruising culture you like and what is something you dislike?
I loved how welcoming people from the countries we visited were. We met people who drove us around on tours, welcomed us into their homes and gave us fresh fruit and vegetables. I doubt we would have had the same reception stepping off a airplane or big cruise ship. I think it's a combination of starting out with an interesting story (and tan), feeling more comfortable because you're essentially arriving in your house and often showing up to smaller areas that might not get as much tourist attention.

Similarly, there's a great camaraderie among fellow cruisers. Cruisers are often eager to lend a hand to or share a bit of useful knowledge with a fellow cruiser. This applies to people actively cruising. Cruisers who hunker down in one area for a few seasons can lose that. They can start cliques and/or feuds with the other cruisers there. Maybe those people shouldn't be considered cruisers but rather live a boards in a foreign country. I guess that's more of imperfection in the territory than something I dislike about the culture. 
What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you didn't find to be true?
I'm not sure if we read or heard about this anywhere but we were all under the impression that we'd have all kinds of time to learn or develop new skills on long passages. I did learn more about fishing, sail trim, general boat maintenance and destructive powers of salt and repetitive motion but I also slept next to two guitars for two years and still don't know a single chord. Passages were much more conducive to reading than anything else.

Something I didn't realize until I started cruising, mayonnaise doesn't require refrigeration. As long as you don't contaminate it with any other food, use a squeeze bottle, it will keep for a long time.

What are some of your favorite pieces of gear on your boat and why?
Hands down, my favorite piece of equipment was Earl, our Monitor wind vane. It steered Sohcahtoa for a majority of the trip. Next, after replacing the membrane, our reverse osmosis water-maker worked like a charm the entire trip. It meant one less thing to worry about each time we stopped.

Describe a perfect cruising moment that will make cruisers-to-be drool with anticipation
Wow, there were so many. So many new friends met and drinks shared. In Mexico we'd buy fish from the local fisherman and enjoy tuna sashimi and ceviche with a few friends we'd met along the way. In Tonga we sailed to a small, uninhabited island with a couple other boats we'd met in Bora Bora and Rarotonga. We had a beautiful white sand beach to ourselves and spent the day fishing, kite surfing, snorkeling the nearby coral heads and relaxing in the sun. That evening we made mahi mahi tacos and cooked bananas in a camp fire for dessert. People can fly in to exotic locales for fishing or diving or walking sandy beaches but you can't buy your way into the friendships made while in a cruising adventure. Did I mention that I met my wife while cruising in Tonga as well? That was pretty great. 

What do you think is a common cruising myth
That your gear will save you. There are many people out there perpetually outfitting for a cruise. They just need to upgrade one more piece of gear. Of course, you need to be prepared and you should know your boat inside and out but you don't need the latest and greatest of everything. Know your boat and have a contingency plan for when things break. If you're doing any kind of long term cruising, things will eventually wear out or break, no matter how new. 

What did you do to make your dream a reality?
We started planning our trip shortly after graduating from college so, while most of my friends were buying new cars and houses, I drove the same crappy pickup I'd had for years to save money. We also took sailing lessons and bought a Catalina 30 to practice sailing on. One of the most important things we did was to pick a time frame and stick to it. We had several unfinished projects when the time came but boat was sound. Leaving behind the "security" of a good job was one of the scariest, most thrilling and rewarding parts of the entire trip.

Is there anywhere you sailed to that was a disappointment?
It wasn't necessarily disappointing but I expected Mauritius to be more remote or less inhabited. I seemed so far away to me, I didn't expect it to be such a popular vacation destination for everyone in that hemisphere. I was mistaken for a Russian there a couple times so it was more remote than say Hawaii but I didn't expect all the big resorts.

What is your biggest lesson learned?
The biggest lesson I learned was the good friendships can take a serious beating and eventually come out stronger.

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

What piece of gear do you wish you had?

It would have been great to have had a small, well insulated freezer. Something that wouldn't draw too much power but could freeze a bit of meat.

17 March 2011

10 Questions for Wings

Judy Jensen & Fred Roswold have cruised part time since 1986 and full time since 1996 aboard Wings, a Serendipity 43 hailing from Seattle, WA, USA. During that time they have cruised through the Pacific, Asia, and the Indian Ocean. You can read more about them on their blog or by email (svwings@aol.com).

What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?

One of the wonderful things about cruising is discovering things for one’s self. Of course safety practices and certain practical matters like how to sail, how to anchor, how to survive living in close quarters, are among things which one shouldn’t have to learn the hard way, but these we think we had that covered long before we left on our extended cruises. Other things, if we had been told, such as that cruising is more expensive than we imagined or that the world is too big for us to get to all the places we dreamed of, we probably would not have listened to anyway; you believe what you want to believe. So we really can’t think of anything that, if someone had told us, would have made a difference, positively or negatively, in our cruising experience.

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

You have to find a balance between staying longer and longer, so as to become fully immersed in a country or locality, and quickly moving on so you get to more places. We stayed in many countries far longer than most cruisers, often over a year, and we encourage cruisers to slow down and stay places longer, and not just the normal cruiser haunts where all you do is hang out with other cruisers, but places where you are not surrounded day in and day out by yachties. But staying does not mean putting your boat in a marina and flying home for a year. It means staying there long term and really getting into the community and getting to know people who live there. You get more out of cruising when you stop checking off the list of places you visited, stop saying, “Been there, done that”, and start smelling the flowers, most of which you won’t even see are there for the first few months.

And we think, in all honesty, that there has never been a place where we were not ready to move on when we did, or that we regretted leaving after we left.

Can you think of a sailing tip (e.g., sail trim, sail combination) specific to offshore passages (e.g., related to swells)?

The most important thing we can say about sailing offshore is to prepare yourselves and your boat so that it is enjoyable for you to be sailing.

Prepare yourselves. Do a lot of sailing before you set off. Sail in all kinds of weather. Sail on as many boats as you can so that you learn what you like and what you don’t like (before you buy).

Choose a vessel which sails well and can sail in any direction (including upwind) so that you are not struggling or forced to motor in heavy weather. A boat should be a sailboat first and a house or storage locker second. Place a priority on sailing.

Make your boat easy to sail. Make it easy to adjust things with proper winches, leads, and cleats. Make it easy to move around on (and in). Reduce clutter; such things as jerry cans, dinghy’s and other items which, if stored topside, restricts easy movement. This is a safety issue for you and also makes your vessel more seaworthy (so that sailing in heavy weather and taking a wave aboard is less likely to carry away something or do damage).

Keep your vessel it simple. Evaluate critically those complex labor saving devices which can cause big trouble if they fail or tangle in bad weather.

Keep your vessel clear below decks as well so that living aboard during the offshore passage feels comfortable and relaxed and is not an endurance test.

Set a regular watch schedule and keep to it.

And the most important tip: Reduce sail early.

Over the time that you have been cruising, has the world of cruising changed?

The amount of money people spend on their boats and to cruise has gone up. There are more people out there with high personal wealth. There are fewer low budget boats and low budget families cruising.

Typical cruising boats now are bigger and more complex. These boats are also more costly to maintain. Marinas are more costly because more people are going to them and the demand for marina berths often exceeds the supply. Many marinas are reducing numbers of berths for smaller boats and increasing berths for superyachts.

This does not mean that it is no longer possible to cruise in a smaller, simpler, boat with a low budget, but people who do are in a minority. In general, costs have gone up.

On the other hand navigation has become easier with better charting tools and other electronics and the internet is everywhere more accessible so communications and financial issues are now simpler to handle.

Piracy is now much more of a concern.

When have you felt most in danger and what was the source?

We felt most in danger in some third world countries when local people acted in a hostile or threatening manner. This occurred in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Many other countries, such as places in the Caribbean, may also have similar dangers. No bad situations actually developed for us but we realize that a boat and the cruising people aboard it represent a vast amount of wealth to a third world person who has nothing and few hopes or prospects. A cruising boat in a remote place is highly visible and might look like an easy target.

Share a piece of cruising etiquette.

Have courtesy and compassion to locals who wish to sell you things even when you are tired of hearing their pleas. Remember that they are just trying to make a living for themselves and their families. Be generous.

Show respect for local people and customs and the laws of other countries, including clearance procedures, even when you think they can’t or won’t be able to enforce them.

Toward other cruisers show tolerance for those who anchor too close or do other things which seem to intrude on you.

What is something about the cruising culture you like and what is something you dislike?

We like the camaraderie around the docks and in anchorages including the friends one makes, social scene and the willingness people show to help each other with problems and tips.

We don’t like arrogance which is often shown towards locals and local officials. We were saddened to hear cruisers in Mexico advise others not to reveal their weekend arrivals in order to avoid paying overtime clearance fees, for example.

We don’t like cruisers who are disrespectful of local people and their customs.

We don’t like the rumours and incorrect conclusions which cruisers pass around and which become accepted as truths when there is little basis or foundation. This includes weather and safety issues, equipment issues, as well as other things related to local customs and cultures and personalities.

What is your biggest lesson learned?

We learned to slow down while sailing, not to push the boat too hard.

We also learned, or are still learning, to accept what comes our way and appreciate where we are, physically and psychologically. We realized that we won’t get to every place which we dreamed of going, or do everything we dreamed of doing, and no matter what we thought about our capabilities and what our futures would hold, plans change.

What did you do to make your dream a reality?

We created a reasonable and detailed financial plan and we stuck to it.

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

I wish you had asked what were our objectives for going cruising and what are the important considerations for making cruising a success? What are the wrong reasons for going cruising?

Our objective was to continue living on our boat but to do it in some new places and to enjoy sailing as often as we could while doing it. We viewed living aboard and sailing as the life we preferred, not as a means to achieve a goal and then to be discarded as we moved on to other things. “Sailing around the world”, so we could say we’d done it, was not our objective. Don’t go cruising to escape the modern world, it exists everywhere.

Cruising, for us, would only be a success if we truly liked doing it, liked the sailing part (I can’t emphasise enough how important this is, and how often it is not true for cruisers) and enjoyed the experience of living in other places.

To make cruising a success, if you measure that by how long you continue to like doing it:
  • Both parties, if it is a couple, must equally want to do it and enjoy it. It is unlikely that the non-sailor you met and introduced to sailing will like it over the long term.
  • You need to know that the type-A personality, which earned you the money to buy that boat, will need some adjustment or you won’t find the life challenging enough to want to continue (after a 1000 white sandy beaches and a million palm trees, how many more do you need to see?).
  • Consider how you will be able to deal with being away from children, grandchildren, and parents.
  • Have a realistic cruising budget.
  • Like and be good at “fixing things”.
  • Make your boat comfortable and natural to live on because otherwise you will soon get tired of “camping out”. That means: neat, tidy, uncluttered, a good shower, galley, office, place to relax and read, plenty of ventilation and light, plenty of storage for the personal things which mean so much to you, and the ability to work on things and have small projects going without completely inconveniencing your partner.
  • Go cruising only when you know from experience you like it, not because it looks good in a magazine article. You won’t spend many days sailing along reclining in your cockpit with your arm around your sweetheart and a glass of wine in your hand.

14 March 2011

10 Questions for Celestial

celestial Scott, Donna, Nathan, and Celeste began cruising in 1978 on a 24 footer, moved up to a 29 footer in 1981 and ultimately circumnavigated from 1988 to 1996 on Bluejay, a J-36, departing and returning to Seattle, WA, USA. In 2009 they began cruising on Celestial a Tripp 47. You can read more about their current adventures on their blog or contact them via email (hansentripp47@gmail.com).

With the benefit of hindsight, what are the boat selection criteria you would use to purchase a boat for long term cruising?
We have always believed in the phrase, “a fast passage is a safe passage”.  We have always had borderline racing boats.  A teak interior is beautiful but you are going to want to move without running an engine constantly, choose a boat that can sail.  I asked for two heads this time and a closed berth when friends could stay but that’s because we want those grown kids to come visit as well as other friends.

Can you think of a sailing tip (e.g., sail trim, sail combination) specific to offshore passages (e.g., related to swells)?
When you’re going downwind, it is important to use a spinnaker or whisker pole to stabilize the jib especially is a seaway.  We’re surprised how many cruisers don’t do it.  Even on a broad reach, a pole will give you better performance and more stability.

celestial3 Over the time that you have been cruising, has the world of cruising changed?
Yes, hugely.  Boats have become bigger and navigators are less competent.  The larger boats of today are far more complicated, expensive and difficult to maintain.  When we started cruising in ‘88, a 36 foot yacht was the middle of the fleet if not on the larger size.  Electronics were far more limited and yachtsmen had to be more diligent navigators.

What piece of gear seems to break the most often?
Sails, and electrical connections are at the top of the list, for sure.  With our Tripp 47, we had to quit using our high tech Kevlar main and switch to a used Dacron delivery main for better dependability in offshore conditions.

How would you recommend that someone prepares to cruise?
Start with a smaller boat, sail often, make mistakes, learn and then decide on the vessel you want and do your best to make it seaworthy. We had a 24 footer in ’78 and sailed Canada extensively, a 29 footer in ’80 which we sailed down the coast to Oregon and to Hawaii and back.  We decided on the 36 footer in ’87 which we circumnavigated on and now the Tripp 47 in 2009 which we sailed from Portland, Maine through Panama to Seattle and now heading back to Mexico.

celestial7 Describe a positive experience you have had with local people somewhere you have visited.
We have so many stories!  Numerous people even this trip have said, ‘how can I help you, I want to be of service.’  One lady in Hawaii saw us walking (we weren’t even hitchhiking) and said, ‘Where are you going?’  She took us to town, got out of the car and told us, ‘take it back to the pier when you’re done and leave the keys in it, I’ll pick them up the next day.  We came to the islands as normal folk who need staples, or a ride, who want to be friends and most people went out of their way to include you in their festivals, invite you to come to dinner or to the church potluck after we enjoyed their local service.

How has cruising affected your personal relationships?
We sailed for 8 years before we had kids but planned the circumnavigation with our 2 year old in mind.  I finally got to be a full-time mom and Scott, who loves to learn and teach others, encouraged Nathan and 6 years later, Celeste, to approach every situation in life as a learning experience.  When we tried to engage a nephew in thoughtful expressions of the world around him and theories on how it all worked, he came back with, “What, I’m not at school right now”, something our kids couldn’t understand.  Of course, today, they are both great well-educated adults!

celestia4l We still are in contact with sailors we meet in the 1990’s, especially those we spent more time with as we waited out hurricane seasons together or were on the same cruising track, the ‘milk run’, whom we met often with. Being ‘in the same boat’ meant a lot to cruisers who wanted to help each other, learn from each other, etc.  We could relate totally with each other.

What is your biggest lesson learned?
The biggest lesson is that all of life is about learning and you keep at it until you’re satisfied.  There are so many small things when you start out, you ask so many small questions, like how things work, what do you do when, where can you anchor, etc. but we had no mentors to ask and had to research the problems, go out and try it, have trial and error.  Go to the boat show, join a cruising club but in the end, just do it.

“It depends” comes up often when people ask us questions because many times, there are no hard and fast answers, just try it and see.

celestia6l What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you didn't find to be true?
Poverty leads to crime.  We trusted many islanders with our property and kids.  The poorest people we met were some of the most hospitable and honest. 

Other poor countries are dangerous and America is safe.  Most of those countries were safer than being in our urban cities back home.  We did see pirates and crime but it was few and far apart.  Even Mexico today is still a safe place, during the day and in the quieter ports.

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

What role does religion play in cruising?

Cruising friends that we knew, were often amazed at all the people we got to know and places we got to go as we came to a new place.  We’d say we had family in every port and we meant the Christian family we had met in churches along the way, enjoyed and allowed them to partake in our life.  Our son wanted to go to a week church camp so we took our one year old daughter and we were camp counselors for the week.  A Christian Samoan needed materials delivered to an island 200 miles away and we took a huge boatload but they celebrated ‘Bluejay day’ the day we arrived.  Another church needed materials delivered from American Samoa to Western Samoa and so we did that, praying the cockroaches would leave with the boxes and not decide to stay.  Jesus was our way of life at home, and we were happy to see we could enjoy Him and help His kingdom along the way.

07 March 2011

10 Questions for Cherokee 2

cherokee3 Peter and Renate Zedalis began cruising in April 2004 and say they plan to continue into the distant future. Cherokee 2 is a 1973 Morgan Out Island 41 hailing from Miami, Florida, USA. They say “We have lived aboard for over 15 years in the Florida Keys and love being on the water. My husband Pete worked many years as a professional captain, and spend many years cruising Florida waters whether it was teaching sailing, learning to live a board or fully crewed charters, which we enjoyed doing together. We also managed a charter company together as well. Our retirement dream was to cruise farther a field. In April 2004 we sailed from our homeport of Marathon Florida for Key West to wait for weather conditions for our first leg which would take us to Isla Mujeres Mexico. From there we cruised down the Mexican coast to Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and the Bay Islands, around Cabo Gracia a Dios down to Isla Providencia and Isla San Andres, then on to Bocas del Toro in Panama. After that with stops in between at Colon, Portobelo, and Linton Panama came the fabulous San Blas Islands and Cartagena Colombia.”

Where was your favorite place to visit and why?
cherokee4 Our favorite places to cruise so far are the San Blas Island of Panama. They are still remote with beautiful coconut palm covered islands and sandy beaches. The waters of the San Blas are wonderful for snorkeling and diving. There are two seasons here; dry season and rainy season. Dry season brings predominant NE winds with higher sea states. During rainy season the winds vary and at times will be very light and the seas at this time are flat calm making it possible to snorkel the out side of the reef. This is our favorite time of year even so it does get a lot warmer with out the breeze.

One of the best things about this area is that it is a land with out hurricanes. The local Kuna people inhabit many of the islands. They are small in stature, are great sailors and fishermen. So we never have a shortage of lobster or crab. We also enjoy the fishing here and have caught large Wahoo offshore and big Grouper near the many reefs that can be found here in these beautiful waters. For provisioning civilization is 43NM to 75NM away. Depending on whether we choose to provision from Linton by bus or go all the way to Shelter Bay Marina in Colon. Panama City also is not far, and we can get almost anything we need there.

So, we are still here and have not yet decided where we want to cruise to next.

What is something about the cruising culture you like and what is something you dislike?
The cruising community is wonderful. Fellow cruisers are always willing to land hand or even offer up their spare parts to some one in need. We are always making new friends and enjoy potlucks, book and dvd exchanges or hosting a small gathering on our own vessel. Even getting together for games. It is like living in a small community and knowing all your neighbors.

The only thing that I dislike is the fact that we are all on the move, so there fore we have to say goodbye to some truly wonderful people and friends. Some we see again with others we are only able to stay in touch via e-mail.

What is the key to making the cruising life enjoyable?
We think the key to making the cruising life enjoyable is the same as anything else in life. You have got to want to do it and give yourself a few amenities. Living like you are camping out is not the answer.
If a small thing like a microwave oven is important then that is what should be on the boat. Good refrigeration is very important to us. Whether it is that or some other item the secret is to be comfortable and feel safe on your boat.

How do you recommend securing your vessel while going ashore, and your dinghy?
cherokee2 First of all we make sure that the boat is securely anchored. There is nothing like coming back from shore and discovering that your vessel is no longer where she had been left. Than before going ashore we close and lock all hatches and companionways.

Some people use alarms such as motion detectors. We do not have either since we cruise with our cat Sam, and he would set them off constantly.

As for the dinghy, we have a special bar that locks the motor on to the dinghy. We had ours made out of stainless but thy are available in most marine stores. We also have a cable to lock the dinghy to the dock. Most places we have left the dinghy we have not had to cable it to the dock. If we do not feel comfortable with a certain anchorage or dinghy dock we try to avoid it and look for an alternative.

Can you think of a sailing tip (e.g., sail trim, sail combination) specific to offshore passages (e.g., related to swells)?
We really can’t give a sailing tip because each passage is different and each vessel sails and handles differently. We use the main sail at all times because it gives stability to the boat. We also have a staysail, which is used more than the genoa. It is better for going to weather, and it is self- tending. But what sail combination works best depends on the boat and weather and sea condition.

The most important thing is to pay attention to the weather. If conditions are not right, wait. We are cruising we are not in a hurry. As for swells; if they are far apart and the boat is moving well they can be comfortable even if large.

Describe a "typical day" at anchor on your boat.
Our day begins with on or two radio nets that keep us in touch with the cruising community. I am also a net controller for the Panama connection net one day a week.

cherokee1 We are early riser and usually have our breakfast before the net starts at 08:30 hrs. After the net there is always boat maintenance. After maintenance and cleaning it might be a laundry day. I am lucky to have a washing machine now at that makes that little chore a lot easier.

When we are in San Blas I spend a lot of time baking. We like fresh bread. There is always something to do, and some item that needs fixing.

After the chores are done we like to go for a dive, and rest of the day is for reading, relaxing or spending time with friends. I can honestly say we are never bored.

In your first year of cruising, what transitions did you find the most difficult?
The transition was an easy one since we already lived aboard for several years on a mooring, and went to the dock only to install new rigging, new engine, generator and a new refrigeration system. We actually prefer living away from the dock. At times it is necessary to be in a marina for a while.

What mistakes did you make in your first year of cruising?
I can think of three things.

The first - we should have bought a new mainsail before we left. Our main blew out on our first passage from Key West, Fl. to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Which made last few miles a lot harder with deteriorating weather conditions.

The second thing is not being security conscious enough. We had left our dinghy with the motor on in the water overnight and it was stolen. We were lucky to find the dinghy the next day but the bow compartment had been punctured with an ice pick in an attempt to sink it. It had 50 holes. We were able to patch and did use it until last year but it never really did hold air well after that and of course we had the expense of another motor.

The third is having purchased inadequate davits. We removed them in Guatemala, and had an arch built. It is very strong and we can carry the dinghy on the arch even in heavy seas.

Describe the compromises (if any) that you have made in your cruising in order to stay on budget.
We have not had to make any compromises, because when we decided to go cruising we sold our house and car so that we would not have the extra expense of maintaining them. We are full time cruisers, and that simplifies our lifestyle and budget.

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

In your opinion what is the most important piece of equipment on your boat?

Personally that would be the engine. Any cruising boat should have good, reliable strong engine. It can get you out of trouble in adverse wind direction or trying to claw of a lee shore. With a high output alternator it will also give your batteries a good charge. Even with today’s wind generators and solar panels is this part of the world we have many day where there is no wind and no sunshine. So invariably the engine has to be run to supply the vessel with power.