31 July 2011

25 July 2011

10 Questions for Reach

reach2 Mark Cole and Michele Kelly began cruising in 2008 aboard Reach, a Manta 40 catamaran hailing from Mystic, Connecticut, USA. They traveled from the East Coast US to the Bahamas, Eastern Caribbean, Venezuela, ABC islands, Columbia, and now San Blas Panama. Readers can learn more about them on their website.

What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?
Michele:  Be true to yourself.  Before cruising, we soaked up as much information as we could from all available resources.  Our friends and seasoned cruisers delighted us with their tales from the high seas, but wisely told us that ultimately, you won't know what cruising is like until you're actually out there.  Not only did this prove true, but we also learned that to be happy you have to figure out what works best for yourselves.   It helps when the boat feels like home.  There is no right or wrong boat or way to cruise since it is about personal choices and it always surprises me when people are adamant otherwise.  We try to apply this basic principle to our choices in boat type, primary navigation, boat systems and life in general, which for us includes keeping a good sense of humor, not taking ourselves too seriously and enjoying what we do in both the exciting and the mundane.

Mark: It is in my nature to gather data and to group, distill and analyze it before making decisions (I’m a scientist), so I spent a lot of time asking advice from other cruisers, mucking through the various discussion boards, reading all books I could find, etc.  So far, I haven’t found that there some particular fact or circumstance I should  have known before setting out, but there were three things I was told that I think all potential cruisers should hear.

The first is that everyone I talked to, without exception, who retired at the usual age and then went cruising, told me that they wished they had gone cruising when they were younger.  Two reasons were cited: that certain aspects or intensities of cruising slowly close down as one ages, and that many of those things one stayed shoreside working toward like a “proper” retirement package, new cars, bigger houses, more entertainment, etc become so unimportant and trivial when looked back upon from a cruising lifestyle.  No one complained that cruising wasn’t fulfilling, fun or was a bad decision - simply that they wished they had gone when they were younger.  Intellectually, we took this to heart and it became the driving mantra to go cruising for us.  Yes, this is an old saw that is repeated in many books and discussion boards; however, it took being out cruising full time until we truly understood what it means and why.  Potential cruisers will need to intellectualize it, like we did, while having faith that it is true and that they will discover why only after they have been out cruising.

The second thing was not so much a piece of advice, but rather a condensation and synthesis of discussions with cruisers.  When talking to cruisers from a wide variety of backgrounds, from boats spanning 60’s pocket cruisers to expensive large yachts, from personal fortunes ranging from a few dollars to many millions, from those staying close to home to those ranging the globe, all of them described the exact same experiences of meeting people and cultures, living by one’s own ethos and standards, enjoying the scenery, fixing things that break, sharing stories of bad passages, reveling in the sublimeness of good passages - in essence, all these cruising people were the same.  No one out here debates any of the pedantic stuff littering the bulletin boards about what makes a “proper” cruising boat and a “real” cruiser.  It just doesn’t matter out here - we are all seeing the same things and having the same experiences.

Related to this is the third piece of advice - again, an old saw that is only really appreciated once you make the break and see it from the other side - which is “Go Now”.  We were told that our boat would never be “ready”, that there would always be shore-side “commitments”, “obligations” and “emergencies” that would just take “one more year”, that our retirement plans would never be “secure”, that our families would never become “more comfortable” about our plans, that our house would never be “ready” to sell, that our jobs would easily go on without us “winding them up for transfer” - essentially, that the list of things we thought were influencing our departure could easily be wrapped in “quotes” and tossed away.  In the end, the only piece of sticky tape remaining for us (really, me - Michele was innocent in this) was the belief that we could sell our house for a bit more money if we waited a little longer.  Luckily, our good friends (and long-time cruisers) stepped in and convinced us (me) that the difference we were holding out for would not begin to cover the costs of the missed experiences of the first year out, and that we (I) would forget about that “lost” money immediately.  Today, I have forgotten the price at which we sold our house, and what amount we wanted to hold out for.

I once read a letter to a sailing magazine describing a couple who worked hard while waiting to retire, purchased the boat of their dreams and spent two years completely refitting it.  While backing out of their slip on the dreamed of day, waving good-bye to all their friends as they departed on their long-awaited and well-deserved cruising lifestyle, the husband had a fatal heart attack.  The wife, writing the letter, described how she wished they hadn’t waited so long and urged everyone considering cruising to “go now”.   I have never forgotten that letter.  The first point about “Go Young”, coupled with “Go Now”, really lit a fire under us to wrap things up and go.

When we left in 2008, Mark was 45 and Michele was 39.  Our families understood, our house sold easily, our retirement plan is what it is, and our jobs didn’t even hiccup without us.  Our boat is still not “ready”, but we haven’t noticed that for a couple of years now.  After three years cruising, Mark is currently 35 and Michele is 29.

No one told us we would get younger out here.

Is there something you wish you had bought or installed before starting cruising?
Michele:   During summer seasons, we coastal sailed on "Reach" before selling our house to live aboard and go cruising full time.  One system that had never been commissioned until a few months out was the watermaker.  While it is possible to take on water at marinas in the US or Eastern Caribbean, it was another chore and we had to watch usage.  We live at anchor 98% of the time and the watermaker gives us complete independence.  Water is not as abundant in some other countries we've visited; for example, there are little to no water sources in some of our favorite places, like the southern Bahamas, Venezuelan out islands and the San Blas.  I prefer fresh water for showers, dishes and laundry as opposed to salt water, since things like hair and clothes don't dry out from residual salt.  For us, this is a critical piece of gear.

Mark: AIS (Automatic Identification System).  These existed before we left cruising, but with radar, good charts, a radio and many years of navigation experience around ships and shipping, I just couldn’t see the point of wasting $189 for an AIS receiver.  After 1.5 years out, we installed an AIS receiver.  Wow.  It is one of the best things we have put on the boat and certainly THE best thing under $200.  We don’t miss having a transponder model or a full bells and whistles system, although others may want them.  The simple receiver interfaces easily to the chart plotter and shows all commercial ships and information (and any recreational boats with a transponder).  The difference in navigation ease and information over radar and VHF is tremendous - particularly during night passages.

Also, a water catchment system.  It doesn’t have to be fancy.  After 1.5 years, we added some inexpensive gutters to our bimini and lead the water through a filter before the tanks.  No sense letting all that free water go to waste.

Our boat was very well equipped when we bought it, and has full navigation electronics, radar, autopilot, watermaker, diesel generator, inverter/charger, air conditioning, SSB/HAM radios, a large solar panel installation, a good refrigeration/freezer system, large RIB dinghy with 15hp outboard, etc.  What we consider essential for our personal cruising lifestyle is the GPS, autopilot, watermaker, SSB, solar, reefer/freezer, inverter (just large enough to run small appliances off and charge computers) and a good wifi system.  One must have some type of dinghy and we personally would not want to be without a RIB with an outboard large enough to plane with two people and a healthy amount of cargo.  If we didn’t have the diesel generator, I would get a portable Honda generator.  If we didn’t have the room for solar, I would get a wind generator.  I would consider the radar essential only if cruising in areas where fog is common.  The watermaker is not essential if your cruising grounds are in areas with a lot of marinas or other water supplies.  For us, it is essential since we have been cruising in areas such as the Bahamas, where you have to jug water (this gets old very quickly) and the San Blas, where you have very limited access to sporadic or questionable supplies.  Air conditioning is not essential and wouldn’t be on our boat if it wasn’t already installed.  Regardless of lifestyle and comfort choices, I would have at a minimum a good, trustworthy autopilot/self steering and a GPS.
What mistakes did you make in your first year of cruising?
Michele:  We have each bottomed out in shallow depths in soft sand or mud while at the helm.  That was the result of exploring off the beaten path so it's usually worth it, less a little bottom paint.  It's not the result we'd want in rocky or coral areas, however.  Also, I was fairly radio shy at first on the VHF, but have mostly gotten over it as this is our primary means of communication.

Mark: Fortunately, we didn’t make any big mistakes - certainly nothing that cost us money or set back our cruising plans.  While not really a single “mistake”, a couple of passages in snotty weather did teach us to wait for good weather windows and not push on to a schedule.  It also taught us that our boat would do just fine in those conditions.

What is the next  piece of gear you would add to your boat if it were free and why?
Michele:  OceanAir hatch screens.  At anchor in a nice breeze you typically don't need screens, but when you do find yourself in a buggy place you really need it!  We were trapped inside by swarms of mosquitos for several becalmed days at the ironically named "Dos Mosquises" islands.  We have removable hatch screens that when not in use, just lay around various cabins in the boat and get in the way.  It would be a luxury to have sliding hatch screens, but they are very pricy and we have 6 hatches.

Mark: Possibly a wind generator.  It would be a mounting challenge for us, but we still might add one someday.  If gear is being handed out, I would replace our 6 gal/hr DC watermaker with a larger output (~20-30 gal/hr) AC powered one that could also be run off the inverter when a charging source is present.  Water is such a differential out here in terms of lifestyle, particularly in the tropics where a good rinse after swimming and a nice shower before bed is in the realm of necessity.  To be able to wash down the boat after a salty passage is not a luxury, but indispensable maintenance.  Even with a large solar installation, there is a limit to how much we can run our watermaker and still maintain the batteries.  DC watermakers really only work to spec when the battery voltages are in the charging range, so we end up running it when motoring or during the height of sunny days, or running the generator during less sunny days.  When motoring or running the generator, we are providing more energy than the watermaker consumes.  It would make more sense to run a larger output one during these times and fill the tanks in a shorter period.  If we didn’t have a generator, I would get a portable Honda for running the watermaker.

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?
MicheleIs it scary? Some potential cruisers worry about multi-day passage-making for various reasons.  Well-planned and executed passages (clearly an understatement) can be one of the most pleasant times spent on your boat, traveling along with your entire home in peace and solitude.  A truly good passage lets your mind travel to new places as well.  We get into a focused "zone" when passage-making and become relaxed and well-rested, keeping low stress no matter what the conditions.  By running 3-hour watches from 8PM-8AM and catching naps during the day, we sometimes get more total sleep on passage than normal.  Passages are always one of our favorite experiences on "Reach".

To worry or not? It's easy to relate dinghy travel with as much as certainty as driving a car on the road, until something goes wrong (or even worse, drifts away or is stolen).  It's important to be aware of your environment and think about what you would do if something went wrong; for example, if your prop spins out when you are miles away from your boat as happened to us.  Fortunately, it still got us back to the boat at idle speed.  I find myself always double checking things in our dinghy to be prepared for excursions with a handheld VHF radio, sufficient gas, spare prop and a good anchor.  If you are alone in an isolated region, that VHF probably won't do you any good anyway, but oars, a bottle of water or small ditch bag might.

Yes, Worry. Most of us are aware of incidents of violent crime targeting cruisers.  We've made decisions not to travel in questionable areas without a "buddy boat" nor in some areas all together.  For us, it just isn't worth the risk, independent of others' experiences or attractions.  On a weekend when we were considering making a particular trip alone, another single boat taking this route was boarded and robbed and it certainly hit home that this could have been us.

Mark: Almost universally, potential cruisers (any many actual cruisers) are afraid of storms and sailing in bad weather - particularly at night.  I think this fear actually ends some cruising plans before they are implemented, and there are cruisers out here who travel only by daytime hops in calm weather because they still fear it.  And bad weather sucks.  We hate it and avoid it as much as possible and experience fear when we are caught in it.  It is OK to be afraid as long as you confront your fear for what it is, understand that it is natural and unavoidable, and go on with your plans knowing that you will meet it again.  So while it is OK to fear storms, you shouldn’t let that fear control you or your plans.  For most cruising grounds, getting caught out in a storm is remarkably rare unless you are foolish enough to have an unyielding schedule or not learn to understand weather patterns.

There are two things potential cruisers don’t worry about that will shut down their cruising plans immediately: Schedules and “Knowing Thyself”.

Schedules are a killer.  While they are completely normal and expected on land, out cruising they will break you, make you miserable, lead you into taking your boat out when and where it doesn’t belong and, in general, completely muck up your life, if not actually damage you or your boat.  Unbelievably, we have met new cruisers who have shown us DETAILED schedules for the next TWO YEARS of their cruising.  And I mean details like: Jan 4 - Port A, Jan 6 - Port B ... for the next two years!  One was traveling from the Chesapeake to the Caribbean with scheduled plans for every single day and passage  times and dates for the whole year like it was a package vacation with airlines and trains!  It is OK to have general plans, but if you are a potential cruiser with a detailed schedule, tear it up now before you get into trouble.  If you are the type of person who compulsively needs to have detailed schedules, you are not going to make it as a cruiser.

Know Thyself: it is an ancient piece of advice, but advice that shore life rarely requires one to learn.  Out cruising, however, not recognizing or understanding your personal needs, desires and requirements will end your cruising lifestyle.  We can recognize these cruisers within 5 minutes after being introduced.  It is that obvious to everyone except them.  By this I mean if you require fancy restaurants and fine entertainment and think you can fulfill this out cruising, you won’t make it.  If you are being torn away crying from your house that means the world to you and think the boat will be a substitute, you aren’t going to make it.  If you have grandchildren that you must spend a lot of time with and spend most of your cruising days pining for them, you aren’t going to make it.  Similarly, if you have a newly married son/daughter with plans for children, and you know those grandkids will be the most important thing in your life, starting a cruise is a waste of time.  If you are a type-A personality that can’t sit still and/or needs to “run the show”, you might make it.  You will be the one staying in popular anchorages organizing all the cruiser field trips, potlucks, games, community benefits, making arbitrary “anchorage rules”, policing the VHF, etc.  Overall, the cruising lifestyle is very rewarding, but very different from any lifestyle shore-side.  Like any choice, certain options are available only at the expense of other options.  Successful cruisers have embraced the cruising lifestyle while willingly giving up their previous lifestyle.  If you cannot give up your shore lifestyle, and hope to meld it into the cruising lifestyle, you should either plan something like “6 months out, 6 months at home” type of cruising, or forget about going cruising - there are much easier ways to see different places and experience different cultures  than dragging yourself to them on a small, slow boat.

In your experience, how much does cruising cost?
Michele:  We retired early to cruise indefinitely so we have had to plan well, first to build our savings and then to make it last.  I track our spending using Quicken so we can see how we stand against our budget goal of around $30k a year.  About half of our budget is spent on mandatory costs that come from personal decisions about health/boat insurance and boat maintenance.  These costs can be high so we actually spent 40% more than intended the first two years out in the US, Bahamas and Eastern Caribbean.  No matter how much outfitting thought we'd covered before leaving (chain, new canvas, rigging), we ended up making major boat investments in the past two years (haulout, bottom paint, new props, sails, generator, chain) due to more wear and tear when cruising 365 days a year versus seasonally and some system failures.  Our discretionary spending has been low and is easier to control.  We rarely eat out, so groceries are one of our major expenses averaging $115 a week.  We expect annual spending to decrease in the SW Caribbean.

Mark: Whatever you have.  Really.  Everyone wants to see actual cost figures and breakdowns, but this question will never have a meaningful answer.  There are so many gradients of costs of living and lifestyles and so many cruising grounds offering different bang for buck and too many options for adjusting one’s lifestyle to one’s money availability to make a descriptive equation or algorithm.  If the Eastern Carib is draining your money, go to the Western Carib.  You can live forever on very little in Mexico.  The minimum cruising requirement is to maintain a sea-worthy boat, operate it safely and have enough to eat.  So you must spend a finite amount to achieve this, but it could represent the cost of some decent galvanized rigging, a handheld GPS and a handline and/or pole spear to catch fish, supplemented with rice and beans.  Everything on top of that is optional, although these options may be considered non-optional for many cruisers.  But the one thing about cruising that seems identical to land-life is that if you have the money, you will spend it.  There will be times when the money is flowing out so fast you can’t count it and other times when you can’t remember where your wallet is since it has been that long since you needed money.  We have spent more than our budget goal the past couple of years because we made some specific decisions to maintain a certain cruising lifestyle.  New sails, new generator new anchor chain and new propellers were unexpected expenses that we undertook.  While anchor chain and propellers are somewhat essential items, the sails and generator were not necessarily so.  So whatever money you have, you will spend it and be happy.  It is almost impossible to become destitute out here as long as you don’t have a money-draining problem such as alcohol, drugs, etc.  And the overall enjoyment of the lifestyle seems to be wholly independent of the amount of money thrown at it, as long as one’s expectations/requirements are matched to one’s wallet.

How did you (or did you) gain offshore experience prior to leaving?
Michele:  My first offshore trip was a six-day trek to deliver our newly purchased catamaran from Florida to Connecticut.  We recruited three friends to join us so we all had partners for night watches, which helped me learn a lot.  It was a good challenge to participate in weather routing, provisioning and offshore navigation for the first time.  It was a beautiful trip riding the Gulf Stream currents, watching dolphins, sunsets and sunrises, and catching fish along the way.  There was also some rougher weather and the boat was new to us, yet everything still went well.  Fortunately, this was a great experience and I was immediately comfortable offshore.

Mark: I have been sailing essentially all my life.  I started gaining true offshore experience in the mid-80’s when I bought a 26’ sailboat with a friend and we spent summers cruising it.  Offshore experience really just boils down to three things: knowing your boat, having navigation skills and understanding/controlling your personal fears.  Potential cruisers shouldn’t worry much about a lack of offshore experience - the first two aspects can, and should, be acquired while coastal and day sailing, and the third aspect is only mastered by going offshore.  So offshore experience is a tautology - the only way to gain offshore experience is to experience sailing offshore.  Just go do it - take shorter overnight sails if you are concerned, and wait for good weather windows.

What is a tip or a trick you have picked up along the way?
Michele:  The secret to clean onboard laundry is wringing.  I started off using laundry machines or services in the US and Eastern Caribbean.  Then I realized that we could buy new clothes for the cost of washing them over time.  In the SW Caribbean onboard laundry is a necessity.  I use a Wonderwash pressure washer, but was never totally satisfied with the final results as fabrics dripped-dry on our lifelines and ended up hard with un-rinsed dirt and soap.  An article in the Caribbean Compass magazine caught my eye about an electric spin dryer and I realized this was the answer for me.  It is essentially a big salad spinner running for a minute or two on 110V power.  I use it to remove soapy water, which helps get rid of the dirty water, and again after the fresh water rinse.  A thorough wringing makes line-drying extremely quick and probably helps to extend the lifetime of your clothes by reducing wind and sun damage.

Another important discovery was that Claritin (loratadine) works wonders to stop bug bites from itching.

reach1 Mark: Two tips we have learned that are invaluable.  First, wait for a decent weather window  for a passage and, when it arrives, take it and go as far as possible while it holds out.  This may mean shortening or lengthening your original stay and plans and possibly skipping some stops along the way that are less important to you.  For example, the trip from the Bahamas to Puerto Rico is a notorious upwind slog through strong trades, squalls and large waves.  It is mostly done through short hops through Mayaguana, the Turks and Caicos, the Dominican Republic and across the Mona Passage, and is only reasonably done during lulls in the weather - which can make the passage take weeks or even months in total.  While in the Bahamas, we had a whopper of a cold front come through and, after riding out the first hit, jumped on the 20-25kt Northern winds on the back of it and had a four day broad reach straight to Puerto Rico - an almost unheard of event.  This did mean that we shortened our planned stay in the Bahamas by a week or so, and we did miss visiting the Dominican Republic, but our goal was to get to Puerto Rico.

Second, always have the boat prepared for the unexpected.  If you are anchoring in trade winds that NEVER blow from the West, make sure you are clear to swing when the wind blows from the West.  If you are going to walk a beach on a clear and cloudless day, close the hatches before you go so that the rain doesn’t soak the interior.  If you are just going to motor 1 mile across that flat lagoon, don’t leave anything on the counters/table that will break when that single wave from a far off wake rolls you.  And if it is going to blow 40 knots at anchor, it WILL be at 2am, so prepare the boat every night before going to bed.

Where was your favorite place to visit and why?
Michele:  I'm sure we both have the same response here - the Jumentos in the southern Bahamas.  It is a secluded place where you must know what you are doing and fend for yourself.  It draws other independent people like ourselves with whom we have a lot in common and have made life-long friendships.  It was exactly what we'd both envisioned for our cruising life and more:  sailing and seamanship challenges, hikes and beaches, excellent fishing, meaningful encounters with cruisers and locals, solitude and independence.

Mark: There are so many great places with such wide varieties of experiences, and even the not-so-great places are nice.  Overall, I enjoyed the Bahama out islands the best - particularly the Jumentos/Raggeds - due to the isolation, fishing, required self-sufficiency, spectacular water and rough and rugged beauty.  The San Blas islands are similar and a close second.

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

MicheleWhat do you love most about cruising?

People.  Cruising brings a new twist to relationships.  It removes many social barriers and/or expectations in modern life (keeping up with the neighbors, rat race, new toys, etc).  We have to figure out who we are without our careers to dictate our identity.  We spend more time with our partner than ever imagined before we went cruising.  We reconnect with family and friends in new ways.  We have so much spoken and unspoken in common with other cruisers.  And we meet and relate to people in the countries we visit.  Not surprisingly, human nature is universal and we find curious, shy, funny, nosey, bossy, friendly, rude, helpful, clever, caring people in various encounters.  It keeps life interesting and in my first year cruising, I found that I naturally sought out role models when trying to figure things out for myself.

18 July 2011

10 Questions for Asylum

Asylum under sail in Fiji Jim and Katie Coolbaugh are cruising aboard Asylum, a Tayana V42 (42 ft), cutter-rigged sloop hailing from Bethesda, MD, USA. They began cruising in 1999 and are still at it.

They describe their route as: Down the east coast of the US, partly on the ICW to FL; down the Thorny Path thru the Eastern Caribbean to Trinidad and Tobago; west to Panama via Venezuela and Colombia with a N/S detour thru Haiti and Cuba; thru the Canal to Ecuador, which provided a base for land travel in South America; across the Pacific to New Zealand via French Polynesia, Suwarrow Atoll in the Cook Islands, American Samoa, Tonga; then back up to Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and soon to Palau.

Readers can learn more about their travels on their blog or via email (asyluminmates@gmail.com).

Over the time that you have been cruising, has the world of cruising changed?
We are about to pass the 12-year mark as live-aboard cruisers and as we reflected back over those years, several changes in the world of cruising came to mind:
  • Cruising boats seemed to get bigger. In the early years, Asylum at 42 ft was on the high end of average boat size, but now, on average, cruising boats seem to be bigger.
  • There are more cruising catamarans. In the beginning, we almost never saw cruising catamarans. They were all charter cats. Now, it’s not uncommon to have as many cruisers on cats in an anchorage as on monohulls. I even wrote an article about “catamaran converts,” people who’d switched from monohulls to catamarans after setting out to  cruise, and could have added many more to the 4 couples profiled.
  • Communications are much easier, faster, cheaper. When we left, there was no sailmail or winlink, no wifi, Skype, or pre-pay cell phones that you could activate anywhere. Communications were often a time-consuming challenge and expense in the early years.
  • ATMs are almost everywhere. No longer do you have to carry a wad of cash or a stash of traveler’s checks. Yes, there are still a few remote places out there without ATMs, but they’re very remote and the next town with one usually close by.
  • Navigational technology gizmos have mushroomed. We left with a modest radar, a GPS, and paper charts. We now have electronic charts, a chart plotter, a forward looking sonar, and AIS—all of a relatively modest ilk. On some boats we’ve visited I feel like I’m the bridge of an aircraft carrier!
  • Much more cruising information is (instantly) available. With Noonsite, SSCA on line, and everyone keeping and emailing copious notes on their routes, it’s easy to get up to the minute information about your next destination. Sometimes almost too much information…
  • The world seems a wee bit more dangerous. We have read with dismay reports of growing violence and cautionary “don’t go there” tales for many places in the world. In the beginning it never occurred to us that we wouldn’t head up the Red Sea to the Med when the time came, but now the expanding range and relentless acts of piracy along that route, a route that old-timers used to rave about, are giving everyone pause. Other areas that we or friends remember fondly have had reports of life-threatening assaults on cruisers, incidents much more dangerous than a stolen dinghy or snorkel gear nipped from the deck.
What is something that you looked forward to about cruising when you were dreaming that is as good or even better than imagined?
Approaching the next anchorage and arriving to find it empty…no other boats there, having it all to ourselves! Not that we don’t love hanging out with our friends in an idyllic spot, but empty anchorages are increasingly hard to come by, so when you find one, it’s especially sweet.

K&J in Nut Case Is there anywhere you sailed to that was a disappointment?
Not really. For the most part, cruising destinations are what you make them, and to the extent we’ve been “disappointed” it’s mostly been because we didn’t have enough time in a given place (like Cuba). That being said, Papua New Guinea has been something of a disappointment because of security issues. We were boarded and robbed our fourth night in the country and that made us more cautious about where we subsequently have visited than we might otherwise have been. There is considerable “don’t go there” advice even from the locals, which we respect. So our hope of exploring remote interesting villages here in PNG has been largely unrealized and therefore something of a disappointment, but we’re still glad we came.

When have you felt most in danger and what was the source?
For us, there are 3 main sources of danger out here: bad guys, bad weather, hitting something pointy that could hole the boat. Fortunately, we haven’t had to deal with the latter two. Our weather bad weather experiences mostly have been uncomfortable, not dangerous.

But we have had 2 scary encounters with bad guys, one in Colombia many years ago and one recently in PNG. In both cases, we were boarded at night by armed men (in Colombia, 5 with guns; in PNG, 2 with knives). We won’t take the space for details here; both incidents are described in our blog and on Noonsite. Frankly, the second was scarier because the guys actually got into the boat. In the first, we were able to repel them with pepper spray, but in the second, we couldn’t get at the pepper spray fast enough since they landed on top of us when we were asleep. I think the important thing was that in both cases, scared shitless as we were, we breathed deeply, didn’t panic, assessed the situation, kept our wits, and got out without injury.

Share a piece of cruising etiquette. 
Don’t anchor too close! Just because you can get your boat into that  skinny slot next to mine doesn’t mean you should. Perhaps our greatest pet peeve is how close other boats feel compelled to anchor, particularly when there’s an enormous bay of space to choose from. There seems to be a herding mentality out there that results in everyone anchoring on top of each other and we hereby beg our fellow cruisers to resist it. We don’t want you to have to listen to our generator and we don’t want to have to listen to yours. Drop your hook a healthy and respectable ways away. And if you’re the new guy on the block and someone asks you to move because you’re uncomfortably close, honor their request.

J&K at Mt Tavurvur in Rabaul PNGWhat type of watch schedule do you normally use while offshore?
After some experimentation we have landed on 4 – 4 – 3 – 3. That is, we each get an initial 4 hour sleep, and then we each get 3 hours of sleep, usually starting around 7 p.m. Because I come from a family of night-owls and it’s easier for me to stay up longer, Jim usually takes the first 4 hour sleep. It’s also easier for me to sleep in daylight, so I get the last 3 hours (which also means I can “sleep in” in the morning). During the day, we’re both up or catch a cat nap as needed.

Why did you decide to cruise?
I’ve always been one of those people who preferred to regret the things they did rather than the things they didn’t do. So, after visiting some sailing buddies who had left to go cruising a few years before we did, we pondered the notion on the flight back to Washington. I said to Jim that I didn’t want to wake up in a nursing home when I’m 85 and a doddering old fool and say, “Damn, I wish we’d gone cruising!” We love to sail, travel, dive, experience odd and out-of-the-way places, eat weird food, meet interesting and unusual people, learn new stuff; I, in particular feared ruts and routine.

Living smaller, cheaper, simpler had great appeal. And perhaps we could even do some good along the way…

In your own experience and your experience meeting cruising couples, can you convince a reluctant partner to go cruising and if so, how?
The crux of any persuasive argument like this lies in zeroing in on the source of the reluctance.
  • Is it fear of pirates? Talk about the odds… (ok, well, the Gulf of Aden is a problem these days).
  • Is it fear of bad weather? Talk about the odds of encountering really bad weather if you plan your routes and seasons carefully (and read the zillions of blogs and websites where cruisers routinely report that they’ve never really encountered seriously dangerous weather in all their years cruising). And of course a good sound boat is important. A line from a long-ago cruising article has always stuck with me and I quote it often: “A sailboat will scare you to death long before it kills you.” Also, read books and articles about awful weather! People thought I was nuts reading about the Queen’s birthday storm and the Fastnet race disasters (“doesn’t it scare you to read about that stuff?”), but that’s how you learn strategies for coping with those situations and how not to make the same mistakes.
  • Is it lack of amenities? Figure out what’s important to you and make sure your boat has it. (It’s amazing, though, how quickly all those really important things become unimportant. I hate washing sheets in a bucket but in the end, it’s just not that big a deal.)
  • Is it missing friends and family? Invest in good communications and plan your cruising itineraries to include places where you can leave the boat and fly home often. Lots of cruisers do it.
Finally, I’d say: Give it a try. You can always quit if you don’t like it but you’ll never experience the immense rewards of cruising if you don’t give it a shot.

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?
Most potential cruisers seem to worry about bad weather. It’s not that they shouldn’t worry about weather, it’s just that weather shouldn’t be a crippling fear. There’s so much weather information available now—forecasts, weather patterns for every corner of the world, principles of weather systems, strategies for dealing with it—that the prudent cruiser should be able to plan around and avoid the worst of it. Most people complain about too little wind, not too much. We’ve all been caught by surprises, though, and that’s when a boat you trust and your good seamanship come into play to help allay your worst weather fears.

Sunset in N VanuatuThere is also so much advice and information out there for potential cruisers that it’s hard to imagine anything that’s been missed on the “things to worry about” lists, but one thing that does come to mind is anchoring: both equipment and technique. When it comes to anchors, size matters. Bigger is better. Everyone we know has either started out with or moved up to a bigger anchor than was “recommended” for their boat. But it’s not only size that matters; other key considerations are the type of anchor for the bottom you’re in and the type and amount of rode you carry (and deploy). We have 200 ft of chain, which, in some deep Pacific anchorages is barely enough. When it comes to something to worry about, dragging at night—or being dragged into by the other guy who didn’t worry about his anchor—is a big one.

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

There are so many good questions we would loved to have answered, but since we’ve spent a fair amount of time talking to each other about this issue, we’ll go for this one: With the benefit of hindsight, what
are the boat selection criteria you would use to purchase a boat for long term cruising

If we had it to do over again, we would do more homework about the implications of boat design: construction, weight, length, waterline, rig, and all those ratios that define and explain “performance.” In
the end, it may be that we still would have opted for a safe, heavy cruising boat, but it would have been a better-informed decision than the broker-led and somewhat emotional choice we ended up making at the
time. Then we would weigh all those performance standards that are so critical for moving the boat from place to place against the equally critical comfort factor because, after all, you spend a lot of time sitting still while cruising and this is our home. In a line I’ve stolen from a cruiser friend, “I didn’t sign up to go camping.”
Implicit in all the number crunching and analysis, of course, is the issue of the seaworthiness of the boat. It won’t matter how comfortable you are if you worry that it will fall apart every time a wave slaps the hull. And “safety” includes not only sound construction, strong rigging, and rugged sails but also the ability to sail the boat with a two-person crew.

After that, the various aspects of liveaboard comfort come to play. Asylum is a 42 ft, aft cockpit boat, and much as we love and trust her, there are times we wish she was a 48 ft center cockpit boat. We sleep in the V-berth, which, on Asylum, is a bigger bed than the aft quarterberth. If we had it to do over again, we’d go center cockpit (we just didn’t like the lines of any of the center cockpit boats we looked at when we were buying a cruising boat, but we’ve gotten over that!) with a roomy aft cabin and a bed you can access from both sides. But it’s the little things you don’t think about when you’re in the flush excitement of buying a cruising boat, like a place for files and all the paper you accumulate along the way; a place for dirty
laundry; the comfort of the seat at the navigation station; plentiful, accessible storage, especially for all the tools and spares you carry; counter space around the head sink (Asylum has an airline-sized bathroom sink and counter space the size of a postage stamp). It’s hard to think about those things when you’re still living in a house and your current sailboat serves you fine for weekends when none of that other stuff matters (you take your laundry home with you and there’s a chandlery around the corner).

Yes, in 12-year hindsight we’ve decided that a little more waterline and a little more space would have been nice. But at this point, we wouldn’t trade Asylum for the Queen Mary!

11 July 2011

10 Questions for Scream

Scream in SuwarrowDarusha Wehm and Steven Ensslen began cruising in 2008 aboard Scream, a Huntingford custom 45' hailing from Victoria, BC, Canada. They left British Columbia heading down the Pacific coast of the Americas to Ecuador, over to the Galápagos, then across the Pacific to the Marquesas.  From there, they sailed to New Zealand via French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, Samoa and Tonga. You can read more about their voyage on their website.

In your first year of cruising, what transitions did you find the most difficult?
It was tough leaving people and places so quickly.  At the time it seemed like we'd never see folks we'd really gotten to like again.  It also took us a long time to settle into a watch schedule that worked for us.  We kept following the advice of other cruisers and trying to do what worked for them, even though we thought there was a better way for us, but no one was doing it.  Eventually, we just tried it anyway, and it turned out to be the most successful.

Steven found leaving his job difficult.  Our society expects everyone to be busy making money, and looks down on those who aren't.

What piece(s) of gear would you leave on the dock next time? Why?
Scream is a generously sized boat.  We have lots of stuff on board that we rarely use, like our folding bicycles and inflatable kayaks. So while there are things that we have never used, I'm not sure that I'd leave anything behind.  That having been said, there are cruisers trying to sell storm anchors and drogues everywhere and I don't know of any experienced cruiser who doesn’t sail high latitudes who thinks that they are worth the space they take up.

Tell me your favorite thing about your boat.
Darusha — Scream is a heavy double ender, very stable in a sea.  We've never been pooped and with our enclosed cockpit we almost always stay dry.  I love that we have a cockpit that is comfortable enough to live in at sea (and anchor) and that the boat feels secure.

Steven — The enclosed cockpit.  When you're taking waves and spray all the way to the stern while you're trying to talk to the coasties on the VHF, it really helps not to be covered in salt water.  More typically, it is nice to be out of the rain.

What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you didn't find to be true?
We heard a lot of warnings about theft, especially in Costa Rica.  I think we might have had a better experience If we'd been less wary and actually been robbed.  As it was we were overly careful with the boat and suspicious of the locals and never experienced any theft issues.

We also prepared a lot for heavy weather and have thankfully seen no more than 35 knots at sea since passing Cape Mendocino.

What is something about the cruising culture you like and what is something you dislike?
Darusha — I love that we are a floating small town that dissipates and reforms constantly. You keep meeting up with your neighbours all over the world, and there's nothing like the feeling of seeing good friends pull into an anchorage unexpectedly.  However, all small communities have problems with gossip and we all can get too much in each others pockets.

Also, there's a fine line between the wealth of information and help you can get from other cruisers and nosy neighbours trying to tell you what to do.

Steven — We enjoy the camaraderie and community spirit.  I'm not sure I dislike anything.

What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?
Darusha — It’s not that hard. Just go.

Steven — Go as soon as you can.  Don't wait for everything to be perfect.  Incidentally, many people gave us this message.

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?
We spent two months in an anchorage we’d planned to spend a couple of weeks in, and we often talk of going back.  Being free to change your plan when you find a place you love is one of the highlights of cruising.
I wish that we had visited Panama, rather than mainland Ecuador.  The Ecuadorian government makes cruising almost impossible and Panama has better anchorages as well.

What is your biggest lesson learned?
Cruising is hard work.  Boats need a lot of maintenance.  Cleaning and cooking and provisioning are more difficult than they are on land.  Watches need to be kept on passage.  Living on land is easier, and for many people more relaxing.  It’s not all mai-tais in the hammock.

What did you do to make your dream a reality?
We arranged our entire lives to make this happen.  We have no children, no pets, no cars, and went years between minimal vacations.  We skimped and saved, and sailed as much as we could.  I can't exaggerate how much we did for this as we did everything we could.

What question do you wish I would have asked you besides the ones I've asked you and how would you answer it?
One thing that I have noticed is that many people outfit boats for long ocean passages when their interest is to cruise in a specific foreign territory.  I recommend that people who want to sail in a specific place to buy a coastal cruising boat in that location rather than outfitting a boat for offshore passages.  Boats are cheaper in Mexico or Tahiti or New Zealand than they are in California.  And you need less of a boat with less gear aboard than you would for ocean crossings or sailing in higher latitudes.

04 July 2011

10 Questions for Freya

freya2 Barb Peck and Bjarne Hansen cruise aboard Freya, a  Vogel-Hunter 30 ft, fibreglass double-ender, hailing from Victoria, Canada and built in Vancouver in 1976. They cruised outside of Canada from 2004 – 2006 and will go again. During their cruise, their route was: Victoria - Hawaii - Marquesas - Cook Is - Nuie - New Zealand - Tonga - Fiji - Samoa - Kiribati - Hawaii - Victoria. Readers can learn more on their website. They say: We quit our jobs to go sailing for two years whilst in our 30's, and have no regrets about the experience. We're back at our old jobs, sailing coastally when time permits, and intend to cruise again in a few years.

What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?
"Sailing all the time is hard work."  Actually, someone (Tony Gooch) did say exactly that but it didn't really sink in until we were out there ourselves, covering 8400 miles in 4 months.  Happily we were able to slow down and really enjoy the scenery the following 20 months.
Routing also seemed more straightforward when reading about it than in reality.  Unpredictable details like weather and currents made some of our choices more challenging than we had intended.

Is there something you wish you had bought or installed before starting cruising?
We decided early on in our preparations to Keep It Simple, for the good reasons of reducing costs, shortening prep-time, and minimizing failures at sea. No fridge, no watermaker, no shortwave transmitting
radio. We were generally very happy with that decision.  The only item I (Bjarne) really missed was roller-furling on the genoa. We had removed Freya's antiquated and undersized furling before leaving, opting instead for the bulletproof hank-on method.  Sometimes, during the 13th sail change on a given day, I could be heard over the sound of the sea cussing my failure to embrace this marvel of modern sailing: roller-furling.

Can you think of a sailing tip (e.g., sail trim, sail combination) specific to offshore passages (e.g., related to swells)?
Spinnakers on dark nights can be tricky - the swell can wrap one around the forestay in a jiffy when you aren't able to keep an eye on it. Like most folks we tended to be more conservative about sail area at night; it allows the off-watch person longer sleeps with fewer interruptions to assist with sail changes. Of course, had we had roller-furling...

Share a piece of cruising etiquette.
Go introduce yourself to the villagers ashore (if there is a village). You are, after all, anchoring in their front/back yard.  It's also a great way to meet new friends and perhaps get some fresher provisions.

What do you miss about living on land?
The expansive room of a house, where you don't need to put away all your hobby/tool/writing/repair items before making dinner. I suspect now that had we taken a break from cruising midway through the two years
I might have suffered less from cockpit-fever.

How would you recommend that someone prepares to cruise?
Take enough courses (CPSS, CYA, BCA all put on good ones) to be competent; outfit your boat to be safe; and then GO!  You can always add more gear later if you decide you need it. There are also aspects of mental and emotional preparation - what are your reasons for going cruising, what do you hope to get out of it, and are they compatible with your partner's goals?  We had embarked on shorter sailing vacations before
going cruising so we were pretty sure we'd get along fine.

What was the most affordable area you have cruised and the most expensive? What was affordable or cheap about each area?
I'd say Fiji was the most affordable.  It has an excellent mix of remote islands and villages where you can't spend any money if you tried, though you might part with a few boat supplies in trade.  Fiji has decent medical and dental services at low cost, which we needed to avail ourselves of (though nothing too serious). We had our liferaft repacked/certified at 1/4 what it would have cost in New Zealand, and the service work was competent (as confirmed by the Victoria Zodiac dealer who bought our raft when we returned).

The most expensive was Hawaii.  We stayed at the Ala Wai Harbor for several months, and while the dock fees themselves were not outrageous (especially considering that Waikiki beach is mere footsteps away),
Honolulu has hordes of shops, entertainments, and tourist-traps making it easy to empty the wallet.  We did have medical insurance while in the USA, but happily didn't need to use it.

Throughout the S. Pacific one can spend plenty of money buying imported foods - we generally tried to avoid that except for the occasional treat, like broccoli at Kiritimati Is.

What are your impressions of the cruising community?
It's an entertaining mélange of people: young, old, loners, stoners, carefree, careful, rich, poor, etc, etc. Most everyone is helpful, and many exhibit the cruisers' disdain of schedules: this makes it easy to get together for impromptu beach parties and potlucks. Because of the transient nature of cruising, people tend not to get too deep/serious in their relationships with other cruisers, at least not at first. You can usually find someone you click with in an anchorage, and if you are lucky you will remain friends through many miles.

freya1 What did you do to make your dream a reality?
Pointed our boat west.

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

What non-essential gear do you get the most happiness from having on board?

An underwater camera (Olympus with housing rated to 30m, but there are other models too).  We also brought our dive gear and two small scuba tanks. The underwater scenery is so fascinating! Whether you snorkel or dive, there's life of all sizes and colours to behold. Our favourite experiences include a moonlit snorkel at Minerva Reef, a red & yellow coral wall in Fiji, and Mariner's Cave in Tonga.