19 June 2017

10 Questions for Wondertime

Sara, Michael, Leah (11), & Holly (8) Johnson began cruising in 1999. Their most recent cruise was aboard Wondertime, a Benford 38 Ketch hailing from Seattle, WA, USA. Before they had kids, Michael and Sara cruised to British Columbia and Alaska (their honeymoon!) and a few years later down to Mexico for the winter. With their children Leah and Holly, they departed Seattle again in 2011, circumnavigated Vancouver Island, continued down the west coast to Mexico then did the puddle jump to New Zealand in 2012. They are still in New Zealand but are preparing to take off again for a third time at some point.

They say: "We sold Wondertime in 2014 and after spending the past three years on land (in a house for a year, then a year of RV travel in NZ, then an apartment for a year) we’ve just bought another boat, a German-built 12m steel Feltz Skorpion II (name TBD!). We’ll be in New Zealand for another few years then we've got to see Fiji, at least."

You can learn more about their cruise on their website or by email.  Editor's note: Sara is a co-author of Voyaging With Kids: A Guide to Family Life Afloat.

Why did you change boats and what do you see as the major pros and cons of your changeover?

Our Benford 38 was the perfect boat when our girls were young (they were 1 and 4 when we moved aboard). But we simply outgrew the boat; the dinette was only big enough for just the four of us and by the time the girls had doubled in size we were simply too cramped. We also needed a break from cruising so decided to sell Wondertime in Auckland.

After a couple of years of living on land we missed the simplicity of liveaboard life and started looking for the next boat (which would be Michael’s and my fifth together!). We had several criteria: sloop or cutter-rigged (we felt Wondertime’s ketch rig was far too complicated for a boat under 40 feet), comfortable living space (BIG saloon table, separate beds for the girls, comfortable double for us), fun to sail, and 40 feet or less. After a year of searching around NZ we finally found the one: a 12-meter steel boat built in Germany and recently arrived in NZ after being sailed across the Atlantic and Pacific by a meticulous German couple. She’s tough and simple and fun to sail and has a great comfortable layout. I think she’ll take us through the teen years and beyond just fine.

The major con is all the money we wasted with the changeover. Thankfully the new boat is set up with much of the same cruising gear we had on Wondertime (and definitely in better shape at this point!)

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

You do NOT need a catamaran to take children cruising. Seriously though, I see parents online who think they need 50’+ boats to take their kids out on and if they can afford that kind of boat AND handle and maintain it that’s great. But plenty of families are out and about in 40 feet or less and are having the time of their lives. Kids really don’t need a lot of room (but layout—a space everyone can call their own—is definitely key).

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

Oh yes it has. We navigated to Alaska in 2000 with paper charts. I had a website even then and to update it I’d have to copy the files onto a CD and bring it into an internet café to upload. Now
everyone’s posting on Facebook via their sat phones. Cruisers are so much more connected these days than twenty years ago, both with each other and with those back home. Since sailing has always been about "getting away from it all" this kind of goes against that idea. On the other hand, we too love staying in contact with not only other cruising friends that have sailed on but also our families.

But the great thing is that it’s still so easy to disconnect by sailing a few miles offshore or to an anchorage without cell coverage (always plenty of anchoring room in those!). But the good news also is that this connection is all optional: the most fascinating cruisers we’ve met the past few years hardly ever even check email.

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

How painful it is to stop. Even if you want to.

Was there anywhere you visited that you thought was overrated (not as good as you had heard)? Was there anywhere you visited that you thought was underrated (better than you had heard)?

We thought Bora Bora was overrated, quite touristy. But we only had a couple of days there as we'd already checked out of French Polynesia so didn't get the chance to explore outside of the main harbour. Like anywhere, finding those hidden nooks is where the best cruising happens.

Our favorite cruising ground is still Mexico; we love anchoring out in Mazatlan's "old harbor" and taking an open air Pulmonia taxi into the city. It's rough and dirty and our dinghy was nearly stolen in the middle of the night one time (too bad the guy didn't see the locked cable!) but we still love it there. Mazatlan is a beautiful old city. Actually, now that I think about it, the entire west coast of Mexico is really underrated: there are so many amazing anchorages, the weather is generally good, the food is to die for and it's insanely affordable. I feel bad for the Pacific-bound east coast cruisers who miss it! We can't wait to go back one day.

What piece(s) of gear would you leave on the dock next time? Why?

The mizzen mast. A ketch rig on a 38-foot boat is cute, but our upwind sailing ability was pathetic (the mizzen would just slat and slam so we'd take it down, thus losing 1/3 of our sail area) and it was twice as expensive to replace the standing rigging before we left (not to mention the additional sail). All our other boats have been sloops or cutters and we're glad to be in the single mast club again!

How did you (or did you) gain offshore experience prior to leaving?  

Michael was a cruising kid as a teen, and besides sailing with his parents he crewed on a friend's boat across the Atlantic when he was 15. Our first offshore trip together was in 2000 when we sailed directly from SE Alaska to Seattle offshore. It blew about 30 knots the whole trip. It was a bit rowdy and I didn't know enough then to be nervous. In 2002-3 we sailed from Seattle to Mexico together, hopping down the coast. When it came time to leave with our two kids, we grabbed a friend to do the trip with us. We left Ucluelet, B.C. and sailed directly for San Francisco. Our daughters were 2 and 5 at the time and having a third adult made the trip so much more pleasant. We also had a crew member on our Pacific crossing from Mexico to the Marquesas. I think we're still friends.

Are you attracted more to sailing itself or cruising-as-travel and has that changed over time? 

All of the above: we love sailing (the feeling of the boat steering herself in tradewinds day after day just can't be beat). We love slow travel, even if it's just gunkholing locally. We love the simplicity and affordability (compared to a city mortgage!) of living on a boat even if we're not moving for years at a time. I love having my home where ever we go. Boats and cruising, for us, really is the ideal platform for an enjoyable life.

Cruiser rant: What is something that drives you crazy?

My major beef with the cruising community is this unspoken idea that you cannot “quit” (i.e. take a break from) cruising ever. To do so means you’re not a “real” cruiser. Or you’re a quitter. Or something. Also only “real” cruisers circumnavigate, or cruise for 10 years without stopping, or….you get the point. In our opinion, it doesn’t matter how long, or how far anyone cruises. It’s all about the experience, no matter how or where you sail. There isn’t any one right way to do it.

Michael and I have been on again/off again cruising since shortly after we met in 1998 and we have to take breaks from cruising -- both for our sanity and our finances. Like right now, we’re living and working and going to school in New Zealand. We’re saving money and dreaming of places we might want to go (which is far more fun aboard our own boat than in a rental, let me tell you). This is one of the best phases of cruising, the dreaming one.

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

Is cruising the best way to raise kids? 

Yes and no. It depends. Just like some adults, not all kids enjoy the constant change of actively cruising, often leaving friends behind, etc. Parents need to respect their child(ren)'s individual personalities when planning a cruising life, even if that means swallowing the anchor if a kid is really miserable or just wants to go to school, for example. Maybe part-time cruising would work better for some kids or shorter, local cruises. There are many different routes to enjoying sailing as a family.

We think the best way to raise kids is to spend time with them and provide interesting and varied experiences and there are lots of ways to find that outside of cruising. But boat life is definitely our favorite way to do that.

05 June 2017

10 Questions for Banyan

David MacDonald & Alexandra Palcic began cruising in 2012 aboard SV Banyan, a 2001 Jeanneau 40 Sun Odyssey hailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

They describe their sailing route as: "South from Nova Scotia, all the way! On the serious side though, we sailed away from our home port of Halifax in July 2012. Navigating the coast and crossing from Shelbourne to Bar Harbour (ME). We then followed the Eastern Seaboard southwards. January of 2013 had us making the “big” crossing, from NoName Harbour (Fl) to Bimini (Bahamas) where we spent two months basking in gin clear waters and beautiful beaches. In March, two back to back cold fronts appeared and we used this perfect weather window to sail from Georgetown towards Puerto Rico (via two stops, one night at Mayaguana, Bahamas, and two nights at Ocean World, Puerto Plata D.R.) The trip was all about downwind Sailing, with our spinnaker flying, wow! 

Adventuring through the Leewards & Windwards where Grenada became our home for Hurricane Season, and for the next three years we explored these amazing Caribbean Islands, going as far South as Trinidad, and as far North as Puerto Rico. In 2015 Banyan needed some work, and we needed a change, so we pointed our bow North and followed our tracks back to the US of A. We hauled out in Florida where boat jobs took precedence, and where we toured North America on our new land yacht for H-Season. The winter of 2017 had us adventuring in the beautiful Bahamas." 

You can learn more about their cruise on their blog or Facebook page.

They say: "We got married on our boat, and named her Banyan (like the tree, but not!). So what IS a Banyan? With both of our ties to the Canadian Navy (Dave, after 33 years is now retired and nicknamed The Chief. I worked on the Civilian side of things, and am affectionately known as The Admiral). We wanted a term meaningful to both. Canadian Naval Personnel use the term “Banyan” as a break in daily routine; time to enjoy a social gathering while away from the chores of daily life at sea. Loosely it translates to  “Great Times, Great Food, with Great Shipmates (Friends)”. Something we get to enjoy often with the wonderful people we’ve met along the way."

Do you have any specific advice for couples cruising?

You mean “How do you live together in 40 feet of space, 24/7?” LOL. We get asked this a lot! Well, you have to like each other. Thoughtful and respectful communication is paramount. We each have strengths & weaknesses: sometimes one person does more, and sometimes the other person does more. At the end of the day/week/cruise it all balances out.

What is the most important attribute for successful cruising? 

Flexibility, first and foremost. Weather rules all. Patience. No schedule. Nothing is as easy as it seems. And everything always happens at once. Always.

Where was your favorite place to visit and why?

Hate this question. Our favourite place? All of them! Each place is unique and special and has somethings offer in its very own way. There is nothing like the fantastically beautiful waters of the Bahamas. Or the rugged natural beauty of Dominica. Or the culture (and food!!) of the gorgeous Martinique and Guadeloupe  But what turns ME on about a place, might turn YOU off.

The key is to explore forth, have an open mind and a smile on your face, see what happens, and create your own memories.

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

Do your own research!! Know what type of cruising you’re going to be doing. If you get a heavy boat, which is safe and comfortable for long offshore/ocean passages, that’s great. But realize you need lots of wind to get a heavy boat moving. And heavy wind typically results in bigger seas. Which typically results in more spirited conditions. Some think they need all sorts of space and buy bigger. Bigger isn’t necessarily better, as the costs associated with extra-foot-itis increase exponentially (think dockage if you’re entering a marina that charge by the foot!). What’s your skill level? Don’t buy a fixer upper, if you can’t or hate to fix things. Know what it is that YOU’RE looking to do, with the experience YOU have, and for how long you’ll be out there for, and use your answers to go looking. And remember, no boat is perfect, it’s always a compromise.

What piece(s) of gear would you leave on the dock next time? Why? 

Nothing really. We went in as minimalists, and with time, still found we had too much. But then, there was this one thing we bought while at the Annapolis Boat Show five years ago. We saw an Air Chair (a hammock type of chair that can be hung by a halyard and allow you to swing in the wind) and thought it would be the perfect way to relax, while at anchor, in idyllic conditions. IN reality? Not so much. We gave it away this year after trying to use it twice.

What do you think is a common cruising myth?

That it’s all about great sailing, in perfect weather, and then sipping margaritas on a secluded beach somewhere. It’s harder, and more work than I thought it would be. And yet, I’m continuously gobsmacked by the rewards.

How often did you face bad weather in your cruising? How bad?  

As much as we try to analyze the weather patterns of the area where we’re leaving from AND going to, nothing is ever perfect. We’ve have gotten caught a few times. During one of our crossings we looked behind us and saw some seriously black skies coming right at us. We got caught in some heavy weather, that ripped our canvas and had us coming to anchor weather whipped and soaked, and thankfully safe. And then there were these weather spouts in the Bahamas that we had to swerve away from, with the boat in front of us almost getting hit.

And then there was the Conga Line of Storms off
St Vincent & Grenadines that had us navigating through them and around them (thank goodness for radar) and turning around twice to wait them out. That experience had my knees shaking and kissing the ground when we arrived. And then there was that time we were racing in the Carriacou Regatta, and the squalls enveloped us.

What did you miss about living on land? 

Fast and furious WiFi at my Fingertips ALL the time. My very own washer and dryer. And although I have the biggest and best bathtub in the world, sometimes I miss the power of a full on, non-stop shower with massage function on the nozzle.

Finish this sentence “One thing I’ve learned about navigating is…” 

… It’s all about adjusting the sails, all the time, because the wind rarely blows the way you want it to. And the last three miles to your anchorage/mooring ball/marina? Are always the longest, ever!

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

Not so much a question but just musings from our personal experiences of the last five years. Whatever your dream, just do it. Don’t extinguish the wind in someone else’s dream unless you’ve sailed a mile on their tack. See you somewhere south of somewhere.

29 May 2017

10 Questions for Brilliant

Carl & Carrie Butler have been cruising since 2006 aboard Brilliant, a 1989 Moody 425/ 42 ft. Sloop hailing from Green Cove Springs, FL, USA.

They went up and down the eastern coast of the US, through the Bahamas and along the “thornless path” through the eastern Caribbean.  Then through the western Caribbean, back to the States for a while, then the eastern Caribbean again.

You can learn more about their voyage on their blog.

They say: "We met online in 2004, married in 2006 and have cruised together continuously during our 11 year marriage. While we have owned 4 boats together, we have never owned a home on land together."

Why did you change boats and what do you see as the major pros and cons of your changeover?

As our cruising experience developed so did our needs and desires.  The very first boat we owned, a 1977 37’ Irwin center cockpit was really a coastal cruiser and not suited for long range travel.  In 2006 we purchased Sanctuary, a 1985 Soverel 41’ cutter rig that we knew was a proven blue water boat and enjoyed its performance through our first trip south to Trinidad in 2010.  But the living space was thin and we developed “2 foot-itis”,wanting a larger vessel.  We purchased a 1979 Gulfstar 50 ketch rig in 2012 in St. Thomas that was a captain chartered boat in the BVI with minimum equipment onboard, and took 2 and a half years to outfit it for long range cruising, partly in the USVI and partly in Florida.  On our trip to the western Caribbean we loved sailing the Gulfstar but unfortunately lost it to a reef in the San Blas islands, Panama in 2015.  After a short stay on shore where we did some land travel, we felt the love of cruising pulling us back to the water and purchased Brilliant, the 1989 Moody 425 sloop rig in late 2015.  It was more fully equipped and allowed us to more quickly return to the Caribbean in 2016.

We learned several axioms of cruising and boat ownership through this process.  One, a larger boat has more room but higher cost.  A larger boat is also more difficult for two people to handle, especially on offshore passages.  However, the versatility of the ketch rig made the Gulfstar something we could sail by ourselves, even offshore.

Finally, spending more money up front for a boat that already has cruising equipment installed as opposed to buying a boat cheap and installing everything yourself is not necessarily a good move; you don’t know the systems as well as if you had installed them yourself, and older systems need replacing more readily than new one.

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

Sorry, can’t come up with anything on this.  We are both prone to thoroughly research and analyze things that we are passionate about, and cruising is one of them.  Before we started cruising, even before we met, we both had read everything about cruising we could get our hands on and talked to as many people in the field as we could corner long enough to answer a question.  It was very exciting when we first met to find another person as stoked about going cruising, and it ramped up our relationship very quickly.

What do you think is a common cruising myth?

Myth:  Cruising is mainly lounging through the day off white sand beaches with calm blue waters and clear skies sipping Mai Tai’s.

Truth: While we’ve enjoyed that, cruising truly is, as some wise soul put it, “repairs in exotic places”.  The fun and sun is normally enjoyed as a break from the latest project or repair, which isn’t bad but the boat repairs always trump the snorkeling trips.  Then there’s weather, which trumps everything.  Along with those blue skies and calm waters we’ve experienced some extremely tough weather situations, both underway and at anchor.  We are constantly watching the weather and the forecasts, and have more than once cancelled plans to stay with or return to the boat when a squall pops up.

Where was your favorite place to visit and why?

Dominica. The natural beauty of the island has been a siren’s call to us for many years, but until this year we have avoided going ashore because of security concerns with overly aggressive Boat Boys.  We had a bad experience with one such individual in 2011 and have stayed clear until recently.  With the development of PAYS in Portsmouth over the last several years, we have finally been able to fully enjoy what the island and its generally warm, friendly people have to offer. Good marketing practices have also spread to Roseau where we enjoyed an equally warm reception.

In second place would be some of the French islands, Guadeloupe and Martinique.  Their laid back attitude at Customs and warm friendly atmosphere always make us feel welcome.  

What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you found particularly accurate?

We’ve read that the difference between an experienced and an inexperienced Cruiser is that the inexperienced Cruiser is afraid to leave safe harbor for fear something will break and need fixing.  The experienced Cruiser knows that things will break, plans accordingly, and leave the harbor for the next adventure.

What piece of gear seems to break the most often?

While we’ve had considerable trouble with overheating engines on this and our previous boat, there always seems to be something lurking out there waiting to break on us at the most inopportune time.  It’s a juggling act, and you never seem to know what going to give you troubles next.

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

Early on in our cruising we had a bad experience with a storm off the Florida coast while in or near the Gulf Stream.  We didn’t check the weather well enough before going out and paid for it.  Since then we have learned to be overly cautious and maintain proven sources of good weather forecasting.  We have also learned to have the patience to wait for decent conditions.

As a result we believe that some of the worst conditions we have faced have been at anchor. Specifically this season on two occasions we have experienced squalls during periods of light winds where the squall produced strong westerly winds with waves of long fetch in areas where there was nowhere to hide from westerly winds. In one case the best option turned out to be getting underway to ride out the resulting swells after the squall in deeper water.  

Have you ever felt in danger and if so, what was the source?   

After 11 years of cruising, living at anchor with our hatches open most nights, we have generally felt safe in most places until just recently.  On one island we encountered an individual aggressively pestering us for “tips” in reward for “watching out dinghy”.  We decided to stand our ground but afterwards felt the vulnerability of being alone at anchor off the beach.   Perhaps we could have shrugged it off, but having read reports of assaults or even deaths experienced by other Cruisers in similar situations, we decided to leave the area that afternoon.

We have also avoided some islands because of reports of boarding and assault perpetrated upon Cruisers by local individuals.

Cruiser rant: What is something that drives you crazy?

“A place for everything and everything in its place.”  There is nothing more frustrating than going to find something onboard, be it a tool to do a job or our sunglasses, and not being able to find it.  While we are incredibly meticulous about lines in the cockpit coiled and neatly stowed or deck gear stowed neatly so it is ready to use at sea, we often search for tools and personal belongings for what seems like an eternity when we know that they are somewhere within 42 feet of us.

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

What is your favorite aspect of Cruising?

Two things are at the top of the list.  One is traveling to and exploring new places.  We both have a serious case of Wanderlust and after 11 years that hasn’t diminished a bit. This is a big world and there are still so many places to explore.  We’re going to need lots of years to get to them all.

The second is the Cruising Community.  To us, Cruisers as a whole are some of the best people on earth.  We have likened anchoring in a new place like a kid being let loose on a new playground.  If we don’t know someone there already it never takes very long to meet someone new and start up a new friendship.  If ever someone needs help and puts a call out on the VHF, it’s a sure bet that several will answer the call immediately, whether they know you or not.  Need a tool?  Need advice on a piece of gear?  Need directions?  Help is right there just waiting for your request.  We’ve donated blood for a cruiser who needed it that we never met before and never got to meet, but heard later that they used the blood to help stabilize her until she could fly back to her home country for treatment. It feels good to know that you can find that kind of help wherever we are and whatever the situation.

15 May 2017

10 Questions for Livin' Life

Captain David Rowland and First Mate Janice Rowland began cruising in 2015 aboard Livin’ Life, a Dean Catamaran 44' hailing from Tampa, FL, USA.
They started from Palmetto Florida around the Keys to Marathon, FL to Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Anguilla, St Martin, down to Grenada all in the first cruising season. Then, up and down the Eastern Caribbean chain including Antigua in the second season. Then Grenada to Martinique to Bonaire, Curacao, Aruba, Colombia, Panama, and now in San Andres.

You can read more about their voyage on their website or Facebook page.

They say: "We were a computer geek and office nerd with no previous sailing experience. However, once we decided to we earned multiple sailing certifications and chartered in the San Francisco Bay, Vancouver Islands, British Virgin Islands, and Thailand."

Describe a drool-worthy perfect cruising moment

We’ve had several fantastic ideal moments sailing, but the best is when you have the proper weather window and you have 15 knots of wind on the beam and either favorable or not noticeable current. It doesn’t happen often, but it happened crossing from Linton Bay, Panama, to San Andres, Colombia. And we caught a good sized wahoo on the way and celebrated our arrival with fish tacos while our boat settled into the crystal clear water. I was surprised to find many of the islands in the Eastern Caribbean to be desert islands (all the way from Bahamas until Dominica). The San Blas Islands are the picturesque sandy beach islands with coconut palms and turquoise blue water. I’m afraid every place we visit will be compared to the San Blas from here after. No place is without problems, though. (http://www.livin-life.com/guna-yala) Bonaire is definitely drool-worthy. Diving and snorkeling right off the back of your boat along the shore or down the shelf. The water is clear and the sealife is amazing (http://www.livin-life.com/awesome-diving).

Cruiser rant: What is something that drives you crazy?

As cruisers, some of us forget that we are guests in the countries we visit. We don’t feel like tourists because we bring our home with us and typically stay longer than a vacationing tourist. However, the locals still see us as tourists, as well they should. It drives me crazy when cruisers complain about the way an island is run or the pace that locals move at. If cruisers disagree with something, they want to change it. The whole reason we left the states was to visit new places and new cultures. Personally, I don’t want to change these places. Maybe they seem backwards to us, but if you want everything to be like it is wherever you are from, then go home! I don’t want our culture taking over the world. It is too invasive as it is. I truly enjoy experiencing the different ways of life and wish some cruisers would just be quiet and stop giving the rest of the cruisers a bad reputation.

Have you ever felt in danger and if so, what was the source?  

We have not truly felt in danger, but we have been afraid or very upset.

1. Our first scary experience was when we sailed from Marcos Island to Key West. There was a small vessel advisory on the VHF from the Coast Guard, but I guess we didn’t considered our catamaran to be a small vessel. Well, we are and we should have heeded the warning. The wind blew 48 knots and we saw 15 foot seas or so and we were sailing on less and less canvas until we were on bare poles and still going 7 knots. That may not sound fast, but it was much faster than we were planning and so we were due to arrive in Key West at 2:00 in the morning. It is a tricky entrance and we had never sailed there before, so we had to sit outside until daybreak. Dave turned the boat sideways to the waves to stop us, which caused the waves to crash over the sides, tossing the boat about. We had been warned so many times while boat shopping that catamarans can flip, so I was very worried. However, the boat did better than the crew. My mom and I were sick and Dave was the last man standing because he took Dramamine early. It was very uncomfortable, but we were never truly in danger.

2. As we sailed around the corner to Cambridge Key in the Bahamas, Dave lost sight of the channel. It was too late in the afternoon, we had never been there before, and the sun glare on the water made it so that we could not see the reefs. Dave missed the channel and drove us hard aground. It was near to low tide and as the waves picked us up and put us back down, I could hear the bottom of our boat going crunch, scrape, crack. It was awful. There was nothing we could do to free the boat but wait for the tide to come back. When it did, we floated off. We dove on it and saw big pieces of fiberglass ripped out of the bottom of our keels. Fortunately, we have sacrificial keels and no water came into the boat as a result. In Compass key, a diver came and filed down the damaged and filled the holes with underwater putty to keep the keels from delaminating. It worked perfectly and we even sailed all the way to Grenada with the putty patches before we hauled to repair the
damage. It was scary because I was imagining awful damage being done, but now I understand about sacrificial keels.

3. Sailing from Bequia to St Lucia we started taking on an immense amount of water in our starboard bilge. The bilge pumps failed and water was nearly over the floor boards. We started manually pumping the water out and kept up enough so that we never had water in the cabins, but we were fast becoming exhausted. It was hot and humid and we St Vincent was not a place we wanted to stop - nor do we know of any marinas that could have hauled us out. So we had to keep going to St Lucia. We trusted the autopilot to keep us out of trouble and looked around every time we dumped water. Finally, Dave found that the water came in through the starboard engine. He wrapped the area with rescue tape (fantastic stuff) and duct tape and stopped or nearly stopped the water from coming in. We kept pumping out the water all the way to St Lucia here we hauled out. This was how we learned what a shaft seal is. (http://www.livin-life.com/we-are-sinking)

What are some of your favorite pieces of gear on your boat and why? 

I’m not sure what type of gear you mean, but Dave’s favorite gear is his kiteboarding gear. He took up kiteboarding in Antigua and hasn’t looked back. Kiting now dictates our cruising to a large degree. I wouldn’t be without fishing gear. We have caught so much delicious mahi mahi, tuna, wahoo, and snapper. Fishing really helps contribute to zero dollar days. Good fenders are important. We were caught in a big blow on the windward side of a dock and sustained damage. We borrowed big fenders to help get us through.

Speaking just about your boat (not gear), what is one thing you wish your boat had that it doesn’t and what is one thing your boat has that you wish it didn’t?

For the boat, the windlass is a deal breaker. We replaced ours before we started cruising and we are very glad we did. Picking up 200 feet of chain by hand just plain sucks! Things we thought we needed/wanted but didn’t: SSB, satellite phone (that may change for the Pacific), and underwater lights (biggest waste of money and energy ever). Things we really need: Good chartplotter and electronic charts, backup GPS, VHF, handheld VHF, and Bluecharts on our iPad. We really like having a watermaker, too, but ours came with the boat and if we had it to do all over again we would not have sunk so much money into repairing our Spectra Watermaker and would have bought one that has more standard parts. We aren’t really missing anything we want, but we definitely overspent upfront because we didn’t really know what we needed or wanted until we started cruising.

In your experience how often do you think cruisers spend sailing vs. motoring, coastally vs. on passage? 

We try to sail as much as possible, even if we are only making 3 knots. There are a lot of times when there just isn’t any wind, though. Following hurricanes or other big storms, the wind is just sucked right out. To move within the next month we had to motor. Most of our travelling has been coastal, island to island and I’d say we average sailing 70% of the time and motoring 30%. Easting to get to the Caribbean chain, though we motored 75% and sailed 25%, if that. On our longer passages, we typically sail most of the way. However, on a notorious passage such as the Mona Passage between Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, when a "no wind" weather window opens, take it. We motored the whole way, but it was still great. We caught mahi mahi and filleted it while underway. Not only were we safe, we were very comfortable.

Do you have any specific advice for couples cruising?

If you just bought your boat, use it before you go crazy installing and replacing things. See what you really need and want before spending unnecessary money. Just get out and do it. Don’t be afraid to take it up a notch or go to the next harbor. Watch the weather, pick your window and go! The worst thing is to be on a schedule, then you make bad decisions and end up going in weather you would prefer not to be in. It’s not always avoidable, but try! Boat time is a great time to learn things you never had time to learn before. My cooking has improved 100-fold. I am now sewing dinghy chaps, fender covers, pillows, and cushion covers. I was not very good at sewing, but I am really improving now. All the hobby stuff I brought onboard that I thought I’d have time for, I haven’t even touched. But when something useful or even necessary becomes your hobby, throw yourself into it and expand your borders. Enjoy the people. I thought the locations would be the best thing about cruising, but it is not. The people are. The other cruisers are amazing people from all walks of life and the locals can be very warm and friendly, especially if you show an interest. The people definitely make the difference!

Share a piece of cruising etiquette  
When showing up for sundowners (cocktails) on someone else’s boat, don’t show up empty-handed. It may not be necessary to bring something, but it is always welcomed and people remember that about you. Bring your own drinks. Brink a snack to share. If you don’t cook, bring chips and salsa. Make it a potluck and bring a dish. Those are some of the best times! Most people do not wear shoes on their boats and prefer that you don’t either. When speaking on a cruiser’s net or just between boats on the VHF, remember that there may be kids listening. Keep it friendly and politics-free. When a place becomes to embroiled in the politics (between cruisers mostly), it is time for us to leave. Life is so much more enjoyable without all the drama. If you see us while you are out and about, come and say hello. We always love to make new friends. That applies to meeting other people as well.

What is the most important attribute for successful cruising? 

Have fun. When it’s no longer fun, it is time to sell the boat. Don’t overplan or overschedule. Pick your weather window. Our friends that are not really taking to cruising seem to always choose the worst times to leave an anchorage. It’s not fun bashing into the wind and waves everywhere you go. For couples, you have to become a team. Get over your egos and preconceived notions of who does what. There’s going to be things that each of you is better at than the other, make those your jobs. The best is when you don’t even have to speak a word to each other and you both just know exactly what has to be done and who will take care of what. It takes a while to find that routine, but we feel it came kind of naturally. The first year was the toughest, then it all became so much easier. Sorry, one more. Be careful and be smart. If you wouldn’t go out walking around in your city at 2:00 in the morning, don’t do it in a strange place. If you have to walk at night, do it with a group. But best of all, don’t do it. Take precautions like locking up your dinghy and stowing away gear.

01 May 2017

10 Questions for Domino

JP and Marie have been cruising since 2010 aboard MV DOMINO, a 65' Malcolm Tennant Power Catamaran flagged in Pago Pago, American Samoa.

Since 2010, they have cruised from Paraguay to Argentina, Uruguay, the entire East coast of South America, Caribbean Islands, Cuba, Yucatán, the entire East coast of the US and the Chesapeake Bay, Central America (Caribbean side), Panama, Galapagos, Marquesas, Tuamotus, Tahiti and its Islands, Samoa, Fiji, New Zealand, and now New Caledonia.

JP and Marie built DOMINO themselves and they left behind 6 children and 13 grandchildren when they headed out cruising. DOMINO is currently for sale

Read more about their journey on their blog.

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

I look for the freshest produce and canned goods with the least additives, enjoying the opportunity to discover local flavors.  At the town market, I often ask the ladies how to prepare the produce they sell.

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

Doing nothing.  I never thought I would enjoy just sitting, meditating, looking at nature, doing nothing at all.

How did you (or did you) gain offshore experience prior to leaving?   

Uh... we didn't.  Just hopped on the boat and left.  1 day passage, followed by a 2-day passage, and so on.

Share a piece of cruising etiquette

To guests who come and cruise for a while: don't bring roll-away suitcases.  Backpacks and soft bags do not scratch the decks and are easier to stow away.  To dinner/happy hour guests who kindly bring drinks on board: please, take your rubbish with you as you leave.

In your own experience and your experience meeting other cruisers, what are the common reasons people stop cruising? 
  • They get on each other's nerves
  • They have gone as far west as they dared
  • They miss family and land possessions
Tell me your favorite thing and your least favorite thing about your boat  

Favorite: Parties 60, dines 8, sleeps 2.

My least favorite thing?   Umm.. no washing machine!  Of course, we have the room for it, all the electrical and plumbing, easy ventilation for the washer/dryer combo, but no machine!  I think JP uses this as leverage... after 10 years of doing my laundry in an oversized sink, spinning it in a high speed spinner and drying it in the sun, I still hope that some day I won't have to depend on the weather to do my laundry!

What are some of your favorite pieces of gear on your boat and why?  
  • Refrigerator- I can't imagine cruising without one, and mine is quite large, enough for 6 weeks of fresh produce.
  • Bread machine - We're French, therefore eat a lot of bread!
  • Our big 6' radar array antenna.  We see targets clearly and early... peace of mind.
Where was your favorite place to visit and why?  

The Galapagos.  There is nothing like it, above or below water.  Unique!

What mistakes did you make in your first year of cruising?  

Plenty! Racing the Brazilian Coast Guards entering Rio de Janeiro while ignoring the proper entrance channel, as the coast guards had fun pinning us on the rocks is my favorite!

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

How do you not get on each other's nerve when you live in confined quarters 24/7?   

Headphones, private space, yoga, and a sense of humor!

24 April 2017

10 Questions for Pitufa

Birgit, Christian and ship's cat Leeloo have been cruising since 2011 aboard Pitufa, an S&S 41 hailing from Vienna, Austria.

They quickly sailed through the Med, Atlantic, Caribbean, Panama Canal and now have been cruising for 4 years in the South Pacific.

You can read more about their voyage on their website.

How did you (or did you) gain offshore experience prior to leaving?
We had no experience at all before we bought our boat. We simply wanted to travel to remote places and a sailing boat seemed like the perfect means of transport with accommodation attached. We bought the boat in Mallorca and took her through the Med to Croatia. We had plenty of opportunity during these 3 weeks and 1.500 nm to try out our theoretical book-knowledge.

Having been in both the Atlantic and the Pacific, how do they compare?

We didn't spend much time in the Atlantic/Caribbean, but the trades seemed much more stable than in the Pacific.

Do you have any specific advice for couples cruising?

There's no general recipe, some couples need lots of space and independent activities, we are lucky and just don't grow tired of being/working with each other 24/7.

What is something you think potential cruisers are afraid about that they shouldn't fear?

Many people ask how we pass the time. Potential cruisers shouldn't be worried about getting bored on a boat--there are usually too many things on the ever growing to-do list anyway.

And what is something potential cruisers don't worry about that perhaps they should?

We see many boats with insufficient equipment. Don't set out without a proper anchor and alternative energy sources (we kept buying new solar panels during our first years).

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

We like the sense of companionship, especially in remote places neighbours help each other out with bits and pieces and of course know-how.

We dislike cruisers who think it's cool to 'live off the land' in remote places and hunt everything that's moving. Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.

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

We bought a sturdy, reliable aluminium boat and we're happy with our choice. With Pitufa's classic lines and tumblehome she's usually the prettiest boat in the anchorage (at least for us ;-)), but these features also give her a tendency to roll in anchorages and on downwind passages. Pitufa's heavy and slow, a longer waterline would help with the boat speed.

What piece(s) of gear would you leave on the dock next time? Why?

I can't think of anything. We carry way too much gear, but we need all of it.

Are you attracted more to sailing itself or cruising-as-travel and has that changed over time?   

We're definitely travelers. We don't enjoy sailing (and despise+avoid motoring), but it's a way of getting to a new place.

Finish this sentence “One thing I’ve learned about navigating is…”

... that sailing 'in the wrong direction' (against the prevailing trade winds) isn't as hard as most cruisers think. We sailed from Tonga back to Tahiti last year and it was quite an enjoyable trip.

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

What are the most important pieces of equipment for you?

Our windvane, because the hydrovane steers Pitufa in all conditions without drawing any electricity.

The watermaker, because it gives us the freedom to stay in remote places as long as we want.

Our 'Bügelanker' (similar to a Rocna), because it gives us the piece of mind to sleep without the need of an anchor watch and to leave the boat unattended while exploring ashore.

17 April 2017

10 Questions for Palarran

Tawn and CB Midkiff have been cruising since 2013 aboard SV Palarran, a Hans Christian, 38T (38 feet - 48 with bowsprit) hailing from Seattle, WA, USA.

Over those years they have cruised down the Pacific coast to Panama and out to the South Pacific via Galapagos.

You can read more about their journey on their website.

They say: "We are a bit of the odd ball out here. We are not retired. We have no kids. We are starting our 5th year of cruising. And we are now looking at re-stuffing the cruising kitty for a 6-month on 6-month off cruising schedule."

Have you ever felt in danger and if so, what was the source? 

I am not sure I would classify this as "danger" per se, but more butt puckering fear. We were probably not in danger as the boat was doing its thing; but I was scared out of my pants at a storm we ran into on our way from Palmerston Atoll to Niue. This area of the Pacific Ocean is known for its unpredictable and unforcasted weather. We left in a great weather window, and for the most part, it was accurate. However, toward the end of the 450 mile journey we hit a band of squalls that had been sitting stationary due to a high that was pushing up against a large low to the south. The winds steadily picked up to 35-40 knots with staggering 20-25 foot seas. The waves were so enormous that we had to hand steer as our Hydrovane could not keep up when we rolled off the top of a wave into the trough. We were hitting 11 and 12 knots on a boat with a hull speed of 6! We were rolling off waves scooping up water in our gunnels that kept us heeled over until the water drained just to be swamped by another wave. We thought about heaving to, but the storm was not moving so who knew how long we would be there and the side swell was brutal. We could have headed off the wind, but then we would have to fight our way back. With only 60 nautical miles to go and a good butt clench on the helms seat, we made our way through before heaving too and collapsing in the lee of the island country of Niue. Hindsight, I think we did the right thing; as I said, the boat was in no immediate danger....but holy cow...that was terrifying!

What mistakes did you make in your first year of cruising?

By far, worrying too much about the budget and missing opportunities to travel inland. At some point along the line we were both so stressed out about spending too much that we were not having any fun. We realized that the budget is there as a guide, but some weeks we spend more and for many we spend nothing at all. This was a huge milestone in our cruising. We weren't out here to see how little we could spend, we were here for experiences. We were going places that would be once in a life time spots and if we skipped excursions for budgetary concerns, we were doing a serious disservice to ourselves. If this meant stopping one year earlier, then so be it. But as it stands we made it about as long as we thought we could without even touching our savings. I have experienced more in these last four years than most ever will in a lifetime. I cherish this time we have out here. Money can always be made, but experiences are only to be had for the time you are in that place.

Was there anywhere you visited that you thought was overrated (not as good as you had heard)? Was there anywhere you visited that you thought was underrated (better than you had heard)?  

Costa Rica was the most overrated, expensive tourist thick country we have ever been to. We traveled inland, overland and by sea and everywhere we went it was the same thing....filled with foreigners who were running businesses stripping you of money while paying and treating the locals horribly. As cruisers who don't have a regular salary coming in every month, we found this place very hard to handle financially; even the grocery stores were overpriced. We spent too much time here and would have rather spent that time in Nicaragua and Western Panama.

Nicaragua, completely skipped over in cruising guides, was one of my favorite stops. The surfing was phenomenal and the bus system provided easy trips inland. The people were great, once you got to know them, and the food was off the hook amazing. As one local guy we knew said, we don't have much money, but we love to eat! The anchorages here are more exposed, but that is why the surf is so good. Western Panama is another place that there are few guide books for. It reminded me of the South Pacific with its islands, bays and coral reefs. The water was so clear here and the local population are all the indigenous peoples of Panama. Language was a problem, as most people spoke their local dialect and Spanish was a second language. The surf in Western Panama was also very good. I would highly suggest spending less time in Costa Rica and more time exploring these surrounding countries.

In your experience how often do you think cruisers spend sailing vs. motoring, coastally vs. on passage?

This was something that totally blew us away. When we left Seattle, we thought we could pretty much throw our engine overboard. We were sailors setting out on a grand voyage around the world and were going to only use the engine in an emergency. We would just wait for the wind to blow us towards our destination. HA! Little did we know, if you leave Washington State at the recommended time of the year, there is no wind on the Pacific coast. We motored 80% of the time...it seemed. And that whole part about being sailors and just waiting for the wind to drift into our lives...yeah right! Turns out we are not that patient; and banging and slatting around in the ocean when a quick push of a button and burning of a few dinosaurs will get us to our destination within hours....yeah, we became a power boat while cruising coastally. Sometimes you have to face the reality...but I guess you don't know what that reality is until you do it!!! That being said, once we crossed to the South Pacific we have sailed almost 100% of the time as the winds become consistent trades and passages are planned around favorable wind.

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

When we first left we followed a very well worn track of cruisers before us...down the Pacific coast to Mexico and beyond. At first we fell in with the other cruisers and enjoyed the many pre-planned activities. But eventually we traveled beyond the Jimmy Buffet Mexican Train crowd and found our own group of like minds to travel with. We were lucky enough, for one season, to find a group of people our age who were all headed in the same direction. We were of varying levels of experience, but all had a love for adventure and fun. We traveled inland together and had beach parties and celebrated birthdays and holidays together. It was great while it lasted. But in Panama everyone goes their separate ways and we lost our beloved group. I would say this is what I liked most about the cruising culture...the camaraderie and almost instant friendships that run deeper than the sea. As of late, we have not found a group like this and I miss it greatly.

The one thing that I do not like about the cruiser community is the perception that some have that the people living in the remote islands and communities of this world are somehow "poor" and "needy". While we were in "the pack", so to speak, of our pacific crossing; we noticed that many cruisers simply gave items to the remote islanders and would refuse trade. Not only does this seem arrogant, but it drastically changes the way a people live and act. Just because the locals don't have an IPad each and every other electronic gizmo know to the western man...doesn't mean that they don't live a culturally rich and fulfilling life. People way out here on the edge of civilization don't need much. They are not hungry, they are not illiterate, they are not poor...they just live a simpler life than us Westerners. We have no problem with trade...I think a bartering society is fabulous...but I would feel I was insulting people if I were to simply giving without getting.

What piece(s) of gear would you leave on the dock next time? Why?

Honestly, we did very well here. Everything we have we use regularly. The only item on the boat that I can think of that we have yet to use is a large collapsible propane burner that you can use for crab boils on the beach. We just haven't had the opportunity to use it and the pictures you always see of cruisers on the beach eating fabulous seafood boils just is not the reality.

Speaking just about your boat (not gear), what is one thing you wish your boat had that it doesn’t and what is one thing your boat has that you wish it didn't?

The Hans Christian 38T comes with either a V-berth and a smaller head and shower to port or a Pullman and a head in the V. I wish we had the Pullman. Being in very hot and humid climates, I find the V-berth absolutely stifling to sleep in at night when there is no breeze. We have lots of fans, but throw two hot sweaty humans up there and it is awful! I guess that covers both topics...but I would also add that I wish our refrigerator was not located over our engine...it seems like a pretty big design flaw and has kept us from using our separate freezer due to power consumption.

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?

The perception of "safety" in foreign ports. This was actually never a real fear of ours, but we had heard from "cruiser lore" how dangerous foreign ports can be and how you will arrive with stuff and by the time you leave all your stuff will have been stolen. This is way over blown and has NEVER been a factor, at least not for us. We have rolled into some sketchy non-cruiser (by this I mean not in any guide) ports in Latin America and have been the only cruising boat around. We found that these places were often friendlier than the "yachtie" hubs because we are a novelty and the locals want you to have a good impression of their town. Basically, people are the same all over the world...generally good in nature and proud of the place they are from. Even the countries that are known to have issues, like El Salvador, don't want foreigners getting harmed as it is bad for their tourism. Be smart and above all else, be respectful of locals and their customs.

As to the other point, I have found that there is a very profound and shocking lack of knowledge out here. Everyone is a novice until they actually cut the lines and go, but that doesn't mean you have to be ignorant. Take the time to read everything you can on the places you want to go before you get there. Use Noonsite as a reference, but not as your only piece of information. Read other cruisers blogs. Learn the foreign language of the place you plan to spend a lot of time. Read, Read, Read!!! Knowledge is the best tool any cruiser can have in their tool kit. Learn about your boat, fix stuff yourself, take a weather course. These are all things that will put you one rung above the rest when you decide to go.

Cruiser rant: What is something that drives you crazy?

Absolutely, positively the "lore of the cruiser". We set out on this crazy adventure for just that reason...an adventure. We like to find places ourselves and experience things our way. I can't count how many times we have been chatting with another cruiser couple, talking about places we have been and places we want to go when all of a sudden another couple butts in and states some crazy ass spew of made up BS that they heard from "some other cruiser" about the place you were just talking about. It is always something negative and often I know it to be totally false...because I was there or knew cruiser friends that were there! But once the cruiser lore starts, it is like a wildfire. Noonsite is the worst culprit of this. I can see it coming a hundred miles away and have learned to just nod my head and smile (I have also learned to be very careful of what I say about places). But jeesh it drives me crazy...there you are talking about your accomplishments and dreams of foreign ports and some cruiser decides they will just poop all over your conversation with some gossip they heard second, third or 90th hand....okay, rant over :-)

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

What gear did you not leave with and wish you had?

A solid mast track rigged telescoping spinnaker pole of appropriate size. Lets face it, once you take off, you are basically going down hill. We have had the wind to aft since leaving Seattle; aside from a few to-weather trips to reach a particular destination. Being able to properly sail down wind requires a pole to keep your head sail from the awful rig shuttering THWAP of the sail collapsing off the wind. We have an undersized pathetic pole that attaches to a ring riveted to the mast. We have blown that baby off of there twice and have had to re-rivet it underway...not a fun task in rolling seas. As soon as we reach a land where rigging this up will not cost a full year of fun tickets...we will put on a mast track rig and get a properly sized telescoping pole. 

15 March 2017

The IWAC Revival

After a five year hiatus, the Interview With A Cruiser Project is coming out of intermission.

I am toying with different formats, mulling over the question bank, reaching out to my contacts, and thinking through the project from top to bottom.

Here is your chance for input before the project gets up and rolling again!

What did you enjoy about the project? What did you find lacking? Did anything annoy or frustrate you? If you could run the project, what would you do differently? What subjects fascinated you? Which subjects weren't covered enough?

Comment here or on the same topic on our Facebook page.

Cheers, Livia