21 August 2017

10 Questions for Tranquility Bay

Scott, Kimberly and their ship cat Allie have been cruising since 2005 aboard SV Tranquility Bay, a 38' aluminum Groupe Finot Reve d'Antilles hailing out of Detroit, MI, USA. They have spent the last twelve years sailing up and down the east coast of America and throughout the Caribbean.

They say: "From the glass towers of NYC to the steamy jungles of the Banana Republics, we've been pondering escapism and searching for a more connected and meaningful way of life.

You can learn more about their cruise at their website and their YouTube channel.

Tell me your favorite thing and your least favorite thing about your boat

We take it for granted that our boat is incredibly strong. It always brings us feelings of security when the going gets rough. Something that appeals to us more regularly, however, is it's uniqueness. A lot of people – especially in the States – don't know what to make of it. It may as well be a spaceship with its unpainted aluminum topsides and bubble. People are usually very surprised when they come inside and settle into its cozy wood interior.

Our least favorite thing about our boat is that it is often difficult to go unnoticed. Its rugged fishing boat-like appearance has always appealed to us because in our minds it has a simple look, and not a yachty one. When we arrived in Panama, however, where most of the indigenous population paddles dugout canoes, it was hard to ignore the frequent amazement of many of the locals. They pound on the side grinning and say, “Aluminio!” Then they chuckle about scrap prices and the equivalent amount of recycled cans that they'd have to collect to make as much money as they could get by cutting off a chunk of our hull. Sometimes they make us nervous.

What is the next piece of gear you would add to your boat if it were free?

We'd love to have a set of lithium batteries. They're so light weight and put out so much juice. It would be a huge boon to our cruising comfort and if we ever ended up shipwrecked, we'd be carrying our own extensive prescription for depression. However, considering that lithium is a limited resource and witnessing the roadblocks faced by the electric car industry, we don't have fuzzy feelings about any big changes coming soon. But we'd sell our soul for a set of those babies! (hello sponsors?)

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

The percentage of motoring vs. actual sailing is hard to know, but what we certainly can say from our own experience is that there is a lot of impatience in the world. If you've just abandoned a thirty-year mortgage or walked away from an unfulfilling career and hopped aboard a sailboat, it can be hard to restrain your excitement. The wind isn't blowing, but you're anxious for the 'real' adventure to begin so you crank up the iron genny and head off, despite a forecast of glassy calm. Or in our own case, you start out making the mistake of jumping at the first stormy opportunity, puff out your chest and call yourselves 'real' sailors. Then you take a severe beating, and spend the next week shore-side looking for parts to replace everything you broke.

We see a lot of people out here trying to girdle the globe during one year sabbaticals. We also see lots of retirees deep into the final chapter of their lives – frequently complaining about there being “too much wind this year.” Of course people that have been out traveling longer tend to be tuned in closer to Mother Nature's frequencies, but really, the true percentages of sailing/motoring are all over the map. I don't think there is a science or study to accurately describe what percentage at any given time choose to motor or sail. Maybe chaos theory?

Spending days on end deafened by a throbbing engine, and enveloped in a cloud of soot isn't so magical. On the other hand, beating your brains back and forth and not making it into an anchorage before dark just to lay claim to some kind of sailing prowess certainly isn't smart either. Everybody wants to paint the perfect picture of their sail through paradise, but sometimes, you just have to eat it – with torn sails or a bruised ego. So … .. . 50/50???

What do you dislike about cruising that surprised you?

There is always a lot of talk about the cruising community. The number of people actually going someplace in their boats is probably equivalent to the population of a small town, so it seems like a fitting analogy. It's remarkable how often we cross paths with the same people flitting about on sailboats.

We've had friends on boats deliver generous loads of medical and school supplies to third world villages. We've met crazy wandering gypsies that have told us stories about parts of the globe that we've never heard of. We've also met folks on shore that have welcomed us with open arms thanks to the many ambassadors of good will that have traveled before us. And then, there are the Hamburger Cruisers.

There are a lot of Hamburger Cruisers out here. Most of them are pretty friendly. Don't get us wrong, many of them have been wonderful to us, but it often seems that their main priority is to eat hamburgers in every country they visit. On an extended progressive dinner party, Hamburger Cruisers travel great lengths, at great expense and discomfort, seemingly, only to find their next patty. Sometimes, however, when there are no burgers to be found – things can get ugly.

What is a cruising tip or a trick you learned along the way?

Slow down and open yourself up to new experiences beyond sampling some local food and taking a tour. Ask yourself why you've signed up for this adventure. We often meet new people trying out life on a sailboat that think they're subscribing to some kind of special 'lifestyle' that they've caught a glimpse of on YouTube, but living and traveling on a boat isn't easy. It takes awhile just to get comfortable with your floating home and develop an understanding for how things work.

We've lost count of the number of times we've met cruisers committed to crazy accelerated plans – things like two year circumnavigations. They often have scarcely enough time to even say hello, much less keep their boat together before rushing off to the next spot. From what we've seen, it's a horrible way to see the world. What is the sense of traveling thousands of miles at great expense and a snails pace, only to do a waterfall tour and head off to the next place?

In your own experience and your experience meeting other cruisers, what are the common reasons people stop cruising?

Probably the most common reason we find people bailing out early is that they've discovered traveling by sailboat was much more difficult and uncomfortable than they had imagined. It never occurred to them what it might feel like to get beat up for days on end. It continuously amazes us how many people – young and old – we watch head out for the first time after lengthy preparation, only to call it quits after they've had their first rough experience. Old age, and difficulties coping with the simple drudgery of operating a boat and living on it is another reason. Sometimes, the missus just wants to be with her grandchildren.

Where was your favorite place to visit and why?

It's hard to pin down one place, but we do have fond memories of our time in Venezuela. We entered the country shortly after their president called ours the devil. Despite some positive reports we heard before departing Grenada, we had reservations. More than one couple tried to convince us that “Hugo Chaves will confiscate your boat.” While we thought this was foolish, we did debate flying a Canadian flag to save face. Later, we thought that was foolish as well.

The Venezuelans were some of the friendliest people we've met in our travels, and the diverse scenery there was otherworldly. There was a serious crime problem everywhere we went, but thanks to a howling black market currency exchange, we remained somewhat blind to the dangers. Trading a personal check for a backpack full of money was unbelievably exciting. It was like living in the old Wild West.

Over the coarse of a year, we rode a towering wave of economic collapse. Fuel was thirty cents a gallon – delivered. To our surprise, in addition to discovering that Venezuela was indeed a democracy, we learned that the island of Margarita was full of top notch shopping centers where we loaded up with goods at pennies on the black market dollar. We filled shopping cart after shopping cart full of quality liquors, exotic brands of chocolate and giant wheels of cheese. Lomito, Spanish for tenderloin, cost less than ground chuck, so we ate it like hamburger.

We had a great time in Venezuela, and we've never regretted taking advantage of the economic situation there. We were even given free health care as visitors. What's most interesting, however, are people's reactions to our stories about this amazing place. We tell stories of many of our friends that still live there, and of all of the starving Venezuelans – still being crushed by the world oil economy. But the most striking response we ever get back at home is, “gas only cost thirty cents a gallon?!?!”

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

Venezuela seems to no longer be an option for cruisers. It is now the world's largest remaining oil reserve – and an economic war zone.

Cruiser rant: What is something that drives you crazy?

People that tell us, “it must be nice to live like you do.” They say it as if they themselves have somehow been cursed. It drives us crazy how people complain about their hectic lives in America. They often hear only what they want to from our stories. We fish. We swim in paradise. We drink cocktails at every sunset.

After meeting so many happy families that live in palm thatched huts with dirt floors – people that swim in the oceans, eat fresh food out of the jungle, and breathe the fresh air – it's really hard to listen attentively to some our friends or relatives complaining incessantly about the horrible complications of their material worlds.

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

So I hear you guys have started a YouTube channel, what do you hope to achieve?

We'd like to share what we've learned in the last twelve years of our sailing experience and inspire others to follow their dreams. Currently we are completely overhauling/reconstructing our boat to outfit it for travel to colder climates. It has always been our ambition to travel to the edge of the icepack to see with our own eyes how the world is being changed. We'd like to take anyone else interested in the conversation about the future along for the ride in hopes of increasing awareness of the current situation. Come along for the ride at Sailing Tranquility Bay

14 August 2017

10 Questions for Bella Vita

Brett & Stacey Hoopes have been cruising since 2012 aboard SV Bella Vita, a 1995 Hylas 45.5, hailing from Seattle, WA, USA.

From Seattle, they sailed down the west coast to Mexico, then across the Pacific (French Polynesia, w, both Samoas, Tonga, NZ, Fiji) then Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Australia, Indonesia and are currently in Malaysia.

You can learn about their cruise on their blog.

They say: "I worked in the boating industry for 10 years (Marketing Manager for Fisheries Supply) and Brett worked as a Sonographer at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance before we left.  While there, Brett met and cared for many vibrant people who passed away from cancer before their time – many of who had big plans and dreams for when they retired….that they never got to do.  This strongly reinforced our decision to go cruising while we were still young enough to really enjoy it instead of waiting until we retired.  Life is short and you never know what will happen."

Tell me your favorite thing and your least favorite thing about your boat.

Bella Vita is an amazing boat – the perfect size (IOHO) and strong enough to withstand big seas.  We’ve always felt like she could handle WAY more than we can, so probably my (Stacey’s) favorite thing is how safe I feel aboard her at sea.  Brett loves how well-thought out and laid out she is.  My least favorite thing is that it doesn’t have a washing machine aboard (hope to rectify that some day!) and Brett’s is that we can’t access the anchor locker from the deck.

What is the next piece of gear you would add to your boat if it were free?

Brett:  High quality insulation around our fridge.  This has been a MAJOR issue ever since we got to warmer climates.

Stacey: A washing machine!

What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you didn't find to be true?

Living in the USA, there is a lot of press devoted to how dangerous many parts of the globe are and how we should be concerned about traveling there – especially in Mexico.  We’ve been out now for almost 5 years and NOT ONCE have we ever felt we were in danger (other than from Mother Nature!).  We’ve been amazed by the kindness and giving nature of the majority of people we’ve met along the way.  They’ve made us feel welcome in pretty much every country we’ve visited.

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?

Again – people shouldn’t fear that these places will be dangerous or that people are out to steal from them.  That’s not to say you should leave everything open and invite people to take advantage of you – but you shouldn’t waste time on the fear of the unknown when it comes to foreign lands.  What should people worry about?  THE WEATHER!  Do everything you can to learn about understanding weather forecasts and how to interpret them to aid in your routing.  The ability to know when to sit tight and when to GO is one of the most important parts of cruising successfully.  Brett adds that you should NEVER have a timeline – it will get you into trouble every single time.

Where was your favorite place to visit and why?

Suwarrow – hands down.  You can only get there by boat, and there are only the 2 park rangers that live there – so the area is completely untouched by tourism.  It was amazingly beautiful, an absolute paradise.  While some cruisers complain because you are only allowed to anchor in one area, which is open to winds and filled with coral bomies – we found that it was a little slice of heaven.  Beautiful, clear water filled with marine life, gorgeous huge manta rays, sharks, fish of all kinds and birds galore.  We spent the full 2 weeks allowed there and only wish we could have spent more time.  A close 2nd was the Tuamotos – specifically south Fakarava – which to this day had the BEST snorkeling/diving we have every experienced.

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

What we like:  The cruising culture is amazing.  Cruisers are always willing to be there for each other – to lend a hand to help fix something, to rally around a boat in dire circumstances, or to just share a beer after a hard days work.  A perfect example – while we were in Tonga our fridge stopped working and we needed new brushes.  We asked for recommendations from local cruisers on the daily net – and after the net we were contacted by a boat we didn’t know (at the time) named Iolea.  Paul and Kate just happened to also own a Hylas, and wondered did we happen to have a Grunert refrigeration system like theirs?  It turns out they had a spare set of brushes and were happy to loan them to us until we could get new ones delivered (which of course we immediately gave to them).  These two wonderful cruisers resolved our mini-crisis in a matter of hours – so fantastic!  We also love that cruisers have no qualms about visiting another boat and starting a conversation with cruisers they’ve never met….and within minutes they are likely invited aboard for a tour or a refreshment just because you’re sharing an anchorage.  How many people at home have no idea what the names of their neighbors are even though they’ve lived next to them for years?  I love the closeness and community of cruising – you really do make friends for LIFE!

What we dislike:  Watching some cruisers absolutely loose their sh!t with locals over something stupid because they expect the efficiencies of their home in a foreign land.  There is nothing more mortifying than watching a fellow cruiser (especially when they are from your home country) behave badly with the locals.  We are all ambassadors out here and should never forget to treat locals with the respect they deserve, even when things are not going to our liking.  We are guests in THEIR country and should act accordingly.

What type of watch schedule do you normally use while offshore?

During the day we don’t really have a standard schedule – whoever wants to sleep can nap as needed.  At 7pm we institute a 3/4/4/3 schedule, with me (Stacey) sleeping first.  If nothing is happening in the morning, I’ll let Brett sleep until he wakes up naturally.  If one of us hasn’t slept well (up during their offwatch time for sail changes, etc.) we make a concerted effort to get that person the rest they need during the day.  It’s important that we are BOTH functioning as well as possible, so we’ve found this works great for us – but every couple we’ve met is different.  During rough weather we often shorten up the duration as 4 hours on can be exhausting in really bad weather.  When you first start out it’s important to experiment and find out what works best for you and your partner.

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

While we both love to sail – we definitely are more attracted to cruising for the travel.  I’ve always loved to travel, but am not fond of flying and hate living out of a suitcase – so the idea of traveling with my home was extremely appealing.  We have loved the comfort of having our floating home when everything around us is constantly changing and unknown – for me, having that little bit that is familiar is really important when you are traveling full time.  These days I sometimes worry that we’ve become true sea gypsies and will never be content to stay in one place for a long time ever again.  I guess time will tell, but as long as we can make the money last we will continue this life for as long as we possible!

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

Never trust your charts.  Always keep an active watch near land and assume your charts can be as much as a ¼ mile off.  While our charts (Navionics on our RayMarine system) have been exceptionally accurate in most places, there have been exceptions and it’s imperative to use dead reckoning and all the information you have at hand in conjunction with what the charts are telling you.  We also augment our charts with a program called Ovitalmap on our iPad that allows you to download Google Earth images for offline use.  It has saved our bacon more than once and is brilliant when you are cruising in areas where there are no charts at all.

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

How has cruising changed you?

When we first left, we were completely caught up with the rush, rush, rush of city living.  Time just continually flies by and before you know it another year has clicked by and nothing has really changed.  But when you cruise, one of the best parts is living a slower life that is less about acquiring things, and more about acquiring experiences.  It brings home the fact that the people you meet and the experiences you have with them is what life is really about.  Life is nothing without love and learning – about confronting your own personal fears and moving past them, while constantly challenging your personal “safety zones”.  Cruising has made us more patient and less judgmental – more understanding of adversity and how it can change people for the worse or for the better.

I think it took us a good 6 months to really start slowing down and accepting the slower pace of our new life.  Having time back – to be completely in control of our own time and how we use it has been a wonderful gift.  Being able to see the world on a small budget is amazing – something I never even knew was possible until we started cruising.  Now that we’ve slowed down and seen so many different places, experienced so many different cultures, we’ve really begun to understand how similar we all really are at our core.  We’ve seen some amazing things and completely different cultures – but at the end of the day the people we’ve met all have the same basic needs and (for the most part) the same values.  They show pride in their country, love for their families, frustration with their governments, they want the ability to feed and raise their families in a safe environment, and they experience all the same feelings and frustrations we’ve experienced while living in the United States.  What used to seem so amazingly different is actually almost exactly the same, no matter what the culture or religion dictates.  If we  could just get people who haven’t traveled to understand that, what an amazing world we would live in. 

07 August 2017

10 Questions for Journey

Wayne Seitz & Dana Greyso cruised from 2012 until 2017 aboard SV Journey, a 1977 Pearson 365 ketch, hailing from Portland, OR, USA (though Journey's never been there).

They bought Journey in St. Lucia and sailed up the Caribbean chain, back to Florida. From there they spent time in the Bahamas before returning to Florida, before continuing on through to the Panama Canal. They crossed the Pacific to New Zealand, then spent another season in the islands before finishing their cruise in Australia where they sold their boat.

They say: "We do see ourselves returning to cruising down the road, though not likely making a trans-Pacific crossing. Wayne, a savvy mechanic, is still a frequent contributor to the Pearson owners forum.  We're incredibly humbled by and grateful to the many Pearson owners generosity to us.  I've published a number of Cruising World shorts, the most recent in June/July '17, a heartwarming story about an island dog in New Caledonia supported by cruisers via Cat Impi's GoFundMe campaign."

You can learn more about their cruise on their blog.

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

For the money, we still felt we did well with our Pearson 365; safety -- a solid blue water boat on a budget was our driving criteria.  Journey definitely delivered.  With a bigger budget, a boat with a "man cave" and a better alternative to our v-berth for sleeping would've been excellent.  We were very tempted partway into our cruising to switch to a Manta 37 catamaran for its more comfortable layout, but decided it was outside out budget and felt more confident we would recoup our buying price more easily with a lower cost boat, like our Pearson.  We'd still have preferred a cutter rig over a ketch.

Bottom line:  better speed and more comfort would've made long passages less stressful.

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

Get new sails -- at least a new mainsail -- before you go if you plan to do substantial cruising, even if you're what you have is in okay condition.  We figure we spent more money fixing what what we had than we would have for new sails, and we would've sailed much more efficiently, too.

While SSBs are slowly being replaced by satellite technology, we wish we had a working SSB setup not only for safety, but also to be more connected with cruiser nets, especially for the Pacific Puddle Jump (PPJ)

Buying your boat outside the US offers greater than expected challenges when it comes to getting your boat cruise-ready (especially when it comes to getting the parts you need affordably - or at all). After we sailed to the US, we left with a LOT of spares for the rest of our journey and they served us well.

We actually did this - worked at West Marine part time to enjoy the awesome employee discount on our boat gear.  We thanked West Marine every day for the gear we'd never have had the budget to buy full retail.  We also got fabulous advice from Milltown Sailing club (in Everett WA), Wendy Hinman ("Tightwads on the Loose" and "Sea Trials" author) and Seattle Women in Boating.  Connecting with the sailing/boating community (experienced folks who are not connected with selling you stuff) and the Pearson forum was invaluable.  We also crewed on three boats before we left, which taught us some good lessons.  Wayne read just about everything he could get his hands on online about cruising (including Interview with a Cruiser).

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

Our oversized Rocna anchor.  We got it after our first season and slept much better after that.  The only time we dragged once we got the 42lb  Rocna anchor was because our windlass broke so we scarcely put down any chain.

CPT autopilot.  Not fancy or integrated but incredibly more robust than other more popular wheel pilots.  Incredible customer service, too.

An illegal propane instant-on hot water heater for a darned nice shower for a boat as relatively small as ours.  Even in the tropics a hot shower just makes you feel more human afterward.

Iridium Go! wifi hotspot with Predict Wind. Getting accurate relatively forecasts in middle of the ocean was pretty awesome, as was keeping in touch via texting from it (the latter really helped me feel less isolated on long passages like the 32 days it took us to go from Galapagos to the French Marquesas).

Soda Stream soda machine- great way to keep drinking water interesting without having all the extra soda bottles or lugging them shore-to-ship.

How much does cruising cost?

We paid $30,000 cash for our sturdy 1977 Pearson 365 sailboat.  We chose to aim for a fairly lean cruising budget of $1500 month for everything - from boat repair, to food, customs and immigration, entertainment  -- everything.  In places like Fiji we had no problem coming in under budget. However extensive boat maintenance and repairs in New Zealand and overall cost of living in Australia put us over budget in those areas.  We also chose to not insure our boat or carry health insurance, which we knew was risky but also prompted us to take less risks.  We also trusted fate and were willing to pay out of pocket for any medical needs.  We rarely stayed in marinas.  On the backside, after all our import and pre-sale and commission costs (~$10K USD), we sold our boat for a net of ~$46K USD. That net included putting in some extra work to save 5% duty on the valuation price (for a US-built boat under the thanks to the US Trade Act Agreement) and selling off boat accessories (ex. Iridium Go!, life raft, backup autopilot, etc. for $3.5K) not required by Journey's new owner.  Our boat sale was not really a $16K profit!  We spent a significant amount of money on maintenance, repairs (like this one) and gear well beyond $16K, and we were pretty frugal.

What do you dislike about cruising that surprised you? 

Too many long, uncomfortable passages -- and relatively speaking ours were fairly benign.  Thanks to doldrums, contrary winds (often despite what was forecast), currents that behaved differently than anticipated, torn sails, etc. most passages took us longer than expected.  Having a genuinely pleasant sail, however, was exceptionally rare for us.  Also, with the two of us as sole crew, we missed quality time together while on long passages.  There's no sleeping together when one of you always has to be on watch.

What is your most common sail combination on passage? 

Jib only, followed by main and jib.  We had a mizzen which we rarely used.  Our autopilot was very prone to weather helm, which led us to a very cautious approach on how much sail we put up.

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

Panama's official check-in rudeness and cost soured us when we first came to the country to a point it was difficult to overcome (though Isla Contadora, our last Panama stop was a great place to relax).

Bora Bora's over-commercialization turned us off

Vanuatu's cruise-shippy Efate was also an area where it seemed little could be enjoyed for free.

Was there anywhere you visited that you thought was underrated (better than you had heard)?  

New Caledonia was a pleasant surprise, refreshing us after we'd felt somewhat burned out.  The sailing was easy, anchorages plentiful and varied, with lots of well-maintained hiking trails and islands with great snorkeling.  We appreciate the ease of checking in and out of most French territories and New Caledonia was no exception.

Spanish Virgins were charming, far more interesting and less commercial ashore than BVIs or USVIs

Maupiti was a sweet place, unplanned to end our stay in French Polynesia with our favorite lookout point view.  We were fortunate to catch a good weather window in; we saw how nasty its narrow reef entrance can get the day after we arrived.

Share a piece of cruising etiquette  

When you socialize with other cruisers in an anchorage, consider casting your net wider to invite the whole anchorage.  Make a point of at least saying "hello" and introducing yourself to other cruisers in the anchorage, even if your default is to just stick with the folks you're buddy-boating with.  You never know just how much being inclusive is appreciated, or how much being left out can sting.

In your own experience and your experience meeting other cruisers, what are the common reasons people stop cruising?

In our case, we stuck to our plan, a budget enough to cover 5 years of cruising, and we were reticent to tackle the sailing challenges between Australia and the US to finish a circumnavigation.  We completed our goal; even if ours was halfway around the world (others stop when they circle the whole blue marble).  Missing our friends, but especially parents, especially those who don't travel and are in their late 80s and 90s, also prompted our return home -- all the more so as our budget didn't include trips home to visit friends and family. We've observed cruising parents needing to usher their children into college are one call to end cruising.  Health issues, among cruisers themselves, or with other family members are prime reasons to stop cruising.  An empty cruising kitty is often easier to replenish with a long break from cruising, and a return to more traditional work for a while.

Particularly for frugal cruisers like us, at some point the clarion call of a queen-sized bed you don't whack you head on when you sit up and endless hot showers is darned compelling.

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

What scared you?  (specifically, we were often asked about "pirates" and "storms" as well as other "I wouldn't go because" questions....)

We never encountered pirates, because they're not that common and Noonsite offers excellent information on areas to avoid.  The only time we ever got "boarded" was by a confused homeless fellow in Jacksonville FL; he left without incident.

We never encountered sustained winds of over 30 knots or sustained waves over 4 meters (and >1-2 meters were most common) - boring but true

What scared us the most was our last long passage - two seriously nasty lightening storms coming into Bundaberg Australia. The first lasted about 2 hours, followed later by a shorter lightening storm in our last few miles in.  Both times, we dropped our sails, turned off our electronics and put all we could in our "Faraday cage" (oven) in anti-stat bags.  We didn't get hit, but sure thought we would.
Overall, we were incredibly lucky as well as well prepared.  We also can't help but wonder how many other boats cruise relatively unscathed... it just doesn't make as interesting "press" but all those scary stories sure do discourage a lot of folks from ever considering even getting into a boat, much less distance cruising.

31 July 2017

10 Questions for Tainui

John Vallentine cruised from 2005 until 2016 aboard SY Tainui, a Formosa 46 hailing from Mooloolaba, Australia. He had various crew, especially Maxine Maters, Ian Allan, & David Lucas.

You can read more about his cruise on his website.

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

Yes. The remote world is shrinking. We have always pursued remote cruising grounds, preferably in high latitudes where they can still be found.

Follow-up question: Any examples of the remote world shrinking?

The Galapagos, Lord Howe Island, Trinidad, Tahiti, Marquesas and Cuba all come to mind.

In the Caribbean, I wish I'd been to the Windward Islands 50 years ago.

I don't want to give you the wrong impression though. We cruised many places in solitude - Patagonia, Haiti, Newfoundland, Labrador, Iceland, Faroe, Arctic Norway and Svalbard, virtually all of Russia, Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. The list is still long enough for a lifetime's sailing.

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

The Atlantic is excellent for high latitude cruising – Labrador, Iceland, Svalbard, Patagonia etc. But the equatorial milk runs are boring.

The Pacific islands are becoming quite crowded but even as late as 2015 we found empty places – Tuamotus, Niue, Beveridge etc. The sailing is grand if you are going downwind.

What is a cruising tip or a trick you learned along the way?

My favourite trick is to break my travels with trips home.  It is great to leave the boat and great to return. And you can stash the boat in cyclone holes or snow-bound ports.

In your own experience and your experience meeting other cruisers, what are the common reasons people stop cruising?

There are many reasons why people stop cruising. Boredom, aimlessness, financial distress and partnership  breakups are all common.

Cruiser rant: What is something that drives you crazy?

More than anything else, I am driven crazy by fleets of Bavaria and Beneteau charter boats – what Ian calls “Eurovision Song Contest” boats. These are worse in the Med, of course.

I am also very irritated by boats which run generators at night, boats which anchor stupidly  too close ahead of me, and those wind generators which whistle noisily.

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

Not really. Perhaps in a southern Ocean gale when we were surfing under bare poles at 18 knots I felt we were on a bit of a knife edge but our Aries coped effortlessly.

What is your most common sail combination on passage?

I like having the boat pulled along by the nose. Obviates the danger of broaches and gybes.

In the high latitudes, poled out storm staysail with/without poled out yankee.

In tropical grounds, poled out #1 and genniker. Sometimes with the main as well

What piece of gear seems to break the most often?  

Our 40 year old Ford Lehman engine needed regular coddling. Sheet chafe is a constant danger which can be avoided. Sail wear and tear is inevitable.

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

Solid, simple, seaworthy and with good sailing ability. There is no better boat than the Peterson/Formosa 46 for this.

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

What next?

I don't have a specific answer to this, but my future will always include the sea and boats.

17 July 2017

10 Questions for Impi

Brent Grimbeek and Ana Hill began cruising in 2011 aboard SV Impi, a Lagoon 440.

They have cruised Cape Town to Brazil, Tobago, Grenada, Lesser Antilles, British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, Bahamas, Florida, Cuba, Jamaica, Panama, Galapagos, French Polynesia, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, New Zealand, New Caledonia, and on to Australia

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

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?

A lot of people we speak to have experience of sailing in the proximity of the coast and are fearful of sailing out of the sight of land. In fact, ocean sailing is way easier and safer than coastal sailing.

A lot of potential cruisers think that all they need is the money to buy a boat and that afterwards you just need money for food and diesel.  Few wannabe cruisers realize the costs of maintenance on a boat and/or have the skills to do good maintenance themselves.

This can result in boats gradually going down hill, becoming unsafe and unseaworthy.

What do you think is a common cruising myth?  

That you are free as the wind!  Unfortunately, the way the world is nowadays we are dependent on banks as one is not allowed to carry cash in excess of 10000 of the currency of the country you enter into without doing a declaration thereof.

In many countries although not in Australia and New Zealand, having a bank account is dependent on having a proof of residential address.  This can become complex once one leaves the home country and maybe lets or sells one’s house.

Finish this sentence “One thing I’ve learned about navigating is ... that charts in many territories are inaccurate.  This requires us to use satellite photography as to avoid reefs and coral.

We were fortunate to learn this technique in French Polynesia from some fellow cruisers.  It enabled us to navigate through the Tuamotu Islands without any hiccups as we could clearly mark and identify coral heads.  Similarly charts are very inaccurate in Fiji and sailing from Vanua Levu to the Lau group overnight we were confident that we would not hit a reef as we planned our course very carefully using satellite photos.

Whilst at anchor in the darkest night we can be confident that when the wind changes we are not going to hit any rocks as our boat position can be easily monitored on the satellite photos.

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

Buy a safe boat that is reasonably fast on the ocean and comfortable at anchor. Equip your boat in your home country and not once you are underway.  For us South Africa was a good country to do this with skilled technicians and affordable prices.

So why do we love our Lagoon?  Well it is a very safe boat, the underside ‘nacelle’ – a large bullnose protruding between the hulls toward the trampoline area tapers, as what I can only describe as a ‘third suspended hull’ – do not think Lagoon build this in as a beautiful looking feature, for it certainly is not – it is undersold and holds a phenomenal ‘secret’ to safety at sea. Let me explain.

We were sailing around the southern tip of South Africa when a storm descended upon us. The waves were breaking to the extent that the surface became filled with foam and soon we were dropping down these colossal monsters doing 17 knots bare poles. Every other catamaran there had to head out to sea, since dropping down these waves would see the bows dig into the back of the wave ahead and they feared pitch poling. Impi was the only boat to successfully round the Cape that day for shelter in the anchorage – why?

We soon learned the magic trick of Lagoon. As the bows descended into the wave ahead, that ‘bull nose’ of the nacelle would make contact with the water surface driving the bows upward, time and time again. The suspended hull effect would assist with keeping the boat steering straight down the wave, where catamaran skippers fear the boat broad siding down a wave face. This feature alone ticked a huge box for us, a major point of safety that was going to prove to be invaluable in some pretty ferocious storms we would encounter crossing many oceans of the world.

In the catamaran sailing community, we often hear sailors measuring the success of a boat by the height of bridge deck clearance – ‘the higher the better’, they would say. This is the clearance or height from the surface of the water to the underside of the boat between the hulls. Now whilst a certain amount of height helps in lighter weather conditions, many sailors do not realize that in heavier sea state conditions, too much height has a negative effect in that the wave energy under the boat gathers more momentum before hitting the underside of the bridge deck. Too little clearance is also not good as the boat can feel unstable, but in our opinion, Lagoon have cleverly found the sweet spot between.

Another incredible attribute to the Lagoon 440 is how the boat sails on different points of sail. The Lagoon 440 surprises so many fellow sailors and especially mono-hull sailors, who do not want to believe a catamaran can sail past them to their windward side, on a close ‘point of sail’. Yes, thanks to the two shorter spreaders on the mast, the Lagoon 440 sails very well upwind since the leech of the genoa can be hauled in closer before being obstructed by the spreader tips. This feature, together with the genoa car tracks, that are positioned closer to midship than many other models of catamarans makes the Lagoon 440 a terrific boat for sailing close hauled. In fact, the Lagoon sails well on all points of sail when using a variety of sails along with a barber hauler configuration for wind astern of the beam.

We can store an asymmetric sail, spinnaker, storm sail and extra genoa with ease and all concealed below the deck in lockers and not stored inside the living area of the boat.

When it comes to speed, of course the Lagoon is not a racing boat as ours is loaded with all sorts of home comforts, but it moves on average 150 to 240 nautical miles per 24 hours depending on the winds, currents and the sails rigged. For example, our previous passage from New Caledonia to Australia was an easy 4 day passage.

The Lagoon 440 leaves the factory at around 12.5 tons, but loaded weighs 16 to 17 tons depending on water and diesel on board.

Of course speed is great while sailing, however, for us arrivals and the time spent at our destination are more important. We arrive with our boat clean, all salt washed with fresh water from our 900-liter water tank and 12V water maker that produces around 60 liters per hour for the 20amps that drive it.
The solar input via our 5 Kyocera 135w each panels (675w total) sees us topping up the batteries, up to 50 Amps, and plenty enough to run the Spectra Newport MKII.

Arrival also sees us with all washing clean, dried and ironed with our normal household ‘6kg washer dryer’ fitted into an outside cabinet, next to a sink and cockpit fridge.

Inside the boat, our fridge may be nearing empty but the freezer will often be loaded with fish caught en route.  Thanks to the outside basin, those can be cleaned and filleted outside, a very clever and well thought through feature by the Lagoon designers who make Impi as close to a home on the ocean as one can get.

As soon as we are cleared, we are ready to explore the delights of islands unlike some of our co-cruisers who are hunting around for laundries, water, and electricity and stay stuck in marinas for days, sometimes weeks on end.  Usually a one-day turn around is all Impi needs before heading out to those ‘paradise like anchorages’.  With 80 meters of 13 mm chain, 20 meter of rope and a 33 kg Rocna anchor, a Delta stern anchor with 20 meters of chain, we can anchor just about anywhere, and the Lagoon carries the weight with ease.

Our Lagoon 440 has enough space for all our dive gear, dive compressor, the heavy dinghy with its 30 HP engine which the davits carry comfortably, makes it a breeze to immediately be exploring those delightful underwater corals.

Of course it all comes down to preference and what one wants to get out of a boat – for us it is more about a home which has the ability to carry all the home comforts safely and at fair speed from one destination to the next.

We live for extended times on anchor and our air conditioning, heating and refrigeration facilities ensure that we make plenty of friends!  It is not unusual to hear:  “Let’s all meet on Impi, because they have space to seat 10 round the table, enough plates and cutlery, air conditioning and a lot of space to store cold beers!”

Lagoons are sturdy boats developed not just for a charter market, they are usually baptized in rough seas - they need to cross the Bay of Biscay on their maiden run and that sea can get seriously upset with tremendous wave action as it is very shallow.

Our patio is similar to that of a mono hull turned side ways, protecting us from large waves from the stern.  In extreme weather conditions, catamarans should not as a rule, be pointed toward the weather as one would in a mono-hull.  Well, for the odd wave that may escape and descend on the boat, we do love the high back of the Lagoon 440, which provides some protection from a wave otherwise finding the aft door into the saloon.

The bridge, a feature seldom found on any other brand for a 45 foot catamaran, gives excellent visibility when cruising through reef-infested waters and is always the place our guests spend most of their time when cruising the islands.  In bad weather it is comforting to be up there as one can feel the wind and the ocean away from the noise below and inside. It brings a new perspective and certain control in what otherwise one perceives to be life-threatening conditions. It is also the area where with wind from astern, we would sleep during crossings wearing our life jacket and harness, mostly because the motion is less aggressive up there.

Another feature we loved about the Lagoon when shopping for catamarans, is the strength and thickness of the ‘fiberglass ‘ – the coach roof is solid and sturdy. It feels safe and offers living room upstairs, something much needed when sailing for years on end.

We do believe the Lagoon 440 is a terrific deep ocean sailing catamaran - we have never regretted our choice of boat to circumnavigate, the boat keeps amazing us.

How did you gain offshore experience prior to leaving?  

We studied for our captain’s license in South Africa with a private tutor who accompanied us on our first long ocean crossing from Cape Town to Brazil.  We have sailed just the two of us ever since.  Our tutor taught us a lot about sail rigging and trimming.  We did our first crossing using 2 genoas most of the time or an asymmetric sail.  Our top speed was 21 knots.  That was a bit too scary! We took 21 days to sail from Cape Town to Fortaleza. You can read about our first sailing experience on Amazon kindle – Atlantic Crossing in 21 days.

Describe a drool-worthy perfect cruising moment

Difficult question as there have been many, so maybe I must go back to the first one, which was in Northern Brazil.

We went into uncharted territory there! With only a vague description from a Brazilian sailor, we headed for Lencois Maranhenses, a national park.  It was described to us as a desert with freshwater lakes.

To get there we cruised for several hours up a muddy river with a 6-meter tidal range. We both started doubting the intelligence of doing this, as there were no other yachts around, just a lot of local fishing craft.  We had been warned that not all of these people were friendly!

We anchored out in the river at night and the next morning took the dinghy further up river where we were told by our friend to anchor.  It was a place we could only reach at high tide, taking care to avoid sandbanks.

A local fisherman drew a map of the course to take to enter and as the tide went up we took Impi into a real paradise with hundreds of red ibis, flamingoes and other birds. We were astounded by fish with 4 eyes, we had never seen before and the most awesome white sand dunes and fresh lakes where cattle would come and drink.  Beautiful jangadas, the local fishing boats, with blue sails would go up and down the river bringing in the daily catch.  The people would take pictures of us, as it was so rare to see a yacht there!  They were very friendly and didn’t even speak Portuguese but an indigenous language.

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

You cannot go on a charter vacation on a boat for a few weeks and say you have ‘cruised’.  I think that depending on the level of stress in your life prior to cruising it can take several years to actually shed that stress and get into a cruising lifestyle.  To find that connection with wind, weather and ocean, to open your heart to the beauty of your surroundings is something that some people never achieve.    In our modern lives our spirits get shredded and torn into multiple directions.  Cruising for us enables us to get whole again and to have that peace inside with makes us strong enough to deal with adversity and patient enough to wait for any weather window.

What is the next piece of gear you would add to your boat if it were free?

We would upgrade our solar panels to SunPower solar panels.  At this point in time these panels have the highest energy output up to 327 W.  They carry a long power and product warranty and we believe that together with our lithium batteries, which we installed earlier this year, these would significantly reduce our need for the use of a generator.

Have you ever felt in danger and if so, what was the source?   
We have felt in danger a few times and we have learnt from it.  One area, which is neglected in a lot of sailing courses, is teaching students how to read the weather on our planet.  We have learnt as we went along and sometimes because we got ourselves into bad situations.

One of these times was sailing from Ua Pau in the Marqueses Islands to the Tuamotu.  The weather looked good according to the GRIBS and the forecast from Meteo France, so we left together with Tempest, an Amel mono-hull, skippered by our friends Bob and Annette Pace, medical professionals from the US.

As we went into the night the benign winds picked up to over 60 knots and the previously calm seas were whipped up into 5-7 meter waves crashing on Impi’s side.  I prepared grab bags, food, meds ready in the cock pit should we need to abandon ship. We kept out a small jib and encouraged Tempest to do the same and sailed all night through vicious waves making speeds around 12 -15 knots on a small jib!.  As the day broke, we saw a Japanese ship on the AIS and contacted them. They told us not to turn back as the storm was worse behind us then in front of us.  They were such great guys, giving us a weather forecast all the way to Fakarava, which proved to be accurate.

One of the reasons we learnt, why we had not read the weather accurately was because we didn’t look at the 500HP layer, we had just looked at the surface weather. What can happen is that the top layer breaks through to the surface given the right conditions.  You then can end up with a rapidly deepening low and cyclone strength winds.  We have learnt to always look at the top layer structure now as to avoid putting ourselves in that position again.

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

We volunteer for an animal welfare charity Bien Naitre Animal in New Caledonia and encourage cruisers, friends and followers to become members of this charity as to set up a mobile veterinary clinic in the outer islands of New Caledonia, a service which currently does not exist.  We are grateful to the Down Under Rally Go East for their contribution to the fund. Watch our video on Moose, the abandoned island dog.

03 July 2017

10 Questions for Dos Libras

Tammy, Bruce, and Jezabelle the cat have been cruising since 2013 aboard Dos Libras, a 1995 Catalina Morgan 45 hailing from Corpus Christi, TX, USA. They traveled down the ICW to the Gulf of Mexico from Corpus Christi to Florida then ICW and Coastal down to the Florida Keys. They turned North up the East Coast as far as Charleston, SC., then spent a season in the Bahamas.  They returned to Florida for a summer and then passed through Bahamas on their way down the Caribbean island chain.

You can read more about their cruise on their website.

They say: "We cruise very slowly.  We’ve spent the past three summers in various marinas plugged into the dock with wifi and air conditioning while doing boat projects.  We may or may not do the same this next summer down south.  

Something changed for us over this past summer in Puerto Rico.  Before then we have always felt “compelled” to be on our way to somewhere/  It is difficult to explain but while in Puerto Rico, we realised that we had no real plan until late in the summer and even then it was just to amble slowly down the Eastern Caribbean chain and then decide.  

Bruce is not getting any younger and the stresses of keeping up with the maintenance and repairs is beginning to wear on him.  At this point we may be looking for a place to stop moving and spend a longer period… but…no plans to return to the US!"

What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you didn't find to be true? 

I did a lot of research prior to leaving home and found many sources of information.  Gradually over time I have realised that much of the negative information and warnings provided by others has been exaggerated.  Warnings about areas where current is an issue, warnings about shallow waters, warnings about passes or entrances that are tricky. I don’t know if we have just been lucky, or if our skill level is perhaps more developed than the authors of those warnings… but we have taken our boat into places that are supposed to be difficult, with little or no difficulty at all.  That is not to say that a healthy amount of caution is a bad thing. We all have to know our own skill level and what our boat will do, but just don’t be put off completely by what you read. Dig deeper and take current conditions into consideration when making your decision.  You just might miss someplace wonderful if you’re too easily put off.

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

I have to laugh at this question.  We cruise so slowly and stay so long in some places that we’ve almost forgotten how to plan for passages.  What I consider to be a passage is anything that will require us to establish a watch schedule.  We have found that for the two of us, a two hour watch schedule works best.  It is short enough that we don’t become fatigued, and after the initial sleep, it seems that we are able to fall asleep quickly enough to get a good rest.  I always make brownies or cookies and prepare some pasta salad that is easy to serve and has lots of goodies in it.  I’ve always got my route planned out and we’ve been pretty close in our estimation of the time it will take to arrive with sufficient daylight to safely navigate to our destination.  I guess that is more than one thing isn’t it?  

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

We spend a lot more time motorsailing than we ever thought we would.  We always try to sail when possible, but we are not willing to let our boat speed drop below 4 knots for very long before the engine gets fired up.  We have found that the winds are often close to on-the-nose as we’ve been making our way east until now.  But I still hold onto that hope that now that we’ll be traveling in a more N/S direction, we can sail more.  A huge contributing factor that requires motorsailing is that for passages, we would rather wait for conditions that provide a more kindly sea state, which often means lighter winds.  We would rather motorsail in more flat seas than travel under sail alone in seas much over five feet.  Thus far, current has also been an issue - we’ve been traveling against it.  The majority of our longer passages have been with reefed and overtrimmed main to steady the boat, and with the engine on to help us point closer to the lay line.  

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

I like the fact that you can make it what you wish. If you want to have bunches of friends and a full social calendar no problem.  If you want to keep to yourself and see almost no-one that’s OK too.  If I had to come up with a dislike it would be that in some of the more popular Cruiser hang-outs it is sometimes difficult to get OFF of the merry-go-round!

What is a cruising tip or a trick you learned along the way? 

Tea Tree Oil.  I used it a lot the first couple of years out. Now it seems like I find myself using less and less but I believe that is because the mildew has been killed.  I clean my ceilings and walls much less often and my towels don’t get stinky like they used to.  (I use tea tree oil in my laundry soap and in home-mixed cleaners)

What do you miss about living on land? 

Not being wet and salty when I get to where I’m going. Whenever we go ashore in the dinghy it is almost guaranteed that we will be thoroughly splashed either coming or going. Secondly I miss fast internet.  Finding a signal that is fast enough to do much blogging is a constant struggle.  I dream of fast, unlimited internet.
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)? 

I have found each place we’ve been to be better than I thought it would be in some way or other.  I have a tendency to project past experiences on my expectations for the future.  I have been proven wrong time and again.  Each place is unique and completely different from how I thought it would be.  I have to remind myself of this so that we won’t skip someplace that could be wonderful!
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? 

I wish we had more deck storage lockers… but then we would have to give up some inside space, so it’s a trade-off.  I can’t really think of anything we wish our boat did not have…

What is the next piece of gear you would add to your boat if it were free?  

A new in-house generator and additional battery amp hours.  Our Fischer Panda has died and we are using portable generators.  While this is doing an adequate job, it is a lot of work for Bruce to charge up the house bank, which he has to do at least once per day, sometimes twice depending upon cloud cover. It is also difficult for us to be “that boat” in the anchorage that ruins a perfectly good sunset with a noisy generator.

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

We’ve been asked many times why we chose to round Hispaniola to the west and cruise the southern coast of the Dominican Republic instead of following Van Sant’s instructions to do the northern coast.

We like to review all available resources and then make our own decisions as to when and where to sail.  For us, it seemed more sensible, safer and more comfortable to go the way we did at the time of year we did.  Late in the winter when the norther’s were less frequent and weaker, but still making it down as far as Hispaniola the light wind days just before the north winds arrived would provide us with easy travel east, and then when the winds turned north, the island provided protection from the high winds and waves, but we could still travel east with the north wind to carry us along on a beam reach.  Seas were very flat with the island between us and the  winds blasting off of the Atlantic ocean, so it was perfect.  We experienced none of the danger of being on the northern shore with fewer safe anchorages and much higher seas.

The Mona Passage also seems more benign further south and we had a shorter passage than the northern route.  The timing was much easier without having to worry about the hourglass shoals. Plus the storms that roll off of Puerto Rico don’t affect the southern Mona as much.  I don’t know why anyone would ever choose that route over the one we took.  Note:  It can be a very different experience at a different time of year.  We had help with late season northers.

26 June 2017

10 Questions for Naoma

Nicole and Ryan Levinson have been cruising on their current voyage since 2014 aboard SV Naoma, a 1988 Ericson 38 hailing from San Diego, CA, USA. They left San Diego for Mexico and then made the jump to French Polynesia where they have been cruising since 2015. They have been sailing together since the late 1990's but started more seriously cruising the waters off Baja, Mexico and southern California in 2006.

They say: "I may seem like I have the maturity of a 10 year old but really it's more like a teenager..."

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

Cruiser rant: What is something that drives you crazy?

You mean aside from Nicole doing Yoga in her black bikini?  We don't appreciate when cruisers publicly post detailed information about some of the more remote or less commonly visited areas they've explored.  Especially in the Soggy Paws Compendiums or on personal blogs where they include names and/or coordinates.  We think the Compendiums and blogs are a valuable resource, especially for new visitors to an area, but we strongly believe they should be focused on information about the "gateway" anchorages.  In other words, anchorages that are generally already well known and commonly visited.  Once cruisers reach those gateways they can explore remotely or remain mainstream as they see fit!  We personally witnessed one particular spot in the Tuamotus that was more or less ruined (in our opinion) after detailed information about it was included in the Compendiums and shared widely via email.  One season we anchored there alone.  The next season there were a dozen other boats having endless beach bbqs (and leaving the fire pit residue) on the otherwise pristine beaches, disturbing motus that are bird nesting places, leaving the remains of trash burns, stomping all over the coral in the shallow water, carving their initials in trees, etc.  We heard it just got worse as the season progressed.  There are plenty of anchorages for that kind of behavior but precious few that offer a glimpse of "untrammeled" nature or the experience of true solitude.  If you "discover" a remote uncrowded paradise please don't share it with anyone except maybe a few trusted friends or you will destroy the chance for cruisers following in your wake to also have the special experience you had!  Certainly don't share it with the entire world on the internet or Compendiums!

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?

Many potential cruisers, especially from the USA for some reason, are afraid that if they have not adequately prepared for every conceivable contingency then they are doomed to certain death on the high seas.  It is up to each individual to decide what level of preparation is "right" for them but potential cruisers should know that no matter how much they prepare there is always something that they didn't foresee that could cause injury or death.  Accepting a level of risk is a fundamental part of cruising and a key part of adventure!  The thing potential cruisers SHOULD worry about is letting their fear and endless preparation become a reason for never leaving.  There's a great saying, "There are two types of cruisers - Those that leave without being fully prepared and those that never leave..."

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

The location of good surf spots in French Polynesia...  :)  Kidding aside we feel we were given excellent information before we left and can not really think of any other particular thing we wished we had known.  On the other hand there was a lot of stuff we were told that we later regretted ignoring such as "have a gravity feed system pre-rigged for butane" or "you will want a bigger watermaker" There was also plenty of stuff that people told us or we read that turned out to be a bunch of garbage...  Consider the source!

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 were not big fans of Nuku Hiva, especially when compared to the other islands in the Marquesas chain.  On the other hand we thought the Marquesas in general were underrated.  We only spent six weeks there our first time through but when we returned we spent six months and could have easily spent more.

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

We like the sense of community that we've experienced amongst cruisers, especially in the South Pacific.  There is a strong practice of looking out for each other and expressing genuine good will towards each other.

We are not fans of the packs of boats that travel en masse like locusts swarming anchorages with a sense of entitlement since they are part of this-or-that rally or whatever.  Luckily the rally clones tend to blaze through, always in a hurry, and once their trash is picked up and whatever damage they caused is repaired, life usually returns to normal.  :)

Nicole adds that she thinks it's an unfortunate tendency for many cruisers to crowd into certain anchorages and just endlessly socialize with each other rather than seeking a deeper connection with the local place and people.

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

At the risk of sounding glib I'll say that the main requirements for a boat for safe fun long term cruising are the boat must be likely to stay afloat, can move, and can hold food/water.  Anything else is just layers of comfort and increased margins of safety.  I think too many people stress about what is a "blue water" boat or whatever even though they plan to follow relatively easy trade wind routes.  Those people often end up in somewhat unresponsive expensive tanks built to survive cyclones despite never seeing winds over 30 knots...  Thor Heyeredahl "sailed" from South America to the Tuamotus on a bunch of logs tied together!  People cross oceans in kayaks, paddleboards, whatever.  Think of it this way, what are the chances you will simply drop dead or become gravely ill in the next three weeks?  Fairly slim, right?  The same is true of a blue water passage!  In many places if you sail during the right seasons you have extremely little chance of experiencing a major storm.  If you can stay afloat, keep moving, and have food/water the chances are you will be fine even if "extra" stuff breaks like your chartplotter, computers, etc.

With that in mind, and the benefit of hindsight, if I were to start over I'd likely pick the same boat but possibly modify her to have fewer through hulls and possibly more secure hatches and portlights (enhances the "stay afloat" factor!)  Our boat is fun to sail, she is responsive, handles well, is fast in wide range of winds, and is well built.  She would probably not be our first choice for sailing in high latitudes or long off-season passages in a cyclone area but those are not our intended routes. We see a HUGE variety of boats out here, from cheaply built coastal cruisers (some don't even have toilets) to top dollar luxury ocean sailing yachts with all the latest gear.  The boats are all different but they have one thing in common... They all safely crossed the ocean to get here.

Is there something you wish you had bought or installed before starting cruising?

A programmable battery charger (versus one with a few pre-set programs) so we could more easily equalize our batteries. Possibly a charger that can handle both 110v and 220v.  When we left we did not yet have a Honda 2000 gasoline generator but it has become invaluable and has saved us from having to put countless hours on the engine.  We left with 400w of solar but have since increased to 700w.  Finally, a larger capacity watermaker would be nice.  Ours is efficient, small, and reliable (so far) but at 7-8gph it takes a looooong time to fill our tanks.  Sorry, I know you asked for one thing so consider this a 4 way tie...  :)

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

We did not gain any offshore experience before leaving but we were both already sailors with extensive coastal experience.  I (Ryan) have been sailing most of my life.  For over a decade I taught keelboat sailing at a few notable centers including J-World and as an adjunct professor of keelboat sailing at San Diego State University.  I have a masters license and have worked as mate and captain of large (120'+) luxury sailing yachts in California and Mexico.  I sailed on the US Sailing national team and was a former national champion (along with my teammates) for my class.  I am an Emergency Medical Technician.  Before this voyage I spent a few years studying extensively - stuff like celestial navigation, life raft survival, long distance communication, diesel engineering, electrical maintenance, marine firefighting, meteorology, and other related topics. With the exception of the rigging we did nearly all our own boat work and installations while preparing Naoma for this voyage.
Nicole is also a certified sailing instructor, although for smaller boats, and she has experience working on large sailing yachts including standing navigational watches.  She is an Emergency Medical Technician and is a former San Diego ocean lifeguard.

Having said all this we are often anchored next to people who literally purchased a boat having never sailed a day in their lives before heading out on their voyage.  I'm not recommending that, but it does help keep things in perspective...

What do you dislike about cruising that surprised you? 

Cruising can create distance from your "community" back home, not just in a geographical sense but also because this is a truly life changing experience that few or none of your friends and family will never really be able to relate to.  We were not so much surprised by that fact per se but rather by the extent to which we find it's true.

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 YouTube sailing channel?

Two Afloat Sailing!  ;)

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 cafĂ© 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.