18 December 2017

10 Questions for Tika

Russel, Greer, Kai (13yrs) and Jaiya (10yrs) began cruising in 2015 aboard SV Tika, a 2008 Outremer 55 hailing from Fremantle, Australia.

After purchasing Tika in Panama, they cruised the Caribbean for 7 months before heading across the Pacific in 2016. They have spent a second season in the Pacific after visiting New Zealand and are now in Australia.

They say: "We plan to sail to Tasmania early next year and then across the Great Australian Bite to Perth mid 2018."

You can learn more about their voyage on their website or by email.

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

…to cross-check with each other. We check one another’s assumptions, route planning, waypoints and logic whether we are miles from anywhere, navigating reef strewn atolls or entering a major harbour. It is easy to misjudge (especially when you are sleep deprived during a passage) and two people cross-checking helps to minimize human error. We try to cross check even basic, simple aspects of navigation. 

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

Cruiser years are like dog years- you need more time!! For every year you think you need cruising- you need seven ….especially when cruising with children and doing school for 3 or more hours of the day.

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

  • We moved too fast and got too hypertensive about home-schooling. 
  • We went through a stage of leaving lines (the dinghy painter, fishing line, sheets) in the water and getting them wrapped around the props. It happened about 6 times in as many weeks and we got so annoyed with ourselves! We set up a few systems and it hasn’t happened since. One simple thing we do is to put a peg on the ignition whenever we put a fishing line out to remind us to bring it in before we start the engines. 
  • We didn’t have the right anchor initially- it took a major dragging incident before we upgraded to a beast of a Rocna. 
  • We used to leave our dinghy down at anchor, lost a very cool dinghy and learnt to pull it (the replacement) up every night without fail (not only to avoid loss but also to be ready to move at any time if a crazy wind picks up or another emergency transpires)

Describe a drool-worthy perfect cruising moment

We had an encounter with a pod of humpback whales between Va’vau and the Ha’apais in Tonga… an absolutely incredible experience. They surrounded us, dived under Tika’s hulls, breached right next to us and gave us a once in a life-time encounter. 

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

Like/love: The community. We form friendships quickly and often and meet super- interesting people. We get to enjoy and share everything from help and advice with maintenance, radio nets, pot lucks, recipe’s, school materials and (for us) windsurfing gear!

Dislike: Constant conversation about boats and sailing (that tend to get a little same-same) and the drinking culture.

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

Favourite: combination of speed, comfort and safety. We think sailing performance can be under rated. We are able to take narrower weather windows due to our speed and we can also sail quickly and comfortably in light winds.

Least favourite: the concept of having to sell her at the end of our cruise (sob!)

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

  • DC water maker means we can make water off solar and wind power without having to run a generator
  • Code zero sail and self-tacking jib
  • Shaft drives
  • Skegs
  • Centerboards
  • Running back stays
  • Huge forward toy lockers for our windsurfing gear (we have 4 boards: two inflatables, two hard and 7 sails aboard)
  • Our gorgeous dinghy Tika-Taka that we love love love… she is a gig harbor lobster boat (a sailing dinghy with a reefable main and jib, a rowing dory with slide seat and two-up rowing and a planning dinghy with our 15hpr outboard)

What is your most common sail combination on passage? 

Downwind passages: code zero 120sqm on windward hull.

Upwind: jib and main.

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

Russel: both. He loves sailing in all conditions and loves the destination. 

Greer is a little harder to please and needs time to enjoy the destinations. Likes being at sea but finds being on the go and on a time frame challenging. Prefers long, delicious stops in gorgeous anchorages and really getting to know a place to seeing as many countries as possible in the blink of an eye. She has serious ‘schedule envy’ of cruisers that spend entire seasons in some countries! 

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

Probably a question around cruising with children and what unique rewards and challenges this entails.

Cruising with our two kids defines us as cruisers and has us make decisions that cater to their needs as well as the family unit as a whole. A chunk of each day is spent doing school and boat maintenance and R and R must fit in around this! Sometimes, we look at childless couples and single-handers and think what it must be like to have all that additional time! But showing the kids the world through cruising and boat-schooling has also been one of the most rewarding aspects of our trip. On a big picture level, we like that we are showing our kids what it takes and how it feels to set a big, hairy audacious goal and then to achieve it.  This is real world life coaching at its best.

The time as a family living within 55ft has at times been intense, but we have got to know our kids on a whole new level and have watched them grow into confident, competent, resilient young people through life on a yacht. 

04 December 2017

10 Questions for Starry Horizons

Amy Alton and her partner, David Alton (both 33, Americans) have been cruising since 2014 aboard SV Starry Horizons, a Fountaine Pajot Helia 44 hailing from Kemah, TX, USA.

They picked up the boat in La Rochelle, France and sailed it to Florida where they finished getting it ready for cruising. After Florida they went to Canada, the Caribbean, the Panama Canal and have spent the last two seasons in the South Pacific.

You can learn more about their voyage on their site, Facebook or YouTube.

They say: "We are halfway into our voyage, and over halfway around the world.  We expect to finish our circumnavigation in 2020 in the Caribbean."

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

We didn’t.  Our first overnight together was leaving La Rochelle on our three-day passage to Spain.  It was scary, not only because it was our first passage but also because the conditions were tough.  It remains one of our hardest passages.  I didn’t want David to leave me at the helm but he had to go try to sleep. 

Prior to that, we had a ton of boating experience, since I owned a dinner cruise company for 5 years and David and I are both USCG licensed captains.  We had also been doing day sails out of Houston and did two charters in the Caribbean on catamarans similar to what we ended up buying..

Individually, my biggest sailing experience was 3 weeks with my dad between Florida and the Bahamas - including an overnight crossing o the Gulf Stream. 

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

This lifestyle forces you to face issues and problems you would have never dealt with in land life, and on such an intense level.  Problem solving and keeping a level head are skills that are so important to have.  The biggest example of this for us was in the Bermuda Triangle, our autopilot started malfunctioning. It was early morning so David had to wake me up.  We had a very important discussion where we calmly decided to keep going, while hand steering.  I just kept telling David that I was totally fine with us hand steering as much as we needed, and we can hove to or deploy our sea anchor if we needed a break.  Having the situation up at the helm controlled allowed David to really dive into the issue and he ended up solving the problem in a matter of hours.  The situation could have easily devolved into two people panicking and making bad decisions, but instead we kept calm and supported each other.

Buying and outfitting a new boat was incredibly hard.  Starting from ground zero means you have to start with a blank canvas and pick out every single detail while sometimes arguing with the factory and your dealer.  We’ve never bought a used boat to outfit for cruising so we don’t know the other side of the coin. But with the instant depreciation and the fact that new boats sometimes have big issues, I don’t know that we would buy new again.  We are so very lucky with our boat though.  We love her, and she seems to have less issues than some sisterships have.

Cruiser rant: What is something that drives you crazy?

Some cruisers seem to drag anchor all the time.  I don’t understand that!  It’s so critical to our safety and peace of mind that we’ve got the biggest and best anchor we could.  If you are dragging, there’s a big problem and you need to find a better solution.

Also, fishing.  We’ve landed a few good fish lately, but overall our fishing skills could use some improvement!

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

  • We have a really, really good pair of Steiner binoculars given to us as a gift.
  • We installed three oil change pumps, which make changing out the oil on our boat super fast and clean!  
  • My favorite piece of (digital) gear is my library membership!  I’ve read about 400 books since we left home and most of them I’ve read for free thanks to my library.

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

I have a love/hate relationship with cruising friendships.  I’m a very social person, and I feel like I have to go out of my way to make new friends out here.  It can be very isolating if you let it.  When we do make a big effort to reach out and make friends, our friendships often come on fast and strong.  We might spend days hanging out and doing activities with our new friends.  But eventually, one boat has to move on and we never know when we might see our new friends again.

What do you miss about living on land?

I miss familiarity.  We’re always coming into a new anchorage, or port, and having to find our way every time is tiring.  I spent most of my life in Houston and I know it pretty dang well.  I miss always knowing where to go or find whatever it is I need.

There is definitely a satisfaction in becoming familiar with a new place.  Being able to advise other cruisers or walk to your destination without needing help gives me a great sense of accomplishment.

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

The layout of our boat is so open.  I love how our sliding glass doors between the main salon and the cockpit open up.  It’s like having an open floor plan house.  Also, the windows in our main salon give us a wide view and the lighting in the boat is fantastic.  All our windows are covered with textaline, so it’s not harsh lighting.  Our custom hard top and enclosure mean we are safe and dry at the helm in all conditions.

My least favorite thing about the boat?  That’s tough…probably that there are two heads on the port side.  I feel like any two couples we have visiting should be able to share a head, and that second head could be put to better use as a storage space or more room in the guest cabin.  That’s pretty nitpicky though.  I love our boat.

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

The Atlantic is pretty crowded. Although we did miss some islands in the Caribbean, we don’t have too much of an interest in going back, except for some of the less cruised areas that are more remote like Central America or the ABCs (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao.) 

The Pacific has many more stunningly beautiful anchorages that you can often have all to yourself!  There were at least a half a dozen places we went to that we top 10 gorgeous sites and we spent at least a night by ourselves.  And the CULTURE!  The islands of the Caribbean often seem more diluted due to tourism or colonization, but in most of the South Pacific the native culture still thrives.

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

In outfitting our boat, we made the mistake of thinking projects would take about half the time they actually do.  We expected to spend 3 months in Florida, but ended up spending 5 months.  In fact, we still make this mistake.  Sometimes we wait until later in the day to start a project and when sunset comes around, we are still working on it.

We also had very limited experience with spinnakers and bought a asymmetric, top down furling spinnaker.  It’s more complicated and we haven’t quite been as successful as we’d like to be with it.  It’s ripped three times, once totally in half, so that’s been an expensive mistake.

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

We are really proud of the “work” we’ve done this year.  We get asked a lot about how we fund our trip and if we work along the way.  Normally the answers are that we saved money and no we don’t work along the way.  This year, we did actually work, and earned money through several different means.  Our biggest income was working as crew.  We left Starry Horizons on a mooring in Neiafu for 6 weeks while we flew back to the states and sailed a new catamaran, S/V Julia, with her owners from Portland, Oregon to Hilo, Hawaii.  We also sold some of our photography and writing, including to Cruising World magazine.  We ordered Out Chasing Stars shirts and posted them up for sale.  We were excited to sell 30 shirts!  It was really exciting to earn some money and try out crewing for the first time.

27 November 2017

10 Questions for Louise

Jessie Zevalkink & Katie Smith cruised from 2012 - 2014 aboard SV Louise, a Cal 27. They spent that time on a 6000 mile journey through the rivers of America, around Florida, Bahamas, Eastern seaboard, Hudson River, Erie Canal, Trent-Severn, and the Great Lakes*. Jessie is currently cruising again on a different boat with a different crew. She and her fiancé recently sailed her father's boat from Michigan to England.

You can learn more about their journey on their website or by sending her an email.

*Editor's Note: Because of my own interest in her adventure, I asked Jessie to participate despite the fact that she has not (yet) been cruising outside of her home country for more than two years (an IWAC requirement).

Cruiser rant: What is something that drives you crazy? 

When curious cruisers try to have a conversation while you are attempting to dock and get properly tied up : ) I always need to concentrate, just give me 5 minutes and you will have my full attention! I hate when I come off short, or uninterested which tends to happen when you are in the middle of taking care of your boat. It's a silly pet peeve because typically cruisers are just excited and/or there to help you out, but for some reason I am horrible at multi-tasking in this department.

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

The silence. I am a busy body. A people person. I thrive on company, social settings, and strangers. However I am quite an introvert, my creativity in writing and photography doesn't occur until it's silent, not until I am in a place where I can tune everything else out. I'd never written a page in my life, and all the sudden, I was writing every single day. Thinking in ways I've never thought before.

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

To trust yourself. To know your boat and know yourself. How other people do things might not be the way you should do things. I trusted everyone else before myself when we left for America's Great Loop. It was as if everyone held all the knowledge aside from me, we had a really hard time making our own decisions. What we eventually learned was that every single cruiser has a different boat, different perspectives, different abilities, and different experiences... different taste buds per se. You have to learn not to be a follower.

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

Katie and I were essentially camping. No fridge, freezer, shower, ac, heat, internet, running water, hot water, working toilet, microwave, etc... the list goes on and on. We wore head lamps when the sun went down, slept with the cat and dog in the v berth to stay warm, and washed everything in the salt water.  In the moment... gosh... we wish we had all of the above luxuries. In retrospect I wouldn't have done a thing differently. I grew up well off in suburb where everyone smiled, waved, the trees were bright green and kids drove Mercedes in high school. The greatest thing I've ever done for myself is choose live for 2 years going to the bathroom in a bucket and removing every single convenience I unconsciously grew up with.

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

My favorite thing about Louise was her simplicity. When your neighbors water maker or ice maker breaks  its the end of the world... and your sitting there enjoying every sip of a warm Budweiser... you can't help but get a kick out of it. Our problems were small in comparison to others. Again, in the moment our problems felt big, in retrospect, we were perfectly fine the entire time. My least favorite thing about our boat... I admit to being one for aesthetics, color schemes, balance and organization. Pour little Louise had the worst combination of colors and patterns. Her hull was ivory, buffed and shiny in a few areas, dull and scratched in others. Her boot stripe burgundy or brown depending on who you ask. Her main sail cover bright blue. Her bimini "burgundy" in attempt to match the boot stripe. Her deck cream. Her inside cushions décored in a late 70's plaid. I can't say she was easy on the eyes. But it didn't matter.

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

I remember reading about all the things you "MUST HAVE-OR ELSE", hearing about all the things "YOU NEED-OR YOU WILL DIE". From water-makers to radars, to guns and trackers. I struggled with this in the beginning as I mentioned before, I trusted others' experiences and knowledge before my own. What I found to be true... is that need nothing aside from something that floats and an adventurous soul. We picked up twin sisters on the Mississippi River who had kayaked in their tandem kayak from rivers headwater. They were on their way to Mardi Gras. They had 40 bucks, a bag full of Oreo's, some Cool-aid and a tent. Our boat was a castle to them.

Where was your favorite place to visit and why? 

I have to say the Bahamas and not necessary because of it's obvious beauty and culture. The magic in the Bahamas came from how long it took us to get there. It took us over 6 months to get to an island that is 51 miles away from America. An island that you can hop on a ferry or plane only to arrive in a matter of hours. Everything feels, looks, sounds, tastes and smells completely different when you are travel as slowly as we did. It was the greatest reward having made it there. We arrived with no plans and 3 months before hurricane season. We wanted to stay forever. Every person was a story. Every island was your own. Every meal eaten was the greatest on earth. We worked hard to be there, it brought a level of appreciation that could not have been discovered in any other fashion.

Share a piece of cruising etiquette?

Be careful how to give new cruisers advice. Be open to where they are coming from. New cruisers are timid, they have a lot to learn. What they need is to be built up, to be encouraged, to feel like they can do it just like you. Don't scare them with you own challenging experiences. Share with them how you got through it and why it ended up being your greatest story.

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

How does one gain experience without experiencing ? One might ask. We got our experience on-the-go. We were conservative and patient about it. We knew we were slightly naive. We knew we did not have the experience. It kept us cautious but was never  a road block.

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

We are a society relying on instant everything. Instant oatmeal. Instant news. Instant social media. Instant responses. Instant coffee. Instant connection. Instant cameras in our pockets. The list is disgustingly never-ending. Saying it's hard to slow down is an understatement. I can barely go to the bathroom without my phone anymore. We get bored quickly and need some kind of instant-fix. I don't think most people really understand what it is like to travel at 5 mph for two years. 

The question to be asked should be "What is it like to step away and slow down for two years... like really slow down?" The answer is long, and I've written an article about it that I would like to share. This article encompasses every reason why I would do it again, and why I will forever be an advocate for cruising America's Great Loop.

20 November 2017

10 Questions for Golden Glow

Rand and Ellen began their current cruise in 2014 aboard SV Golden Glow, an Antares 44i hailing from Rancho Santa Fe, California, USA

They sailed down the east coast of the US to the Caribbean, south to Grenada, back up to Bermuda and across the North Atlantic to Med where they sailed through the Aegean, Adriatic and Libyan seas as far east as Turkey. They then crossed back across the Atlantic through the Caribbean and Panama to the South Pacific Islands where they are currently.

Readers can learn more about their cruise on their blog, Facebook, or via email.

They say: "We are enjoying a mobile home tour and global romp through the mid latitudes of our fine planet while we are still young enough to do it as a couple. We love laughter, beach fires, good stories and having our kids join us on adventures."

What was the most affordable area to cruise in your trip and the most expensive?

Turkey was the most affordable and high-end resort areas like St Barts, Mustique, Capri & the Amalfi coast, Santorini in Greece, and the Costa Smeralda of Sardinia were most expensive. When you see a helicopter parked by the pool on the deck of the boat next to you, expect prices to be scaled accordingly.

Generally the least expensive is where there are no stores and tourist locations to visit.  Living off the land like remote locals is very close to free.  The eastern Mediterranean (Turkey and to a lesser extent Greece) in 2015/16 offered food at a 20-30% discount of that of western Europe and the strong dollar offered another 30% discount.  Gibraltar is amazing on fuel and booze.  French Polynesia the locals offer fruit from their land for free and in some Tuamotu atolls we and others were given lobster for free or in exchange for a couple limes.

The most affordable places we’ve cruised have at least a few of the following criteria:

  • Where there is low to no tourism or tourism is not a major industry. Living, eating and socializing as locals v.s. tourists is culturally rich and financially prudent.  
  • Where the food you chose to eat is grown locally and services are taught locally.  Buying imported food or services is normally more expensive. 
  • Where we do not need to do boat work, the boat can be a major part of a budget. 
  • Where our US dollars have the best conversion ratio into the local currency. A strong dollar can create a 20-40% discount.
  • Where your are able to speak the language. Negotiating in a foreign language is a tad more difficult. 

Marina and mooring fees in some countries (Montenegro, Croatia, Italy) can add a lot to the budget. We prefer to anchor in less crowded anchorages.  Where there is a nature reserve the extra fees can be well worth it: Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, Madalenas of Sardinia, Tobago Cays in the Grenadines, San Blas in Panama, the extra fees are well worth it.  Even when grabbing a dock, most places will negotiate rates if they are not full. It helps to know the rates of the closest discount marina when negotiating.

Share a piece of cruising etiquette

Boating is steeped with traditions and etiquette. Where to start? Racing a dingy by a boat filled with white dressed, red wine holding cocktailers? Turning on your generator just as the sun is setting next to the couple meditating on the front deck next to you? Partying until sunrise with music blaring next to the boat that just crossed 2000 miles and have not slept a full night in several weeks?  Running a mooring line from each side of your boat so it can quietly saw through the mooring leaving it ready to fail for the next boat?   or  Waiting until neighbors are enjoying a swim in the crystal clear waters to discharge your black water?

Cruiser rant: What is something that drives you crazy?

Even if it’s biodegradable, if it floats (citrus peels, fruit, crew members), don’t dump it overboard unless you’re well off shore. If it is plastic, or has plastic in it, NEVER dump it overboard.

What is your most common sail combination on passage?

We run an in-mast furled main sail and two furled head sails (Genoa and Screecher/Code Zero) that all get a lot of action. Direct downwind, wing-on-wing with Code 0 and Asymmetrical spinnaker or Genoa, depending on wind speed. We also love the Parasailor for effortless downwind sailing over a broader wind angle, though the combination of wing-on-wing headsails and or asymmetrical spinnaker tends to be faster for us.

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

That we would sink to the bottom of the sea or be eaten by sharks or shot and raped by pirates. Most likely all of the above.  That and cruising was really just working on a boat in beautiful places. We are still afloat and while we've swum with sharks and looked for pirates, neither has taken an interest in us yet. What we have found is that if you are disciplined and work on your boat on a daily basis, you can reasonably take at least one day a week to enjoy the adventure.

We were also slow to embrace having an in-mast furling system, but now we are converted.  It offers flexibility of partial reefs, ability to reef single handed (more sleep for crew) and the safety of not having to go on deck in rough seas.  Unless we were racing, we would not go back.

What piece of gear seems to break the most often?

My concentration, when I smell Ellen cooking something exotic, seems to break, but generally, if we have items break too often, we change manufacturers (my brain excepted). The Rule Bilge Pumps are pretty consistent in their sporadic life span given the little that they actually run. We also have a Sea Recovery Watermaker that was pure joy for a bit. It has a steel valve (Danfoss) that fails due to rust (must have been designed for saltwater during the pre-stainless era). We engineered a manual valve workaround that has eliminated any failures in the last year.

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

What we like best about the Antares 44i is how well designed it is as a blue water cruising yacht for a couple on a global adventure. The comfort and safety of Antares’ protected helm is something we both appreciate, especially now that we’ve crossed many oceans and put in so many offshore miles in all kinds of weather.  The Antares’ beautiful Brazilian cherry woodwork inside is so much warmer and more luxurious than we found on most of the other cats we looked at. From the shaft drives to dual Racors, we are very happy with Antares.

We also had a sunbrella cover made that turns the foredeck into an additional covered living’ “spa" space. It covers the trampolines, including a hammock, inflatable couches and doubles as a theater. It also allows us to keep our forward  hatches open in the rain. We cannot overstate how nice it is to not have to get up to close hatches during a late night squall. The theater is created with some projection screen fabric on the underside of the sunbrella and a set of blue tooth motorcycle speakers that offer surround sound when mounted on the pulpits and salon roof.

This turns Golden Glow into a big screen movie theatre. Butter up the popcorn.

Our beds are incredibly comfortable and our cabin is just the right combination of cozy and airy…we sleep better on our boat than anywhere else in the world.

Our least favorite thing is that we did not take the time for extended sailing 20 years sooner. We have a big family and were busy raising our children and getting them prepared for adulthood. Now we wish we’d spent more of their formative years sailing the world with them.  The least favorite thing about our boat -  when we gather together as a family (all ten of us), we could use a dozen more cabins - and perhaps a crew to handle all the cooking and cleaning while the family plays together.

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

I wish we had done more video while talking ‘into' the camera so we had footage not just showing where we were, but of our own personal observations and expressions as we shared what we have seen. We have thousands of photos and videos of the places we have been, far less of ourselves narrating and laughing into the camera.

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

With a sturdy, well-built boat, we know the weather conditions we can handle. And with modern weather forecasting, especially with the easy downloading of forecasts anywhere in the world using our Iridium GO & SSB, we can pretty much avoid worse weather than we are comfortable with.

Bad people on the other hand can show up anywhere. The crime of certain places (ie. Caribbean, Colon/Panama, Tahiti/Bora Bora) takes some of the joy out of free and easy life style we look for in cruising.  We are fortunate to have a boat that will always get to the other side of an ocean, and a great alarm system on the boat to warn of bad guys. We just have to not fall off or let bad people on. We have only had to confront someone once in our 30.000 mi. and that was a minor event.
We spent a lot of time in Turkey in 2015 and 2016. We even flew into Istanbul in late June 2016 and walked through the exact path that was tragically blown up four days later by a terrorist's bomb. So it is noteworthy that we remember Turkey as one of our very favorite places to live and sail, not just for its beauty, delicious food, fascinating history and culture, but mostly for its lovely people. We experienced overwhelming warmth and kindness from all the Turkish people we met and we felt very safe in the small towns and along the beautiful extended coastline that is ideal for sailing.  I imagine the people have not changed much in a few years, though the politics seem to.

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

What are your favorite toys on your boat?

We love our toys and tools of our global adventure. We chose to bring inflatable sailing kayak and an inflatable paddle board.  We also carry surfboard, caving, climbing, tennis rackets, yoga mats, hiking gear, fold-up bicycles, cards, a backgammon board, drone quadcopter and many beach games and toys.  I wish we had started kite boarding earlier as that seems to be a great combination of what works while cruising

What recommendations would you offer new cruisers?

In addition to paper charts and pilots carry a collection of electronic charts. We use multiple electronic charts on no fewer than 3-5 devices (iPad, iOS and Android phones, Mac and PC) in addition to our Furuno chart plotter. For areas like the South Pacific where traditional charts can be very inaccurate it is essential to familiarize yourself with navigation tools that bring in satellite imagery such as OpenCPN, Google Earth (and Tallon) and SeaClear. Don’t forget to download the offline map detail on your Navionics/Boating app while you still have internet and to zoom into the routes, some reefs will not show up unless you are zoomed in to less than 20-30 miles zoom. This is quite a small area when doing a 1000+ mile passage.

Get the most powerful and highest efficiency solar you can fit on your boat. We also like our quiet D400 Wind generator to give us a boost, especially at night on anchor. It is a sweet thing to have more ice than your can use because you have more electricity than you need.  Blended frozen drinks are a wonderful thing.

Compare the Iridium Go, Delorme and other satellite options before purchasing. We use SSB, Iridium Go, Delorme and have used FleetBand / KVH.  There is a large price and performance variance.

Be sure you have an iPad or tablet with as much storage as you can afford. Among the apps we use every day are:
 - Weather: Weather 4DPro, Windity, Squid Mobile, PredictWind Offshore;
 - Navigation: Boating/Navionics, iNavx, MasSea/Nobeltec, Earthmate;
 - Anchor Watch: Anchor Alarm;
 - Constellations: Night Sky, Star Chart, Moon Plus, SkyView Free;
 - Learning - Knots Guide, BoatingCalcs;
 - Opera Mini for going online using less data;
 - Tides, currents: Aye Tides XL;
 - Tracking friends: Marine Traffic;
 - TripAdvisor before you pull into a new place;
 - Communications back home: Viber, Skype, Hangouts
 - Security:  a VPN like Private Tunnel , we also use this to look like we are in the USA to be able to do things online like pay your property taxes, download a kindle book, etc. that might be blocked from other countries.

We know communications can be a challenge when you’re sailing from country to country, and in diverse parts of the world, how do you make it work, and what tips can you share?

We will never take fast, easy internet for granted again. Or underestimate how much ease and convenience internet connectivity gives us, or how much we use it for. Google Fi improved our lives a lot when we switched from our old cell phone carrier to it. Before Fi, we had the choice of either paying ridiculous charges on our international plan, or we would have to go into each new country and get outfitted with a new sim card and a mobile plan before we could be connected. Google has relationships around the world - and throughout the USA - so that your phone picks up and connects, very cost effectively, to the local carrier wherever you are. No more Sim cards. No more wasting a day just getting connected. Having cell connectivity and data as you approach a new country by sea is marvelous. In places like the Mediterranean or the Caribbean where you may go back and forth from country to country as you sail, google Fi’s system is effortless. It doesn’t work everywhere yet, but it’s still been a huge improvement and time saver for us.

Beyond Google Fi, we also rely on our Rogue Wave wifi booster and our cell phone booster which are invaluable at giving us the strongest connectivity possible from the boat, even when we’re many miles offshore.

Our Iridium Go gives us good connectivity when we can’t connect to wifi or cell. We use it for texts and email, weather downloads and news.

13 November 2017

10 Questions for Jacaranda

Co-captains Chuck Houlihan & Linda Edeiken began their current cruise in 2005 on SV Jacaranda, an Allied 39 hailing from San Diego, CA, USA.

They have remained in the Pacific on this cruise, heading south and then west: Mexico (for 7 years), Central America, Ecuador, Panama, Galapagos, French Polynesia.

Previous to this cruise in the 1990's Chuck sailed Jacaranda from Mexico to Australia taking 6 years. In the 1970's Chuck crewed with his sister and her husband on a Lapworth 36 called “Gambit” in Fiji, Samoa, Tonga.

Readers can learn more about their cruise on their blog.

They say: "Both of us are very avid travelers who have done extensive independent world travel before meeting each other. Besides sailing we continue to enjoy land journeys. Linda chronicles our experiences in “Passage Notes” on our website. She includes helpful details about places to stay, places to eat, travel routes, etc. for those wanting more details in “Trip Reports”.  Chuck is retired from the IT business but Linda continues to do her art and jewelry on the boat."

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

There are significant differences from when Chuck started cruising 40 years ago.  Back then boats were much smaller and mostly monohulls; 35 feet would have been one of the larger boats whereas today it would be one of the smaller ones in a fleet comprised more and more of catamarans.   Huge changes in navigation and communication have also occurred.  Chuck first cruised using a sextant and thought he had died and gone to heaven when sat nav was introduced.  He relied heavily on paper charts.  In addition,  we now cruise with GPS and Google earth charts (OpenCPN, GE2KAP, SASPlanet) which are incredible. As a consequence of GPS opening the way, many places that were remote are now full of cruising boats. Today it is harder to get off the beaten path - you still can but you have to try harder and go further.

Fewer boats are cruising with SSB radios which means the cruiser nets that have been so important for socializing, information exchange, and safety tracking are declining in value.  More boats are substituting satellite systems. Cruisers with ham radio licenses are going the way of the dinosaurs.

The connectedness of programs like sailmail, winlink, and satellite systems make staying in touch with friends and family much easier than before. Internet availability seems to be an added criteria for what makes a good anchorage nowadays.

Today, the staggering amount of electronic gear on a cruising boat means more time in port getting things fixed, the need for more charging power and bigger battery banks.

Cruiser attitudes have changed too. The wonderful aspects of camaraderie and helping one another that is a hallmark of this lifestyle still exists. But we sense a decrease in the commitment of giving back to the wider cruising community. Many boats don’t understand the concept of “leaving a clean wake” for others coming behind them, let alone thinking of ways to improve the experience for the next wave of cruisers.

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

Lots of stuff here.

Chuck learned a tip from an old “salt” many years ago about how to discourage gooseneck barnacles from attaching to the hull during long ocean passages by trailing a line from the bow for 30 minutes a day.  He has passed that on to many cruisers doing the Puddle Jump over the years.  That and a number of our little tips for everyday living on the boat can be found on our website in "Other Good Stuff.”

The sun is your worst enemy so be vigilant and proactive.  We cover ourselves as well as anything on deck that can be destroyed by exposure to those harmful rays, even our roller-furler blocks and the handholds on our dinghy.  And don’t leave the covers off your sails - we cringe when a boat sails into an anchorage and leaves the sails exposed to the sun for days.  Check your sail covers by holding them up to the sun - if you can see light coming through then UV's are probably eating up your sails. Time to make new ones. Insist on using Tenera (Gortex) thread for any canvas work. Tenera thread will outlast the material and you will never have to resew. It’s worth the pricey $100/spool cost.

Ever since he purchased Jacaranda 30+ years ago, Chuck has kept a detailed work log, now maintained in an EXCEL spreadsheet.  This has been an invaluable record of when work was done, especially years later when the project has to be redone. It includes details like part numbers, vendor contact info, instructions to himself for removing or repairing gear, plus photos of specific installations step by step.

Install an item with the thought of having to take it out for servicing. This is a hard concept to fathom when the item is new but surely at some point later on you will have to remove it.

Linda keeps a computerized inventory on the boat for food provisioning and for the contents of most lockers.  It is a nuisance to set up initially but she finds it invaluable when you need to locate something.  There is a sample format on our website.

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

  • Running out of money
  • The arrival of grandchildren
  • Physical limitations due to injuries, health or age 
  • Break up of a relationship
  • Caretaker responsibilities for a child, relative or aging parents “back home” 
  • For “kid boats”, schooling needs (most often for an older teen or high schooler)
  • Not enjoying the lifestyle/boredom
  • Fulfillment of a travel/hiatus goal and the desire/need to resume a career

Personally, we say we will be cruising until we are either not having fun any longer or we are too physically challenged to continue.  We have a vision of sitting in our rocking chairs overlooking the sea somewhere at sunset, reminiscing about our cruising days while snacking on the granola bars from our ditch kit.

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

Not really because we always go into a new place with an open attitude of exploring and looking for the best. That said, we were disappointed with Panama City, Panama as a place to stay on a small boat because, surprisingly, we found it very cruiser UNfriendly.  The City and its environs (Casco Viejo, the Canal, rain forest, indigenous communities, etc.) were fascinating and wonderful and we had some fantastic experiences.   However, we felt the lack of good anchorages and adequate facilities for cruisers made it uncomfortable or expensive as a place to be aboard your boat.  This was unexpected since it is so much about ocean-going travel - but the focus is on freighters and expensive motor vessels and small cruising boats seemed to just be tolerated.  We wouldn’t want to go back on Jacaranda but we’d return as a visitor in a heartbeat.

Was there anywhere you visited that you thought was underrated? 

We fell in love with Colombia!  We did not cruise there but flew from Ecuador.  We think it is underrated because, in the minds of many people, its old reputation as a dangerous drug cartel-controlled country has not yet been supplanted by its new reality as a safe place to go.   The people were over-the-top friendly and welcoming.  The variety of landscapes were ecologically diverse and culturally interesting.  Among our favorite experiences were attending the annual Flower Festival in Medellin and seeing the spectacular Caño Cristales (River of 5 Colors).

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

In Chuck’s earlier cruising in the 1990’s, Jacaranda had been well outfitted although pretty basic.   For this current journey, we did a lot of upgrades and we added a windlass, radar, and more substantial autopilot.  Linda’s only request was for a water maker.  In hindsight, we regret removing our hot water heater (we thought we needed the space for the water maker).   Our wish list:  space for a dive compressor and tanks (just no room!), a 60 lb. anchor to replace our 44 lb. Bruce, and a more efficient refrigeration system.  We love our AIS (our most recent installation) and we’ll be investigating lithium batteries in the future.

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

Chuck raced, delivered boats and joined his sister and brother-in-law for a while during their circumnavigation on their Lapworth 36 in the South Pacific in the 1970's.  His advice: Gain sailing experience by racing and as skills build, offer to help deliver boats.  Crewing on different boats with different skippers will teach you a lot - both what to do and what not to do.

Linda was introduced to sailing in her twenties when she visited her parents who had bought a sailboat and went cruising in the Caribbean for two years. However most of her offshore experience was cruising on Jacaranda.  We took a number of extended trips to the Channel Islands (CA) from San Diego during the years before we left to go cruising.

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

Chuck’s first delivery from New Zealand to Sydney in 1977 in the middle of winter (maybe that's why he got the delivery) was a very difficult trip with much heavy weather.  Using a sextant, he was not really sure he was plotting accurate fixes until he closed with Sydney.  The boat leaked like a sieve and was not very seaworthy - while he was not in immediate danger it was not a comfortable trip.

Getting caught in the infamous Queens’ Birthday Storm (NZ to Tonga)  in 1994 was a nightmare.  A Force 12 storm with winds of 70 knots and monstrous 30’ breaking seas, it was extremely dangerous and became the most disastrous storm in NZ rescue history (7 boats abandoned and one boat with crew lost). But he and his crew and Jacaranda came through unscathed. There is a lot of luck in this game :-)

Linda hopes Chuck’s experience will fulfill their quota of dangerous situations so she doesn’t have to ever go through anything like that!

What do you find most exciting about your cruising life?

Our boat is small but our life is big.  The cruising lifestyle is a dream for folks like us who have a love of travel, adventure, sailing, the sea and nature and for whom routine is anathema.  We are excited by:

  • A lifestyle of freedom, independence, daily adventure and open-ended possibilities
  • The joy and “spirituality” of sailing and harnessing the wind.
  • The mobility - freedom to relocate/move our home about.
  • Immersion in and closeness to the natural world, especially the sea - surrounded by “something of the marvelous.”
  • Living like a turtle, traveling the world with your home on your back.
  • Seeing new things with new eyes - experiencing new places, cultures, language, people, traditions, customs in a way that is uniquely possible.
  • The supportive camaraderie of fellow cruisers and the ease of making friends from all walks of life - a diversity of people you would never be exposed to at home.
  • Living with a high degree of self-sufficiency and a small carbon footprint on the world.

We are grateful very day and never lose sight of what a special world it is out here.

Cruiser rant: What is something that drives you crazy?

Irresponsible cruisers who don’t do the right thing, intentionally abuse the rules, and don’t “leave a clean wake”…… people who try to game the system and take advantage of it for their own selfish needs, not realizing that it hurts the cruisers who follow them. Examples are sneaking into a marina when the office is closed to steal water rather than pay for it, not paying a dinghy dock/anchorage fee when they know they are required to because the attendant happens to be absent, stopping in the Galapagos citing a phony mechanical breakdown to buy fuel and avoid paying the initial entry fees, and leaving a marina without paying outstanding bills. This gives cruisers a bad name and often results in boats following behind being dealt with quite differently.

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

We’d like to talk about “giving back” as cruisers.

When your lifestyle is about travel, people you meet and cultures you experience touch your lives and your heart. We have experienced the kindness of people all over the world and so it has become part of our value system to try to reciprocate and contribute to those who we encounter.  “Giving back” or “paying it forward” are concepts that are very dear to us and something that we strive for wherever we go.

We try to give back not only to the people in the countries we visit but also to our own broader cruising community by finding or making opportunities to volunteer to help with our time, skills, or sometimes, money - it can be a family in need, a child who can’t afford school expenses, a community project, a cruiser event, a charitable organization, a cruising family who has lost their boat, or the need for cruiser networking and information.  Chuck enjoys being very active on the cruiser radio nets.

A recent example we are very proud of occurred in the Marquesas Island of Nuku Hiva in French Polynesia.  We became a major sponsor of a new va’a (outrigger canoe) program for younger children on the island and our donation helped the community to purchase two child-sized canoes, paddles, and life jackets.   This early exercise program will give the kids healthier lifestyles and will allow them to be better competitors in the French Polynesia national sport of va’a racing.

06 November 2017

10 Questions for Ronja

Kirsten Folkersen and Per Westergaard have been cruising since 2012 aboard Ronja, a Malö 36 hailing from Thurø, Denmark.

They have cruised from Denmark to the Mediteranean through the standing mast route in Holland and the English Channel. From Le Havre in France they had the mast taken off, and sailed through French rivers and canals to Port St. Louis du Rhone. From there they followed the French coast to Genoa, Italy, and this year to Sicily.

You can learn more about their cruise on their blog or through email.

They say: The first three years of our cruising we both had full time jobs in Denmark and only sailed four weeks each year. When our holidays ran out, we just went into a harbour and asked if they would look after our boat for the next 11 months, until we were back again. And from there we picked up the cruising the next year to new destinations. In 2016 we both retired from our jobs and we are now cruising two-three-four months a year.  

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

The first year we underestimated the effect of the tide, because we were not used to having tide in the inland waters of Denmark. When we reached the German Bight we were appalled by the power of the tide, and more than once we had to redefine our route in order to cope with the tide. The second year we got problems with our Yanmar-motor at the river Marne in France (the propshaft broke). No marine mechanic within hundreds of miles, so we picked a local mechanic specialized in lorries. We never should have done that. A marine mechanic had to do the repair all over the next year. Happily he did this for only a third of the price of the lorry-mechanic in northern France.

What was the most affordable area to cruise in your trip and the most expensive? 

Denmark, Germany, Holland, Belgium and France are all affordable countries to visit, when it comes to the price of a berth in a harbour. Going from France to Italy was generally double up on the prices. Italy is hilarious in its pricing, and it is hard to understand the logic in their prices. In Sardinia we paid a record of 153 € for just one night in Porto Cervo. In La Caleta, also in Sardinia, we could moor for free at a certain pier, but if we took water or electricity from that pier, we had to pay 85 €. However the costs of living in general are ok in Italy, and the anchorages are beautiful and free of charges.

Cruiser rant: What is something that drives you crazy? 

French harbour captains insisting that you moor stern-to. We prefer to moor bow-to. And French and Italian harbour captains seriously claiming, that they have wifi in their harbour, and carefully print out the code. It is a joke. The wifi in nine out of ten of these harbours are not even close to working.

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

Old age or maladies. The anchor, the mainsail, the whole boat getting too heavy to handle.

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

I like the helpfulness of German and Dutch sailors, when you enter a new harbour. They willingly jump from their own boat to take your lines and help you into your berth. This has occasionally happened in France as well. We still have to experience that kind of hospitality in Italy, but off course we have only been cruising Italy for some three months. We also like the willingness of the cruising community of all countries to exchange hints, experiences, destinations and good advice with one another.

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

I should have installed an AIS and 30 meters of extra chain to the anchor and some solar cells to prolong the energy supply while anchoring. Further I should have invested in an electric motor to pull up the anchor, which would have been a considerate gesture toward my wife and sailing companion, Kirsten.

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 sometimes wish my boat had an extra five feet length, and just as often I wish, that she does not have an extra fire feet length.

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

I am sure, we motor a lot more, than we like to admit. At a certain age you no longer fancy crossing the wind head on, and some of us do not even have the patience to keep on sailing, when the speed drops to less than two knots. Hard to explain why; because most of us do have all the time in the world. We are on the vacation of our life.

What do you miss about living on land? 

Absolutely nothing. In our case this is all about the balance between sea and land. We are cruising the world, but our concept is, that we do it bite by bite. We are not full-year cruisers. Our balance between cruising the world and living in an apartment in Copenhagen is important, and we are pleased even, when we cruise only one third or even one fourth of the year. And we may be even more happy, when we some day cruise more than half of the year.

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 the driver behind your wanting to cruise? 

Good question! It’s the adventure of it, the feeling of waking up each morning, and knowing that today you are going to experience something completely new to you, going to a place where you have never been before. It’s also the realization of a lifelong dream growing while we were busy at our jobs and sailing only for weekends and summer holidays in the inland waters of Denmark and Sweden. It’s the simple of life on board a yacht. It’s the time of the hour making no more sense. It’s the closeness to nature. It’s the intimacy. It’s life.

30 October 2017

10 Questions for Delphinius

Paul Thornton, Jayne Eames-Thornton, Lily Eames-Jevons and Sky their dog have been cruising since 2013 aboard SV Delphinus, a Bavaria 44. They started in Croatia, cruising around the Mediterranean for a year before moving through the French Canals up to North France, and around the Baltic. They then sailed to Cape Verde,across the Atlantic, around the Caribbean, and are now on the east coast of Central America. 

Editor's note: Lily, age 12, completed this interview

She says: "We started in 2013, but plan to stop in 2018 and go back to England so I can do my exams. We technically don't have a hailing port. The boat is registered in Hull, Yorkshire, but it's never actually been there. We just keep going, rather than taking our boat back to the UK.  

In 2010, my dad died from a heart problem. A few years later, my mum met Paul, who had been sailing small vessels for a while, but had never actually owned a boat of his own. One day, Mum and Paul went to Scotland for a sailing trip. After that, Paul asked Mum, "Do you want to sail the world with me?"

And that's how it started! Paul sold his house to buy a Bavaria 44 called MyWay, and we flew to Croatia to hop onboard. As we were heading up the French Canal, we renamed our boat "Delphinus", because we're not common cruisers - we are world sailors! ...sort of. We haven't actually made it all around the world yet. But we have made it to the Caribbean Sea from the Adriatic Sea, and Mum and Paul even got married on the Island of Dominica."

You can learn more about their voyage on Lily's Facebook page or blog.

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

Well, first off, don't just think about it! If you have the opportunity standing right in front of you, don't treat it like it's part of the wall. Reach out, hug it tight and don't let go! 

Your kids will thank you for that... as long as you make it fun for them. That's the point of cruising, right? As well is being educational, it's also exciting going to different places and seeing different cultures. "Make it their dream, too" as said in Voyaging with Kids by Behan Gifford, Sara Dawn Johnson and Michael Robertson - which I'd highly recommend all parents read if they're considering taking their kids cruising. It'd loaded with basically everything you could ever need for a successful family cruising trip. Okay, that's a bit of a lie, since you need to learn how to sail first and all, and you can never predict what the weather will be like. So let's just say it gives everything a book about voyaging with kids can offer you. 

What advice would you give to other kids thinking about going cruising?

Enjoy it to the max! You're going on an adventure of a lifetime, so make it feel that way for yourself! Do everything you want to do, and don't look back at the things you've done in the past until you've finished cruising. Then write a book! Write a huge fat hardback of the story of your sailing, and add your favourite pictures to it! That way you can recap on all the exciting thrills you've had - good and bad (you obviously have to be realistic: if cruising was all sunshines and rainbows then everyone would think they could do it!

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

I don't think there is anything. I've been really happy with cruising for the past four years, and I don't think anything anyone could say could improve my lifestyle - now or before. 

Where was your favorite place to visit and why?

I think it has to be Grenada. Like most places I've been to, I only went once. But because we stayed there for six months, I think it's that it became a comfort zone to me. I met so many of my current friends there - and it was just an all-round beautiful island - literally. All the vegetation and historical sites are really interesting to learn about. Grenada also introduced me to some foods I would never have dreamed of eating before. Guava is now my most favourite fruit, and nutmeg my favourite spice. 

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

I love how I don't think I've ever met a single cruiser who hasn't been kind to us, and after knowing them for a while have become good friends. 

But this has its flaws, which leads me to what I dislike about the cruising culture. There's always going to be a time when you have to part ways with them - whether it's in a week, or a month, or a year. And it hurts, even though you know you can still keep in touch and that you'll probably see them again eventually. 

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

Well, my favourite part is that it's a home you can take anywhere you like in the world (as long as it's linked to oceans, obviously). You don't have to worry about packing things in a suitcase every time you go somewhere, and it can all stay right where it is while you take the boat there. 

On the other hand, it often seems better to stuff your things into a bag rather than having it all lain out when you're about to go on a long passage that's bound to be rough. That's when you gotta stow everything away, and you're never sure whether or not that box of all your craft stuff will tip over if you put it on your shelf behind some nylon strings... that's why I dread coming into my bedroom after a rough passage. 

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

Before we started cruising, I had next to no appreciation in the beauty of nature or history. Nowadays, I love taking my dog for walks through greenery and examining the different agriculture - especially in the fascinatingly colourful tropics. I also love going to museums and reading about the past of all the countries - how Colombia was attacked by English pirates, how they made rum in the 1800s in Grenada, all that. 

What do you dislike about cruising that surprised you? 

I started writing a diary before I crossed the Atlantic from Cape Verde to Barbados. Reading back on it now, I'm surprised to see how excited I was to come to the Caribbean. Nowadays, over a year later, I'm just really excited to get away from the tropics. I'm fed up of the heat and beaches I once found gorgeous. Obviously, I'll probably dream of coming back here in the future, but for now, I just wanna see a bit of snow or something!

What do you miss about living on land? 

I miss having familiar grounds to roam around on. I miss going to school, especially since I never got the chance to have the secondary school experience. I miss being able to see my friends whenever I like. 

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

It would've been interesting to answer this question: did cruising change you at all? If so, how?

I'm not sure if this would've applied had I not started sailing, but I do think I've changed since before I began travelling. Before, from what I can remember, I was quite gullible, naïve, attention-hogging and I never used to eat anything that was outside of my comfort zone. Now I've changed, though: I've learned not to take people so seriously (probably from living with Paul for the past four years), I prefer to be the mob rather than the centre of attention, and I eat a lot more things now. So all's a-gooden!

23 October 2017

10 Questions for Fluenta

Max, Elizabeth, Victoria (aged 13), Johnathan (aged 11), & Benjamin (aged 3) Shaw have been cruising since 2012 aboard SV Fluenta, a Stevens 47 hailing from Halifax, NS, Canada.

They left Washing State (USA) heading down the West Coast of US as they described it "with our hair on fire to get to Mexico for two seasons to refit the boat and have a baby (all normal of course)." From Mexico they headed across the South Pacific to New Zealand for two seasons with a season in Fiji in between. This last year they headed from NZ to the North Hemisphere for hurricane season spending time in Fiji, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Tikopia, Vanuatu now New Caledonia.

Readers can read more about their cruise on their blog.

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

Max:  Spending longer periods in one location rather than trying to see lots of different locations.

Elizabeth: All the cruiser book exchanges - with a baby on my lap for so much of the last three years, I have had lots of time to read!  I also love watching my kids play with kids of all ages, rather than just their own peer group.

Victoria: Talking to grownups from all different backgrounds, they know so much about so many different topics and cooking for all the kids while camping.

Johnathan:  Camping ashore.

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

Max: We expected that we would be able to see more countries in a season.  This turned out not to be true for us, not because of the speed of the boat which is fine but rather our style of traveling is to spend more time in each area we visit.

Elizabeth:  I thought that cruising was an all-or-nothing decision, that we needed to completely sever our ties to "home and stuff", as if we were never coming back.  Once we left, I found that lots of people do some form of 'commuter cruising' where they cruise part of the year and have a land-life for part of the year. Even if I had known about it, this wouldn't have been a workable model for us, as we have gone too far afield to come back to house or job for part of each year, but it would have been nice to have kept a few more mementos of our previous life...

Victoria: That it is easy and is always paradise!!!

Johnathan: Cruisers are always sitting on white beaches.

Benjamin:  I did not conduct a lot of research prior to heading out cruising but it all seems pretty natural as I have been doing it for my whole lifetime.

What piece of gear seems to break the most often?

Max:  The autopilot - it may not break the most often but it is the most frustrating (the regularity x PITA x expensive product) as it is expensive, the company is a pain to deal with (Navico) and it is awkward to repair at sea.  We have just purchased a massive autopilot drive from another company so once we install it hopefully these problems will decrease in frequency.

Elizabeth:  Everything.  Every single piece of equipment on the boat will fail, or at the least need maintenance, in its own unpredictable turn.  When we left, I understood in theory that things would break now and again, but I really had no idea just how time consuming it would be to keep the equipment on the boat functioning.  Computer/Electronic terminals corrode; plumbing and through-deck fittings leak; the pump to the watermaker, that was just overhauled, will break after only few weeks once civilization has been left for the outer islands; the windlass will whir but the chain won't move while weighing anchor, etc, etc.  It goes on and on, and it seems that the more important a system is, the more likely that it will fail at an inconvenient time.  The only approach to maintaining sanity (IMHO) is to develop a spreadsheet (to track maintenance and plan preventative/cyclical activities), a sense of humour, and a sense of gratitude that the failure happened at this moment, and not at a worse one (ie it is bad for the sink drains to disintegrate and start leaking the day before a planned ocean crossing from Mexico to French Polynesia or Fiji to New Zealand, but it would be worse for them to crack a week later at sea...).   All this being said, there is a fix (either materiel or financial) for pretty much every scenario, and with sufficient redundancy, there are workarounds for most failures.  We have two (or three) ways of doing almost everything (including spare autopilots), and we carry significant volume and weight in spare parts, tools and components, and we exercise our sense of humour regularly.  I think that part of the reason cruisers get together to share stories in their cockpits in the evenings is to remind one another that everyone really is 'in the same boat' and that we are all facing challenges of one kind or another: this is the only way to stay sane!

Victoria: On different years it has been different things but it seems like it is mostly the the fans! the head-torches, the sparker on the stove ( these are the things that bug me the most).

Johnathan:  Autopilot.

Benjamin: Lego.

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

Max:  Go cruising ! We did the 21 day passage from Mexico to Marquesas with Benjamin as a four month old.  However, we did realize that a third adult is important for long passages when you have a small child onboard.  Now that the older two kids are a big help crewing and Benjamin is three years old we have not gotten crew for longer passages.

Elizabeth:  Just go!  If you feel the tug to change things up a bit and go travel, then find a way to do it.  The benefits and joys outweigh the drawbacks.  As a whole, cruising kids are a delightful group.  They welcome one another, and find a way to play together, regardless of age or background, and seem to have a kindness about them for kids with differences/challenges that is not always in evidence in the average school yard.  As I write this, an 11-year-old, a 14-year-old, and a 3-year-old from two different boats are playing Minecraft together beside me; one season in Fiji, we were six kid boats with a dozen kids (equal boys and girls) ranging in age from 5-13.  Time and again, I have appreciated that our kids have the time freedom to 'get bored' and then come up with something to do; this might be reading the same book (or series) over and over again, handicrafts, writing, or Lego, but they have become very resourceful at constructively occupying their time.  I think people hesitate to go cruising because they are worried about safety, socialization, and the disruption that might be caused by taking their kids out of their routine for a year or more.  In our experience, careful planning and maintenance can mitigate safety concerns, kids socialize readily with kids when they have a chance, and with grownups when they don't, and our friends who have returned to a land-based life have found that their kids have found their way again with minimal fuss.  Now, even more than when we were planing our trip, there are internet groups and books available that focus specifically on the ups and downs of cruising with kids, which means that parents who are thinking of taking their children cruising can readily find information and support throughout their decision-making process.  I will say that there seems to be a sweet spot in terms of the ages of kids: little ones (preschoolers and younger) are very time consuming, whether on land or at sea.  Elementary/middle schoolers are in the majority, and will be most likely to find kids of their own age in any anchorage; they are also old enough to make memories that they will remember!  Older kids (high-school) are fewer in number, but they are out here, and are able to be more independent both in terms of assisting with operating/maintaining the yacht and also with keeping in touch with the friends they have at greater distances.  I think that this means that parents who are thinking about taking their children cruising are probably wise to set their plans in motion as early as possible, so that their kids can enjoy the broadest range of experiences as 'cruising kids', but that there is no 'wrong age' to go, and it is never 'too late'...

Victoria: We need a space to just be, just us, it does not have to be big  but it needs to be some were (the boom a hammock or a hole dug into all the junk in the V-berth are some favorites on Fluenta)   Also good harnesses are needed!!!! we have found that the blue and yellow ones from West Marine are great! they  have to be comfortable as you will live in them, they need to have a clip on the leg strap that is easy to undo when you don't want to be in the bathroom for long at sea.  BRING BOOKS, LOTS AND LOTS OF BOOKS!!!!!!!!!!!!

Johnathan:  Bring lots of books and space for Lego.

Benjamin:  Doesn't everyone live in a boat with a name?  (Benjamin gets confused at the idea that some people live in houses, not boats, and that some live in big land-locked countries, not islands)

Describe a drool-worthy perfect cruising moment

Max:  Hard to name a "top" moment but several weeks with new friends in our first atoll of Tahanea in French Polynesia (sharks, mantas, camping ashore with the coconut crabs), Fulanga in the Lau Group of Fiji again with other kid boats (nice village, spearfishing and SUP trips), Ailuk in the Marshall Islands (a tiny, friendly village, great kite boarding and spearfishing and being the only boat for most of the six weeks there).

Elizabeth:  I have two favourite kinds of moments: at anchor and at sea.  An at anchor moment would be kiting in Ailuk: picture kiting in a spectacularly  pretty lagoon, with vast stretches of brilliant white sand, clear blue sky, constant kiting wind, a fringe of palm trees, being watched only by a group of local children and a few sea birds, with each other as the sole marine traffic.  This was in great contrast to the video we watched of the importance of learning the rules of the road when kiting so as not to endanger other people or boats: there were none!  At sea, I love the quiet night watches, especially when the sea state has come down, the wind is just enough to move the boat, the bio-luminescence stirred up by our wake gives the sense of riding a magic fairy carpet, the rest of the family is asleep, and the only sound to be heard is the gentle wind in the sails and the shush of the water beside the boat; perhaps the light of the full moon is nearly enough to read by or perhaps the moon has set and the entire galaxy of stars is visible overhead, with the Southern Cross showing the way.  [Bonus drool-worthy "Mom" moments - backrubs with one of my kids at anchor in Fiji while watching for shooting stars and having one of those memorable one-on-one conversations that make all the angst of parenthood worthwhile; watching a full lunar eclipse, at anchor in Suwarrow, with no one around for hundreds of miles except our family and the two Rangers]

Victoria and Johnathan:  Camping and sitting around the camp fire with a large group of cruising kids for a week in Navadra, Fiji.

Benjamin:  I drooled a lot on my first big passage but I was only four months old ...

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?

Max:  Our boat has great storage for a 47' boat but I would love a "sail locker" to store the big bulky items like spinnakers, storm sails, kite boarding gear.  A pretty blue paint job that is a magnet for pangas, Mexican tour boats, and dugout canoes ... [and tropical heat]

Elizabeth:  I wish we had a place to permanently/regularly hang a hammock in the shade.  I thought we would easily be able to do this on the foredeck, but somehow, either our foredeck does not have just the right geometry (the inner forestay gets in the way a bit) or I don't quite have the time/motivation/leisure to figure it out (see question above on travelling with children ...) but after five years, I can still count on one hand the number of times I have sat in one of our three hammocks on the foredeck!  In terms of what we have that I wish we didn't, I find that the diesel/water tanks under the benches are a mixed blessing: I am grateful for the fuel/water capacity that we have, but I find that I am really limited on bulk/rectilinear storage space (ie for crates of supplies).  I was drooling when I visited another Stevens 47 who has fitted one of their single berths like a big toy chest: the entire bed folds up, and they have storage to the hull underneath.  The corollary to this question is what design feature does my boat have that I like, and I would say that I like the way the galley is open to the rest of the saloon/nav area so the person in the galley can be part of the general conversation, and is not cut off in a u-shaped galley tucked away from everyone else.  I also like that there are two routes to the aft cabin (through the galley and through the head) so I am (theoretically at least) not always moving out of someone's way so that they can get past me.

Victoria: For what I don't want the answer is, at times, times MY BROTHERS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Johnathan:  I wish we had space for to set out Lego and other projects.

Benjamin:  Our boat needs a trampoline to jump up and down on like all our friends' catamarans.  The high counters used to make it difficult for me to steal food from the galley, but now that I am three they are no problem at all as I can use the fridge latch as a foothold to climb up.

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

Max:  Mostly through some offshore racing.  I was running a small sail training program for the Navy in Halifax so it gave me the opportunities to do some offshore racing (Marion-Bermuda, Halifax-St Pierre, Marblehead-Halifax) as well as teaching sailing in the coastal environment.  Racing and teaching are both excellent ways to accelerate your learning.   We both started sailing yachts with the RYA program when we lived in England and I was able to do my RYA Yachtmaster Ocean certification before I retired from the Canadian Forces.  We also sailed Fluenta without kids from Seattle to San Francisco to ensure we finished the rough bits and worked out some of the boat's bugs before we embarked the kids (they were six and eight at the time).

Elizabeth:  I took my RYA Day Skipper course when we lived in England (learning boat handling in winds of Force 6-8) then I did a delivery from Bermuda to Marblehead for my (Canadian) Intermediate course.  Even though Max took more courses, it was really beneficial to do our initial training together to get the same foundation and approach.

Victoria: I  did a bit of sailing when I was 3-4 and a bit of dinghy sailing when I was 6-7-8 but other than that nothing.

Benjamin:  I didn't get any. Babies don't get that [actual quote from Benjamin when we asked him]

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

Max:  I like the fact that the cruising community is so helpful - almost like the pioneer communities that one reads about.  Everybody leans forward to help a boat in need.  It is not something that bothers me particularly but rather something to be aware of is that group-think is prevalent and pretty natural in the cruising community which is interesting considering cruisers are generally pretty independent folks.

Elizabeth:  I love how quickly people will connect, and how spontaneously they will adapt their social schedule to fit in a visit with each other.  When I meet someone and we hit it off, we are much quicker to share confidences and arrange to socialize than we would have been at home.  I think this helps to keep us all a little more sane!  What I dislike is not so much the cruising culture (about which I don't really have any complaints) but about our lifestyle: I get tired of all the goodbyes.  Even though we are often saying 'see you later' and reconnecting even several years down the road (we just met friends in Vanuatu whom we haven't seen for over two years since we were all in NZ), we also experience a lot of wrenching goodbyes.  Even though this could equally happen at home, I still find it hard every time.

Victoria: Every one goes out of their way to help, there is no rush and if it happens tomorrow that's fine:) There is no rush and if it happens tomorrow that's fine. :(

Benjamin:  I like that it is like a village and there are lots of grown ups and big kids to look after me.  I don't like it when all the ladies pinch my cheeks!

Cruiser rant: What is something that drives you crazy?

Max:  I can feel my blood pressure spiking as I start to type: the marine industry.  Nothing has caused us as much grief as incompetence in the marine industry.  We generally do most of our own work but to accelerate the departure from the WA state where we bought the boat we contracted out some of the projects.  The level of incompetence and general unprofessionalism was mind blowing.  I told one company I should charge them a fee for management consulting and providing their quality assurance.   The inability of the manufacturers of marine equipment to respond in a timely or coherent manner or at all to e-mails is also unbelievably poor.

Elizabeth:  These are minor irritants more than rants: Mold growing on everything I store away (especially leather).  Never being able to see our benches without a herculean effort to stow everything away.  Taking two days to prepare / stow / lash all our belongings so that we can go on a one-day passage, and then taking two more days to recover when we get there.

Benjamin: Nothing, I'm not crazy [says Benjamin]

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

Max:  Pet Peeve: people anchoring too close.

Elizabeth:  As usual, I have a few answers:

Q1 - What is one of the simplest/smartest things you have done aboard? We have a spreadsheet of "everything" and in it we record all our storage, maintenance, plans, etc.  It sounds simplistic, but we have well over 1000 line items in our Storage page, and any time we need to find something in one of our dozens of cubbies, I can just look it up.  I have never bothered with including usage stats of our consumables (after five years, I provision based on availability, intuition, and a mortal fear of people going hungry, which is part of the reason that it is always so hard to see our benches!) Especially for items that we use rarely, it is extraordinarily satisfying to search for an item in the spreadsheet, and then find it exactly where it is supposed to be on the boat with a minimum of trouble.

Q2 - What surprised you about cruising?  I was surprised that I wasn't alone in finding out that I 'don't love' long passages.  I love the destinations, both the Islands with their rich cultures, and the cruiser community that develops so quickly in anchorages, as well as the sense of leaving the 'beaten path' and finding our way as a family, but often (especially when Benjamin was really young) I found that I did not actually like the sailing/passage-making that was required to get to these beautiful destinations.  Many people go cruising for the love of sailing, but for me it is more of a means to an end (as shocking as that may sound).  Because everything we own needs to be stowed / lashed to head offshore, and every hour of operation is an hour closer to maintenance, sailing is not something we do for fun.  I thought I was alone in this, but the more I talk to other cruising couples, the more I realize that this is surprisingly common.  Some folks even fly one spouse to the destination while the other delivers the boat.  I am too stubborn to do this, but I can certainly appreciate the sentiment, and I love the creativity that enables every family / crew to develop an approach that works for them.  It seems to me that knowing this in advance might set the more cautious partner's mind at rest if one person is more enthusiastic than the other about cruising - there is so much to enjoy, and passage-making is actually a small part of our life (and the destinations are very much worth the journeys!)

Q3 - What else surprised you about cruising?  Based on my pre-departure reading, I thought I would have a tidy boat, with meals at certain hours, the dishes always washed, school happening (with cooperation and joy) between the hours of 9am and lunch, educationally rich outings in the afternoon, and sun downers in the evening (you may wonder if I prepared for this life by reading fiction!)  The surprise was that 'wherever you go there you are' - I didn't suddenly become minimalist or tidy just because I had moved onto a boat, and even though we significantly downsized before we left, with five of us in a 47 foot monohull, tidiness is rather elusive, and storage takes up much of the volume, including some bunks and benches (once again see previous question about cruising with kids).  The surprise was that schooling and learning are not the same thing; and I have had to learn to stand back and let my children lead when it comes to their education: they will find their own interests and passions.  Sometimes this looks like 'school in the morning' and often it doesn't.  Once again, the surprise is finding out that I am not alone in this, and that every homeschooling family eventually figures out an approach that will work for them.

Victoria: How the heck do you do school: I do it mostly before everyone gets up, in my own time, without someone looking over my shoulder. I highly recommend using SelfDesign (only for Canadians - www.selfdesign.org) and Life of Fred (Math) and Rosetta Stone (French)