17 April 2017

10 Questions for Palarran

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

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

You can read more about their journey on their website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is something you think potential cruisers are afraid about that they shouldn't fear? And what is something potential cruisers don't worry about that perhaps they should?

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

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

Cruiser rant: What is something that drives you crazy?

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

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

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

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