15 May 2017

10 Questions for Livin' Life

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

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

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

Describe a drool-worthy perfect cruising moment

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

Cruiser rant: What is something that drives you crazy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have any specific advice for couples cruising?

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

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

What is the most important attribute for successful cruising? 

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