23 April 2018

10 Questions for Maple

Darryl, Janet, Ella (11 in 2017) and Iris (7 in 2017) began cruising in 2015 aboard Maple, a Leopard 384 hailing from Vancouver, Canada.

They say: We had planned to start out in the Caribbean as that's where we thought we'd buy our boat, turns out that this particular type of Catamaran sold at a significant discount in the Mediterranean, so in the end, we started out in Greece.  We spent 18 months in the Mediterranean before crossing the Atlantic to the Caribbean in Jan 2017.  We'll be in the Caribbean for another season, and are planning to go through the Panama Canal on our way to the Pacific in early 2019. Our plans are to circumnavigate, as slowly as we feel like and we'll keep moving towards that goal as long as we're having fun.  If the kids need us to stop for some reason we may take a short break though ultimately I'd prefer not to ever go back to work, but we're trying to play it by ear.

You can read more about their journey on their blog.

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

Solar Panels - we installed these within months of moving aboard and have 1140W of power to work with.  Ultimately we do not need to rely on any outside sources of power for our lifestyle and do not have a generator on board, yet still are able to run the fridge, a 30L/hr watermaker, 3 computers, 3 ipads and all the boating related electrics.

Watermaker - this was a huge addition just before we cross the Atlantic and has gone a long way to making us completely self-sufficient.  Being able to make water and not rely on dock water, or jerry jugs is fantastic.  We have a Schenker Smart30 watermaker which is a European energy recovery type watermaker very similar in design to the Spectra but at a more wallet-friendly price point.  So far it has proven an incredibly reliable and robust system.  We opted for a fully manual version to avoid the additional potential of a computer failure.

Washing machine - this is a total luxury that has changed our willingness to wash sheets, towels, and other clothes.  Doing laundry in a bucket is possible, but not fun.  About 8 months ago I (Darryl) installed a Daewoo mini washing machine that is bulkhead mounted taking up about 60cm (length) x 60cm (height) x 40cm (depth) in one of our heads.  It uses about 100W of power and 24L of water per load and makes laundry a dream.  Well worth it.  Of note, it is a 220V appliance which is fine as our inverter is 220 and we've got European wiring but something to keep in mind.

Rocna 33kg & 100M of 10mm chain- This one lets me sleep at night.  Like most, we're cruising on a limited budget (and we're trying to limit it more) so we want to anchor out whenever we can.  Our original Delta 25kg and 40M of 8mm chain weren't doing it so this upgrade was a must that has more than paid for itself.  The Rocna (like most new generation anchors) performs well in many different bottoms and holds like it means it.  We very often need to break it out with our engines because it buries itself so well.

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

I wish the boat had the ability to point upwind better.  We bought a cruising catamaran so of course, we knew that upwind performance would suffer, but I don't think we really knew what that meant until we tried several days of sailing upwind finding that pinching at greater than 50 degrees results in an abundance of leeway which almost cancels out any extra angle on the wind.  As they say, you can't have it all.

I wish that the boat did not have the current forepeak cabins.  Our forward berths (we have a four cabin cat) have extra "crew" berths in the extreme forepeak, these are narrow triangle shaped areas at the extreme bouncy end of the boat.  We had thought our girls would use this space for playing, reading and storing stuff but the space is poorly used if at all and would better serve as sail lockers, not an easy conversion and challenging to pull off without a conversion, given that access is over top of the children's bunks and I can't imagine ever getting away with dragging a wet spinnaker or fenders across their beds.

Where was your favorite place to visit and why? 

There are so many places. 

In the Med we loved loved loved Greece and Turkey.  The people and fresh produce in Turkey cannot be beaten, genuinely interested in you and your adventures the locals we met were ready to take you into their homes and share their lives with you moments after meeting.  In Greece, the choice of island anchorages and the incredible food were things that kept us there for much of our time in the Med.  These two are definitely the places we'd go back to (though Venice canals in a dinghy are pretty cool). 

In the Caribbean, the tiny island of Dominica is heaven on earth.  The people are friendly and the landscape is incredible.  Lush jungle tumbling down steep hillsides to collide at the bottom with freshwater pools fed by cascading waterfalls, it's like something out of Robinson Caruso.  Unfortunately, Dominica was hammered by hurricane Maria this fall and the jungle vegetation was a bit torn up, but we understand that the greenery has made a comeback and the fresh tropical fruits and veg that the island is known for are in abundance again.  Bonaire is a close runner-up in our minds as that's where Janet, Ella and I learned to scuba dive.  The reefs there are incredible and the water is so clear that you can almost count individual grains of sand on the bottom from your cockpit in the mooring field.

What do you dislike about cruising that surprised you?

The heat.  Coming from Canada I expected to love the heat of the tropics and I do, but it doesn't always agree with me.  Heat rash is a normal occurrence for me and my youngest, Iris.  That said, we manage and wouldn't trade it for snow and freezing weather.

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

So many.  Like most, we went too far too fast.  Looking at a globe before setting out I thought that we'd be able to cover much more distance than we could.  When we tried, we broke things, we got frustrated and we hated it.  When we slowed down, things got better fast.  We didn't budget enough for outfitting the boat either, which means we spent a lot \more in the first couple of years than we expected to.  We're on year 3 now and trying to make sure we stay on budget.  It's not easy in the Med or the Caribbean as they're both expensive places to cruise, but it can be done.

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

The cruising community is incredible.  Without fail we have me generous, friendly, helpful and caring people from around the globe.  When a cruiser is in trouble, others offer help freely and without expectation of compensation.  We have so many solid friendships with other cruisers and we feel blessed to have met them.

What do you think is a common cruising myth?

The Caribbean is rife with crime.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  While cruising in the Med we never locked our hatches when we left the boat, and never locked our dinghy.  Before crossing to the Caribbean we heard constant messages from various sources about how dangerous the Caribbean was.  We were told that we had to lock our hatches when we left the boat and when we were sleeping (note: doing so is impractical unless you want to drown in your own sweat while you roll around sleepless) and that if we left our dinghy unlocked it would disappear.  We were told that we should beware interacting with locals who dinghy up to our boat with local goods to sell because they might be casing the boat for a later theft, or might board brandishing machetes.  None of this has turned out to be true.  People in the Caribbean are inevitably friendly and curious about what we're doing.  To be sure, many of them have much much less than even the poorest cruisers, but that does not make them thieves, and while I can't deny that crime occurs, as we all know from the media, it occurs everywhere and to state that the Caribbean is any less safe than your hometown would be a gross inaccuracy.  We have felt safe and comfortable everywhere we have gone - don't buy into the culture of fear around yacht crime.

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

I love telling people that we had never sailed before we left - after they pick up their jaws, I clarify.  Janet and I both took Basic Cruising Standard from the CYA in Vancouver (a total of about 24 hours on the water) and also took a 5-day intensive Intermediate Cruising Standard from the CYA in Vancouver (5 days liveaboard training).  Neither of these courses took us out of sight of land (in fact we could have swum to shore at any given time).  Fortunately for us we started out in the Med where there are many many many safe harbours and short day sails to learn.  There also are no consistent wind patterns so we had to learn all points of sail.  Spending 18 months in all conditions (from 0 knots wind to 35+ knots upwind in 2-3M seas) gave us confidence that we could handle the downwind passage from the Canaries to the Caribbean.  We now have more than 10000 miles under our belts and while I still wouldn't brave Cape Horn I'm pretty sure I can handle the typical coconut milk run circumnavigation. 

Cruiser rant: What is something that drives you crazy?

Cruisers (and others) that measure other people and cultures against the standards of their own lives and culture.  We are traveling to learn, experience and understand how others live their lives around the world.  Doing so requires us to understand and accept the paradigm that they live under.  Assessing other cultures against the standards of what is acceptable or desirable in our culture doesn't allow us to appreciate how other people live, and why they make the choices they do.  We wrote about this a bit on our blog. 

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

What advice would you give someone dreaming about going?  

I would tell them to go, go as soon as they could because you don't know if you'll always have the chance.  I would also tell them to get the smallest vessel they could be physically comfortable in.  We have seen many cruisers who bought more boat than they needed for different reasons and most of them are unhappy with the lifestyle.  The cost of maintaining boats increases exponentially with size, everything is bigger and more expensive.  We have shared anchorages with 200+ foot super yachts and with 20-foot sailboats, and we all have the same sunsets, blue water, and white beaches to wake up to.

30 March 2018

10 Questions for Lequesteau

Greig and Caroline Carroll began cruising in 2014 on SV Lequesteau, a Niagara 42 hailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. They left Toronto, transiting the Erie barge canal and then the ICW to Florida before jumping to the Bahamas. They have since spent three years in the Eastern Caribbean and ended last year sailing from Martinique to Bonaire.

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

I'm not sure I'd say have any “favourite” pieces of gear but I do have some that I use a lot. I think the first one would be anchor windlass. It is so much easier to bring the anchor home under power than it is by hand. I think the second is the dinghy and outboard motor. We have a 2006 mercury 9.9 that hasn't given us any trouble outside of normal maintenance. While underway I find that the auto helm is a God send. Without it, there would be many hours of hand steering which would take away from the fun.

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 think the one thing that I'd like to have that we don't is either a wind generator or more solar power to charge the batteries. We have 420 amp hours of batteries and only 150 watts of solar. This doesn't fully charge the batteries. With a wind generator, I wouldn't have to worry about the solar most days as a pretty good breeze glows. A water maker is pretty high on the list as well but so far we've been able to get water just about everywhere.

Where was your favorite place to visit and why?

So far my favourite place has been Bonaire. It has the crystal clear water of the Bahamas with the ease and convenience of being able to get pretty much anything we need provision wise and at a decent price. The diving on Bonaire is outstanding. Over 100 sites and all within easy access.

What do you dislike about cruising that surprised you?

I didn't realize how poor some people's seamanship and boat handling could be. In the BVI we actually watched several charter cats race for a single mooring like their lives depended on it. Then when one finally got in the cursing and swearing from one of the other boats was surprising.  Also anchoring techniques. We've seen time and time again where they come in and drop the hook and put out very minimal scope then drag during the night. On three different occasions, we've had boats swing into us because they anchored too close or didn't understand what swing room was. We've also had a couple of boats drag down and hit us

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

I think the biggest mistake was assuming that everyone had the same work ethic as they do back home. In the Caribbean, life is very slow to get done but it takes a while. We had to replace our engine in St Martin and when the mechanic said he'd be in at 8:00 we assumed he'd be in by at least 8:15. Some days he didn't show up until after lunch or just before quitting time to say he'd be back tomorrow. And when he did show up I had to supply most of the tools and a good part of the labour. Not what I was expecting. But you get used to it

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

The trip from Georgetown, Bahamas to St Marteen would be the roughest part of the trip. All those miles straight into the wind and seas for days. Or having to get up and underway at 0400 to get the least amount of wind and then have to be tucked in by 0900. I had heard but did it believe it was as bad as they said. It truly was the “Thorny Path”.

What do you think is a common cruising myth?

The Caribbean is all gentle breezes and calm seas. When we left I figured we'd be sailing south with a nice easterly breeze cooling us under full sail and gently rolling seas. Well, most of our time in the Caribbean has been close hauled and pounding into choppy seas. Not until we left Martinique to sail to Colombia did we actually get to sail down wind. The seas were still up a bit. Right now in Santa Marta Colombia the wind has been howling at for over a week to the point where we are heeling over in the marina.

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

We sailed off Nova Scotia for many years as well as both my wife and I have each have over thirty years in the navy.

Cruiser rant: What is something that drives you crazy?

Customs!! I'm not sure how an organization as regulated as customs can have those regulations interpreted so many different ways. So far the US has been the worst. When we cleared into the US at Oswego, NY we were with three other boats. When we called customs they asked if we had a cruising permit. We said no some we were told to call the main office in Syracuse the next morning which we did. A customs agent came down and inspected our meat and fruits and vegetables. He confiscated our lines and oranges saying that we couldn't keep them as they may contaminate the Florida citrus crop. I get that but the label on the oranges said product of Florida! Ok whatever, we got the stamp and we're told as Canadians we had six months. Off we went. When we got to Charleston, SC two customs agents came down the dock and asked if we'd cleared in. I told them we did in NY about a month before. They asked if they could come on board so of course we let them. They went through our paperwork then started to fill out a form and when they gave it to us they said that it was a warning for not checking in next time would be a five thousand dollar fine and the third time was ten thousand and the third time was one hundred thousand and up to six months in jail and they would take the boat!  We were a bit dumbfounded. When I asked what he meant he told me that whenever we moved the boat we had to call the local customs office and report the move. I told him we didn't have a phone was there a VHF channel I could call them on. He said no I'd just have to figure it out. So we got a phone and called in every night. Several times I was asked why I was doing it so I explained what we were told. I got several different responses from you don't have to do that, to we only needed to call in when we entered a new district.

The other boats we entered Oswego with all got different responses to their check-in. One had a cruising permit faxed to them, one had it delivered by a kid in a rubber dingy because the customs agent was on the wrong side of the Harbour. One was never even asked if the had a cruising permit. None of us were told about calling in. If I'd driven my car across the border I could have gone anywhere in the US for 6 months and never had to check in anywhere. That's my rant!

Is there anywhere you sailed to that was a disappointment?

I'm not sure I can say we've been disappointed with anywhere we've been but there are some places we've been told were the best places and people would go back and never leave if they could. The Grenadines were one. Friends told us that they were next to Gods country. They were ok but nothing I'd have to go back and see. I think Curaçao would be another. I was expecting so much after hearing about the ABCs. Maybe it was after Bonaire nothing was going to compare. Other than that there's nowhere that we were really disappointed over.

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.