12 April 2010

10 Questions for Esper

Jamie, Liz and Millie The Cat have been cruising since 2003 on other boats and since 2005 aboard Esper, their Oyster 435 (ketch cutter, coach-roof version) through East and South UK, North Sea, Netherlands, Western Europe (France, Spain, Portugal, Canaries), Atlantic, Caribbean, East Med, Aegean, Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea. You can read more about their travels on their website or contact them here.

When have you felt most in danger and what was the source?
Right now. At the time of writing we are in Salalah, Oman. Yesterday we overheard a VHF conversation between a coalition warship and a vessel that had just been boarded by pirates. It was stomach churning to hear first hand the duress in the skipper's voice. It happened just 30 miles off the coast of Oman, in the direction we are about to head.

Describe a common cruising myth
That we spend all day at anchor, drinking G&Ts!

What are your impressions of the cruising community?

Many and varied and overall helpful, friendly and resourceful. I do have a real problem with the inherent racism and sexism that pervades the older generation of cruisers though. The biggest joke I heard was when a sailing acquaintance, whilst propping up the bar in Marmaris, Turkey, started ranting about how there were too many foreigners in the UK these days. He'd been living in Turkey, tax-free, for the last five years!

Describe a positive experience you have had with local people somewhere you have visited?
One afternoon whilst photographing Massawa a group of ladies sitting down in a back alley, drinking coffee and combing each other's hair, invited me to join them. I'd been told never to point a camera at certain African women but these ladies were charming, polite and extremely hospitable. We sat and chatted for over an hour, the time it took one of them to roast, grind, brew and serve the coffee. This is just one of the many examples of how people we have met on our travels have treated us. It reignites ones faith in human kind.

Was there anywhere you visited that you thought was underrated (better than you had heard)?
That's easy: Eritrea! It is supposed to be the second-poorest country in the world and has recently had UN sanctions placed upon it. Our preconceptions went out the window with experiences like the one I described above. It is clean, diverse, culturally rich and everyone wears a genuine smile. In terms of sailing, anchorages and nature I would say Sudan takes a lot of beating.

What did you do to make your dream a reality?
Stopped talking about it and just did it.

What piece of gear seems to break the most often?
My patience. Another cruising myth is that sailing is a bed of roses. It can be hard work at times, especially if you weren't born with a spanner in your hand. When the going gets tough it's easy to lose perspective - and patience - and sometimes we have to sit back and remind ourselves of our privileged position.

Describe a "typical day" at anchor on your boat
Get woken up by the cat licking my head. Tea/coffee and check email if we have internet. A boat maintenance job in the morning before it gets too hot. Then I spend a lot of my day editing my photographs and our podcasts. Liz enjoys jewelery making (silversmithing, not just beading!). If the water permits then a swim and perhaps scraping the prop/hull is in order. If it's a new location then walking boots are donned, or the bikes are put together, and we explore new places, always with the camera and podcast recorder in hand. We invariably end the day with a sundowner and might even treat ourselves to a film on the laptop. Plugged into our six-speaker set-up it's a real cinematic experience, especially under a ceiling of stars.

Describe a perfect cruising moment that will make cruisers-to-be drool with anticipation
There was a crossing we did from Sinai to Hurghada a while back when we broke our fastest speed record and caught a big tuna, all whilst avoiding the many ships and oil wells in an F7 gusting F8. Our senses were on fire and Esper was sailing like a peach. Add to that the fact we had just entered the Red Sea and were about to embark on a huge adventure, that moment will stick with us forever. Other treasured moments would include finding a quiet anchorage in Turkey in Spring or Autumn, the best time to explore that wonderful country, and play tavla (backgammon) with a chilled bottle of red as the sun sets.

What question do you wish I would have asked you besides the ones I've asked you and how would you answer it?
What pieces of kit have been the most useful? AIS transponder, the best bit of electronic kit after GPS. Solar panels for obvious reasons and the wind pilot for giving us a break at the wheel. Plus the rather expensive watermaker. All genius inventions that have made our lives easier and more independent. They cost a lot though, which is why anyone looking to buy a cruiser should always budget for the extras as well as the boat itself. And if you are planning to live aboard don't just consider the things that help you sail faster: most of your time is spent at anchor so don't neglect the things that make life that little bit more comfortable.