31 May 2010

10 Questions for Hawk

Evans Starzinger and Beth Leonard sailed Hawk, a 47-foot aluminum Van de Stadt Samoa sloop hailing from Annapolis, MD from 1999-2009 for their second circumnavigation through the high latitudes eastabout by way of all the Great Capes. Their first circumnavigation was from 1992-1995 and was a tropical westabout circumnavigation by way of the Panama Canal, Torres Strait and Cape of Good Hope aboard a 37-foot ketch named Silk. You can learn more about them as well as access many of their published works on their website.

Describe your first sailing experience.
Evans doesn’t really remember his first sailing experience. He started sailing small dinghies on small lakes in NH and Vermont during his college years and gradually worked up to being a charter skipper in the Caribbean during the summer until he graduated from graduate school. But Beth has a vivid memory of her first real experience. She had floated around on Sunfish and other small sailboats in flat water and no wind a few times before her father bought a sailboat the summer she graduated from college. He kept the Bristol 24 near his home in Oswego, NY on Lake Ontario. He and Beth, along with Beth’s boyfriend at the time, decided to take it across Lake Ontario to the Thousand Islands. They beat their way into a 30-knot headwind for four hours and made good only 8 miles. They gave up, turned around and surfed back into the harbor a bit over an hour later. That night, they went out to dinner and toasted being safely back where they had started while the room still heaved and swayed around them. Beth had no interest in ever setting foot on a sailboat again. She did end up daysailing that boat with her father and boyfriend on summer weekends and took a few trips of up to a week in length. She did not always enjoy her time on the boat and certainly did not consider herself a sailor.

Why did you decide to cruise?
Evans and Beth were working as management consultants in Europe in 1990 and becoming increasingly disillusioned with corporate life. While their careers were addicting and all consuming, they both felt that they had too little time for the things that really mattered: family, friends, exercise, nature, reading, being together. They had been talking about doing something different but were having trouble coming up with something that would be as exciting, challenging and rewarding as their careers. On a trans-Atlantic flight, Evans read American Promise by Dodge Morgan (about a nonstop, solo circumnavigation of the globe), and he immediately decided he wanted to sail around the world, though not solo and not nonstop. He spent the next two years trying to talk Beth into it. Her lack of sailing experience made it difficult for her to picture what cruising would be like and uncertain of whether she could handle the challenges involved. But Beth had always wanted to be a writer. She decided three years sailing around the world would give her the best opportunity she was ever likely to have to make that dream come true. Both Evans and Beth were in the partnership election window and almost sure to be elected when they walked away from the corporate world. In retrospect, neither have any regrets. What they gave up in financial security, they more than gained in becoming the people they wanted to be when they grew up.

What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?
Most voyages do not founder on anything as solid as rocks or shoals, but on the intangibles of human frailties and interpersonal dynamics. The sea finds all weaknesses: in boats, in people and in relationships. You have to be sure you have the skills to sail the boat, to fix it, to navigate, to get along in foreign cultures. But you also have to be prepared to come face to face with yourself, to discover things about yourself that you do not like and to work to change those things. You have to be ready to confront any weaknesses in your relationship and to address those in a situation where you are together 24/7 in sometimes highly stressful situations where your lives depend on one another. Cruising will not fix a broken relationship – it is far more likely to rip it apart along the fault lines. But where a basis of true respect and caring exists, the experience of cruising together can create a real partnership and eventually transform that into the kind of soul-deep bond that most people dream of but only a handful ever achieve. In the toughest times, when you think that you can’t do it or that your relationship cannot survive it, commit and commit again, knowing it will be worth every moment of doubt, pain and discomfort. In the best times, which come far more often, don’t forget to dance on the foredeck under the stars, to make love in the cockpit caressed by the tradewind breezes and to say “It sure beats working,” at least twice a day!

Describe a "typical day" at anchor on your boat
We wake with the sun, which in the high latitudes might mean 4:00 in the morning but in the tropics usually means 7:00. We eat a simple breakfast of cereal and yogurt/milk. We do email and check the weather using our Iridium phone and answer any emails that need an immediate response. Then, our real day begins. Since “sailing around the world means fixing your boat in a series of exotic ports,” Evans always tries to do at least one little maintenance or repair job each day and one major one each week. Morning is chore/work time, so Evans goes to work on whatever he has designated as the task for the day (fixing a sail, cleaning a winch, changing the oil, etc.), and Beth helps if needed. Otherwise, Beth sits down at her computer and writes whatever magazine article she has due. We usually work until lunch when we eat something light. In the tropics, Evans will often lie down for an hour or so while Beth continues to work on the computer. When the heat of the day is past, we exercise. We might go for a walk, a swim, snorkel on a nearby reef, clean the bottom of the boat, or something else. If we need groceries or hardware items, we will go ashore together and find them. In the evening, we often go to other people’s boats or have others over on our boat. We may go out with a bunch of cruisers to a nearby restaurant. We tend to go to bed early, usually not later than 10:00.

When you are offshore, what keeps you awake at night (that is, what worries you most)?
When we are really offshore, 500 miles or more from land and nowhere near shipping channels, not much worries us. We trust the boat and each other, and the biggest excitement usually comes on squally nights when we get caught by a fast-moving squall with too much sail up. We both worry much more when we’re leaving or closing with land or sailing coastally. Then other shipping traffic is the thing that most concerns us. We did not have AIS on our last circumnavigation, but this is something we will add when we leave again for our next voyage.

What is your most common sail combination on passage?
On our tropical circumnavigation aboard a 37-foot ketch, our most common sail combination by far was double headsails – a roller furling 135% jib to leeward and a 110% running sail poled out to windward. In the tradewinds, the winds were aft of 110 degrees apparent more than 80% of the time, and that was by far the best sail combination for running downwind – no chafe on the mainsail, no chance of an accidental jibe, almost perfect balance on the helm. On our high latitude circumnavigation, we had the wind forward of 110 degrees apparent half the time and wind speed varied much more than in the tropics, so we used a much wider range of sail combinations with no one combination dominating. Very roughly, we used double headsails one quarter of the time, the mainsail and blade jib one quarter of the time, the mainsail and a large genoa staysail one quarter of the time and the mainsail and a 1,000 square foot Code Zero reaching sail on a removable furler one quarter of the time. ((Editors note: Their website has details on the sail combinations used on their 37-foot ketch, and their 47-foot sloop and Beth’s book, The Voyager’s Handbook, includes charts showing the average winds speeds and directions they experienced over the course of 110,000 offshore miles and describes the implications for sail inventory on various size boats.))

What piece of gear seems to break the most often?
When we reached Durban in South Africa toward the end of our first circumnavigation, we arrived with a three-page list of things to fix only seven months after leaving a boatyard in New Zealand with everything on our to-do list complete. When we fit out our second boat for our second circumnavigation, we decided that anything that was broken in Durban we simply wouldn’t put on the new boat. That meant that our second boat was much simpler than our first, with much less to break. We do not carry many things that other cruisers complain about maintaining and fixing: refrigeration, watermaker, diesel generator, pressure water, hot water, air conditioning. On our second boat, the most problematic piece of equipment has been the instrument system, though it is tremendously more reliable than the one we had on our first boat which we replaced twice over the course of a three-year circumnavigation.

Is there a place you visited where you wish you could have stayed longer?
We spent a bit over a year in the Chilean channels at the beginning of our second circumnavigation and loved it so much that we went back at the end of the same voyage and spent another ten months. This is one of the most remote and beautiful cruising grounds anywhere in the world, but also one of the most challenging.

With the benefit of hindsight, what are the boat selection criteria you would use to purchase a boat for long term cruising?
After completing our first three-year circumnavigation on a 37-foot fiberglass ketch, we appreciated many of her attributes including: secure U-shaped galley for cooking at sea, excellent sea berths, handholds always within reach above and below decks, well-designed anchoring platform. But those weren’t enough. When we set about looking for a boat for our second voyage, we also wanted:
1. Hard dodger
2. Head or wet locker at the base of the companionway
3. Separate cabin for guests/sea berths
4. Easy access to every part of the engine
5. Workbench and tool room
6. Reefing system that could be managed by one person without leaving the cockpit
7. Extra water/fuel tankage (we carry 200 gallons of each)
8. Aluminum construction to minimize leaks and increase strength
9. No teak on deck
Hawk has all of these attributes, and she has proven a near-perfect vessel for the high latitude voyage we undertook. That said, most of these attributes have more to do with comfort and convenience than safety. We have seen people successfully complete voyages in every type of vessel imaginable. The specific boat matters far less than being determined and resourceful.

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

What’s the hardest thing about cruising?

Transitioning back to shore life. We know many people who have gone through severe depression when they returned ashore. When we returned from our first circumnavigation, it only took us a few months to decide that we had to go again. We had changed too much, and the US had changed too much while we were gone, for us to want to figure out a way to fit in again. It was too difficult to hold onto the things we had most come to value about ourselves ashore. We are once again in the midst of that transition after ten years aboard our second boat, and this time we’re handling it better. We’re not trying to return to who we were, but trying to find a way to bring our cruising values ashore, to live more simply with less consumerism, to do only what we really want to do, to find ways to contribute to a community. Cruising frees you by forcing you to pay off all your debts and then teaching you how little money you really need to be happy. That’s a lesson worth holding onto when you finish your own voyage and decide how to live your life going forward.