02 August 2010

10 Questions for Saga

Nancy Birnbaum, former editor of the Seven Seas Cruising Association’s Commodores’ Bulletin and Jann Hedrick cruised for five years from 1999 to 2004 aboard Saga, a 1965 Alberg 35 hailing from Point Richmond, California. She left from San Francisco Bay and ended up in Fort Lauderdale, covering West Coast of the U.S. from Northern California south to Panama, Las Perlas Islands, San Blas Islands, Providencia, Columbia, Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, Honduras, Belize, Mexico and Florida Keys. Nancy is a licensed Captain, freelance editor and writer for sailing/cruising magazines and is Online Editor for Blue Water Sailing Magazine. She publishes her weekly e-newsletter, The Cruising Compass, keeping cruisers and sailors up-to-date on all the latest news and events and has recently begun writing boat reviews for MadMariner.com. They are building their cruising kitty and looking for their next boat. You can read about their travels on their website and catch up on Nancy's blog, and of course, the Cruising Compass. You can also reach Nancy by email (cruisingeditor@gmail.com)

What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you didn't find to be true?
When we first sailed away from the U.S. and into Mexican waters, we heard many cruisers tell us to be wary of approaching pangas, coming up fast from behind us. The first time this happened, we were sailing offshore not far from Turtle Bay, about halfway down the Baja coast. We saw a fast panga headed straight for us. We were a little nervous, and our Spanish wasn't as good as it is now. But we sat in the cockpit and watched as the panga came up along side. The guys in the boat starting rattling off in Spanish so fast that all I could make out was "No Heladora" and "Tomar estas langosta, por favor!" I thought they wanted ice or water or something. But then they started throwing spiny lobster into our boat! It turned out that their refrigeration had broken and they didn't want to throw the lobster they had caught back! We were the only boat around, so they decided to bless us with fresh lobster! I had to yell, "No Mas!" because they kept on throwing us lobster. We didn't yet have our own refrigeration, so we kindly accepted only those we could eat over the next couple of days! This became sort of a theme on our cruise. We were often approached by fishermen who wanted to give us their catch! Sometimes they asked for cookies, tobacco or alcohol, but since we didn't smoke and only kept a few beers onboard, we usually resorted to giving them sweets or home-baked bread.

What else did you do besides sail?
We often got together with fellow cruisers in anchorages where we spent a few months, rented cars and explored our surroundings. We covered almost all of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. We spent almost a year in Panama and loved it! While anchored in The Costa del Sol of El Salvador, I traveled by bus with another cruising gal to Antigua, Guatemala for a week of Spanish Language Immersion. We lived with a local family, spent days with our private instructors, toured the Highlands and learned to converse in Spanish. After our classes were over, the guys rented a car, drove to meet us and together we toured far and wide for another week.

We also traded various skills to help other cruisers. We had a Sailrite sewing machine onboard and would often set it up in unusual places like a cow pasture behind a boatyard in La Paz or on the foredeck of an anchored yacht in San Blas, Mexico to do repairs on sails or canvas.

What is your biggest lesson learned?
Two Big Lessons:
1. Cruising is stressful; long passages, cramped quarters, lack of exercise, little or no showers (depending on how much water-making capacity you have). Add, equipment failures, mechanical breakdowns or accidents and it won’t be long before you can find yourselves snipping at each other about something ridiculous, like who forgot to put something back where we think it was supposed to go! Men especially have a hard time dealing with the loss of identity they had in their "working life." They tend to get more stressed out when they are new to cruising than women.
2. We take our relationship with us wherever we go. Whatever communication skills we have before we let go of the dock lines, we have onboard our floating home. No matter where we are in relationship, cruising and spending long periods of time together in a small (or not-so-small) boat, takes its toll on that relationship. You have to learn how to communicate if you're not used to doing it. A small boat is no place to bottle up your emotions. Explosions can be very dangerous!

Across a year, what do you spend the most money on while cruising?
A couple of times we had to return to the States for ill parents. That put a big dent in the kitty. Engine repairs to our old Westerbeke 40 were costly even though Jann did much of it himself. But, I'd have to say that we spent most of our money on enjoying ourselves; Eating, touring and otherwise experiencing the cultures, peoples and places we visited!

Finish this sentence. "Generally when I am provisioning..."
I try to find the best open-air market in the area, even if it means walking a couple of miles there and back!

Over the years, how much time do you think you spend at anchor, at marinas, sailing and motoring?
95% at anchor vs 5% in marinas, 40% motoring, 35% sailing and 25% Motor-sailing

Was there anywhere you visited that you thought was underrated (better than you had heard)?
Most of the out-of-the-way places we visited were underrated, probably because they were less traveled. We preferred off-the-beaten-path, natural areas rather than heavily populated, touristy ones. Those that come to mind are the San Blas Islands of Panama, Panamas' northern islands and the Sea of Cortez.

What is your favorite piece of boating related new technology?
The iPhone loaded with some of the great new apps for sailors like Charts&Tides with ActiveCaptain overlay.

Share a piece of cruising etiquette.
Leave a Clean Wake! That means both physically and mentally. Make sure those that sail in your wake are as welcomed as you were.

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

What was the strangest critter that boarded your vessel?

While anchored in the San Blas Islands, I was reading in the v-berth after dark with a light on and the hatch open. When suddenly I heard a very loud bang followed by a flopping sound right over my head! I quickly shut the hatch and ran up the companion way steps where Jann was sleeping. He jumped up, switched on the deck lights and we both ran forward to find that a Leopard Ray had flown up onto the bow. It literally had landed just inches from the open hatch over my head! We managed to flip it off and back into the water with our boat pole.