01 November 2010

10 Questions For Raptor Dance

raptordance2Bill Finkelstein & Mary Mack have been cruising since 2004 on Raptor Dance, a Valiant 50 cutter hailing from Tiburon, CA, USA. During those years they have done laps between Zihuatanejo Mexico and the West end of Vancouver Island including the inner waters to 51N. More information and contact information can be found on their website and blog. Bill & Mary are married and as two retired type A personalities, didn't know if they could stand each other 24/7.  After 6 years of cruising they still love it.

They say: “We've written a lot about cruising and what we recommend.  You can find many of our articles on our website. We've written on a wide range of topics from getting ready to cruise, to how to optimize your Winlink/Sailmail operation, we also collaborated on a free cruisers guide to the Barra de Navidad/Tenacatita area.  We invite you to check out the resources available and drop us an email (see "Contact Us" on our website) if you have any questions! Fair winds!”

What is your most common sail combination on passage?
Mainsail (vertical stabilizer) and Engine!  Seriously along the Pacific Coast, you will do a lot more motoring than you think - especially if you want to get to the next anchorage before sundown.  When we do have wind, it's our 115 Jib and main.  If the sail angle is conducive, we LOVE to fly our Asymmetric Spinnaker.  When the wind really starts blowing (25+) We reef down and use our Staysail.  Our preferred heavy weather configuration is a double reefed main and Staysail.

What piece of gear seems to break the most often?
Anything we don't have a spare for!  And if you have a spare and it still breaks, it means your spare is the wrong size!  When you are cruising stuff is constantly breaking, so get used to always fixing something.

Actually the one item that broke most often was our hot water heater.  Surprisingly, most of the marine hot water heaters sold today have aluminum tanks.  If you are a live aboard cruiser who always keeps their hot water hot, the aluminum hot water tank doesn't last that long (a year or two at most).  We went through 4 hot water heaters in 7 years until we switch to a water heater with a true stainless tank (Isotherm).  Earlier we were bamboozled into buying a Stainless Steel hot water heater that we thought had a Stainless Tank - it didn't, just a Stainless cover!  It only lasted 2 years.

raptordance4 What do you enjoy about cruising that you didn't expect to enjoy?
The most enjoyable part of cruising for us is meeting all the fellow cruisers and socializing.  You get to meet people from all walks of live with a wide range of experiences and interesting stories.  That's the best part for us.

Also, meeting the local people and culture of the areas where you are cruising we found extremely rewarding.  Often we would be the only boat in an anchorage during Christmas or a local fiesta and celebrated with the local families.  Great fun and a very enlightening experience.

Yes, being in a tranquil anchorage is great - but once you get over your post work/retirement burnout it's great to have interesting folks to talk to.

What is your favorite piece of boating related new technology?
Automatic Ship ID (AIS) - we have just the receiver, but it's a great comfort on those night passages in areas with lots of commercial traffic.  Not new technology, but we consider a Marine SSB Radio to be a necessity and not an option.

raptordance3 In your own experience and your experience meeting cruising couples, can you convince a reluctant partner to go cruising and if so, how?
In short, NO.  If you're partner has no interest and isn't "hookable" on the experience, forget it.  Try by taking them sailing or for short cruises and make it enjoyable for them, not a pain.  Get them involved in doing something, not just being a passenger.  Make sure you have sea-sickness medication on board!

What is the most difficult aspect of the cruising lifestyle?
Boat maintenance.  Even with a very well maintained vessel, stuff is still going to break and if you're in a remote area, you better have a spare or a good way to jury rig and have the skills to fix it yourself.  We do, but it is the major source of cruising stress for us.

With the benefit of hindsight, what are the boat selection criteria you would use to purchase a boat for long term cruising?
We're happy with our choice of a Valiant.  They are proven Blue Water Cruising Sailboats.  Even though some of the major brands produce more boats in a month than Valiant has in 30 years, more Valiants have circumnavigated than any other recreational vessel.   Our Valiant can take a heck of a lot more than we can!

Was there anywhere you visited that you thought was overrated (not as good as you had heard)?
Cabo and Zihuatanejo.  We much prefer: La Paz, Nuevo Vallarta and Barra de Navidad.  Cabo is like Vegas - not a real experience and Zihuatanejo harbor is very "nutrient rich"!

While cruising, what do you do about health & boat insurance, medical issues, banking and mail delivery?
raptordance5Medical: We have good (but pricey) health insurance back in the US and Medivac insurance from Divers Alert Network if we need it.  But generally the quality of health care in Mexico where we spent the bulk of our time is outstanding and the prices low enough to just pay cash and not worry about insurance.  We've had friends with major health problems taken care of in Mexican hospitals with first rate care for a tiny fraction of what the cost would be in the US.

Boat Insurance:  We have full coverage through IMIS (Jackline).  Cruising Couple worldwide is available and we had it for a number of years, but the last few we've saved money with one of their coastal policies.

Banking:  Not a problem.  As a retired Banking executive, I know that your best and lowest cost option is to just take money out of a local bank ATM using your US (or Canadian) Bank ATM Card.  You get the best rates and lowest fees that way.  That's all you need.  Credit Cards overseas are socked with generally a 3% Foreign Exchange fee and many overseas merchants charge up to 10% more if you use a charge card.  Also, with Internet Banking, you can pay bills and manage your finances back in the US safely and securely (I know, I invented Internet Banking!).  We've paid most of our bills remotely using either direct deposit or Internet Banking.

Mail: We use and are very happy with St. Brendan's Island.   They will scan the envelop of the mail you receive and have it available for your review on the internet.  You can then have them scan the contents of the envelope, forward it, hold it, or shred it.  You can also have them pay bills for you - unfortunately, they pay the bills with YOUR money ;-)

On request St. Brendan's will ship your mail to you in a big package on demand and as often as you wish.  They have a lot of experience so they know what works best for each country.  Note that we found this to be prohibitively expensive in some countries, like Mexico: our last 5 pound package of mail and magazines cost $150 via DHL.  So what we've done the last few years is find a fellow cruiser or relative coming back down and asked them to bring our mail in their luggage.

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

What do you wish you knew before you started that you know now?

Before we set out, we had the usual romantic notions of what cruising would be like. The reality was quite different. We found that we much prefer the social aspects and visiting local cultures. The passage making and sitting in remote anchorages quickly lost it's charm for us. So this caused a reassessment of our long term plans and a change in strategy. So be open to changes! You should be cruising for enjoyment! We found we were leaving the notion of achieving goals behind. In our opinion, goals belong in the workplace, not the cruising life.

Slow down and take your time. Our biggest mistake was only allowing a single season in Mexico before continuing on. A year later we came back and spent another 4 years in Mexico. The only schedule you should pay attention to is the weather.

People meet their basic needs around the world - you don't need to stock up with 6 months of food, 2 year supply of tissue, etc. Local provisions are fine. If you have particular gourmet likes, treat yourself and bring your favorite wine or chocolate along - but remember the local cuisine and drink is usually fantastic! Overseas the food tastes better than in the US as it's not the factory farm trash available in US markets. For example, chickens overseas actually taste like chicken, not Styrofoam!

Bring spare boat parts, they're hard to get or pricey to get in many countries.

Relax and have a great time! Leave your type "A" behavior at the workplace!