29 November 2010

10 Questions for Raven

raven1 Jan & Signe Twardowski cruised from 1999 - 2005 aboard Raven, a Sundeer 64 hailing from Gig Harbor, Washington. They cruised Alaska, British Columbia, US West Coast, Mexico, Marquesas, Tuamotus, Tahiti & Society Islands, Rarotonga, Niue, Tonga, New Zealand, & Fiji. Readers can find more information on their website or by contacting them via email (jands@ravencruise.com).

What is your most common sail combination on passage?
Single-reefed mainsail (1,000 square feet without the reef, a handful) and 150% code-zero/reacher. But we also had the asymmetric chute up for five days and nights on the 15-day passage from Mexico to the Marquesas, and used it on other passages as well. We often found ourselves tacking downwind in light apparent wind, needing as much sail area as possible.

How did you (or did you) gain offshore experience prior to leaving?
We had no true offshore/bluewater experience before departing Puerto Vallarta for Hiva Oa in March 2002. We did have coastal sailing experience, sailing from Gig Harbor (near Seattle) down the West Coast to San Francisco and south as far as Zihuatenejo. We had to cope with plenty of wind off that coast at various times, and in fact the highest winds we saw throughout our cruising years -- 45 knots -- were 20 miles off the capes of northern California. Oh wait, I take that back . . . we had 50 knots while tied to the dock in the Bayswater Marina (affectionately known as Blowswater) in Auckland Harbor!

raven3 Describe a "typical day" at anchor on your boat
Mornings, if there was no shore hike, dive, or tourist visit planned, usually involved projects like changing the engine or generator oil, backwashing the watermaker, diving to clean the prop and shaft, replacing yet another broken pump, and so on. The adage that "cruising is fixing your boat in exotic places" is no joke. Then, if we were anchored near a village or town, both of us might pile into the dinghy with our canvas ice bag collection and head for the local market or -- joy of joys -- a supermarket. Friends back home who asked the inevitable "Whaddya do all day?" question were always shocked that food shopping always involved both of us for several hours of bus rides, lugging full ice bags, dinghy rides, bus rides, and removing cardboard to avoid bugs, and so on. Or maybe the dinghy trip into town was to schlep bags of laundry if we happened to be fortunate enough to find a laundromat. Signe says she often thought she should write an article about "Laundries I Have Known."

Afternoons tended to be more relaxed: swimming, reading, writing emails or website entries, or organizing photos. We found that cruising was pretty social, with someone often inviting the anchorage over to their boat for drinks in the evening. Where else in the world can you organize a 6pm party by making an announcement on the VHF at 5:30, and not have to do anything to prepare because everyone knows to bring their own drinks and a nibble to share? And at night when the propagation was good there might be a ham radio net to check into. It gets dark early in the tropics, so lights were usually out pretty early.

What is your impression of the cruising community?
We found that cruisers, at least in Mexico and the South Pacific islands, were surprisingly social and community-oriented. After being part of it for a couple of years, we wrote on our website what appeared to be the tenets of "The Cruiser's Code": 
- We have no plans and we're sticking to them.
- No one has a last name; your boat name is your last name.
- No one ever asks the old cocktail party question: "Whaddya do?" It's a bit like the French Foreign Legion, and no one cares who you are or what you used to be.
- Everyone needs a little help sometimes, and everyone pitches in to help those with boat problems. If you can fix autopilots or refrigeration, you're going to be the cruisers' hero.  
- Respect the local people, which is part of the "leave a clean wake" ethos.

raven6Is there something you wish you had bought or installed before starting cruising?
No. In fact we had too much gear installed. Inmarsat C and Mini M turned out to be expensive and not useful, a waste of money and effort. If you want a sat phone, Iridium is hard to beat at a buck or so a minute, from anywhere on the planet. Phoning Mom from mid-ocean, when you haven't seen land for weeks, is a kick for everyone. Oh, and the Interphase forward-looking "sonar" could only be used when moving at about one knot in flat water and over very short ranges -- not very helpful when we smacked a couple of coral heads in Tonga's Ha'apai Group.

One item we highly recommend is the hardware to download NOAA weather images directly to your laptop as the satellites pass overhead: it's getting cheaper all the time, and nothing was more valuable for our passage planning than up-to-the-minute infrared and visible light images.

While cruising, what do you do about health & boat insurance, medical issues, banking and mail delivery?
We were able to stay in Jan's company's medical plan after he retired, but had to pay the full premium: expensive, but comforting. But in fact, we found that good medical care was a bargain in Mexico and New Zeland, both times we needed it. We were lucky enough to have our boat insurer continue our coverage when we went cruising, after we made a detailed written case why we had enough experience, training, and preparation. Our mail was sorted by our house sitter, and she gave the bills to our banker, who emailed the payment list for our approval. The wonders of dealing with a hometown bank. We cleared up the rest of the mail on trips home once or twice a year.

raven7 What was the most affordable area to cruise and the most expensive? What was affordable or cheap about each area?
Mexico  can be amazingly cheap, as long as you anchor out. And French Polynesia is unbelievably expensive -- you might as well be in Paris. New Zealand was a nice bargain when we were there (2002-2004), but it might be less so now with the US dollar's slide.

Marinas on Mexico's West Coast are even more expensive than in San Diego, which is saying something, but otherwise it was cheap. We enjoyed the Mexican people, had wonderful meals for low prices, and never had any security issues. French Polynesia, on the other hand, has higher-than-European prices in the South Pacific. The only things cheap there are the delicious and heavily subsidized French baguettes. How about paying $9 for a few lettuce leaves on Fakarava atoll, when were were becoming desperate, not having seen fresh vegetables since Mexico two months earlier? That week we held movie night in Raven's cockpit, and three couples dinghied over to watch "When Harry Met Sally". At a key point in the film, one of the livelier women burst out: "The hell with the sex, I want that salad she's eating!" By the time you get to Tahiti, the Carrefour "hypermarket" in Papeete is an exquisite sensory overload, but you need careful budgeting to afford groceries. If money gets tight, move along to Rarotonga, which has New Zealand-level prices.

Do you have any specific advice for couples cruising?
raven2. Yes. The most important element of successful couple-cruising is the personal relationship. Before we left, a couple of Jan's male friends simply could not get their minds around the idea that we could survive being together for years at a time, cooped up on a boat the size of a living room. We knew -- well, we were pretty sure -- from many years of chartering overseas and cruising the Pacific Northwest in our own boat -- that'd we'd be fine. So be sure to try out the intense "togetherness" on your boat long before you commit to going cruising full time. We also never said "We're going to sail across the Pacific to New Zealand." There are so many reasons that cruises get cut short that it just seemed to us like tempting fate to make declarations like that. It was family health issues that brought us home, when we would happily have cruised for a few more years, to Vanuatu, Australia, and Asia.

What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?
Signe: That we'd survive!

What question do you wish I would have asked you besides the ones I've asked you and how would you answer it?
Yes, a question on sailing your boat well, especially downwind.

It's critically important to know how to make your boat go as fast as it possibly can in all conditions. Very few cruisers think a shorthanded ocean passage is a relaxing picnic in the park. After a few days of keeping 24 hour watches, you're deeply fatigued, sometimes dangerously so, with no way to recover. You just want to GET THERE, as quickly as possible, so you can have a good night's sleep and stop walking like a drunk in your pitching home afloat. So the best advice we can give prospective cruisers is to get lots of sailing practice in your own boat. Local informal races are probably the best way, especially if you can get an experienced racer to crew and give you a lot of pointers on sail combinations and trim. The main cruising routes of the world are mostly downwind, often with modest breezes, so it's critical to be able to hoist enough sail area to go fast off the wind. It's not enough to just pole out a jib or two and head straight downwind: that's slow and incredibly rolly in any sort of seaway. An asymmetric chute, a big overlapping lightweight genoa, there are lots of ways to get it done, but you need to have the right sails for your boat before you depart. And you need to know how to use them best.