10 January 2011

10 Questions for Shiraz

shiraz1 Steve and Rene Slack cruise aboard Shiraz, a Fountaine Pajot, Venezia 42 catamaran hailing from Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. They departed the US in 2002, completed a circumnavigation in 2010 and are still living aboard. They can be reached by email (slackadventure@yahoo.com).

Describe a perfect cruising moment that will make cruisers-to-be drool
There are many such moments but let us give you three examples:

1. Anchored in the San Blas Islands we join several other couples for sundowners. There was a couple from Austria, several couples from the US and a very accomplished jazz saxophone player from the Netherlands and his “significant other” a lady from Honduras. After a day of snorkeling in crystal clear water with an abundance of sea life, we were sitting back enjoying the company with the moon reflecting on the water while listening to some of the best jazz we have ever heard. You just reflect and wonder how lucky you are to be able to do what you always wanted to do and to find that there is a select community of people to share the experience with.

2. Arriving at Dolphin Reef in the Red Sea, our companion boat, a wonderful couple from Turkey, call us on the radio alerting us to a herd of dolphin nearby. We entered the water to see if we could get close. In about thirty feet of water we were surrounded by sixty or so dolphin as they swam around us and occasionally nudged us. The encounter lasted for about 30 minutes and we can all remember how difficult it was breathing through our snorkels with such wide grins on our faces. If you enjoy snorkeling, you’ve got to love it.

3. Arriving in the Galapagos we now had our longest passage under belt and we knew we were committed to continue to head west exploring places we knew very little about. Our visit to the Galapagos lived up to its expectations. We dove to see hammerhead sharks, visited the tortoises and enjoyed the interaction with the locals and other cruisers but mostly there we felt a sense of accomplishment and adventure we had not felt before.

What is the most difficult aspect of the cruising lifestyle?
Separation from your family. You love what you’re doing but you are missing so many events in your families life. You miss the celebrations of birthdays, weddings, holidays and you also feel the guilt that you aren’t there to help when you know you could. But the price of communication has been falling and you can certainly stay in touch without much effort and expense.

What are some of your favorite pieces of gear on your boat and why?
We outfitted the boat with an AIS system in 2007 in Langkawi, Malaysia and it greatly enhanced our ability to determine the course and speed of nearby heavy traffic. The AIS provides you with the CPA (closest point of approach) and the TCPA well in advance of even seeing the vessel. This gives you plenty of time to maneuver if you need to. It took a great deal of the anxiety out of night passages but it is of course only a supplement to conducting a good watch.

shiraz3How would you recommend that someone prepares to cruise?
Reading about the experience of others and cruising guides are a good way to understand watch procedures, provisioning, clearance, boat repairs, and other aspects about the life style. We took radio courses, CPR, Spanish lessons, attended sailing school but mostly it’s OJT. The hardest part about going cruising is releasing the lines.

Describe a positive experience you have had with local people somewhere you have visited.
Everywhere we went we had positive experiences with local people and the international sailors we met along the way soon became our best friends. Once in Ismalia, Egypt we were wandering around looking for a certain restaurant. A young lady asked if she could be of help and guided us to the restaurant. Not only that but the next day she provided a guided tour of the local area. Our website (slack adventure.com) is full of such encounters in every country we stopped.

How did you (or did you) gain offshore experience prior to leaving?
We had no offshore experience when we departed although we did have an experienced (?) crew member for our first ten days at sea. Our on board experience consisted of 10 days at the Annapolis School of Seamanship and 10 days at the Chapman School of Seamanship. I wouldn’t advise that everyone depart with such little experience but it worked for us.

Do you have any specific advice for couples cruising?
Go now. Too many people wait for all the dominos to fall before they decide to depart and that rarely happens. We know of people who lost their spouse while cruising and the surviving spouses always said these were the happiest years of their life. You’re not running away from problems or discourse but rather running to adventure.

Over the years, how much time do you think you spend at anchor, at marinas, sailing and motoring?
shiraz2 We have been living aboard for over eight years and calculated that three years were spent in marinas in order to travel inland, travel back to the US or to sit out the hurricane or cyclone season. We were at anchor or on a mooring for another three years and that leaves two years of sailing. Without time constraints we were able to avoided motoring whenever possible and in fact for the eight years we averaged purchasing only 400 gallons of diesel a year and most of that was to run our generator to power our water maker.

How do you recommend securing your vessel while going ashore? And your dinghy?
First it is imperative that you are comfortable with the set of your anchor. We are very patient when finding the right spot and we back down hard to make sure our anchor is holding but of course much depends on the type of bottom because even as cautious as we are we did drag a few times. We lock the main cabin door, leaving nothing on the rails like fishing poles and lock our dinghy when ashore. We never tow our dingy and we lift the dinghy every night. It’s a habit we got in to while in Venezuela.

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

Here are three questions everyone asks:

How fast does your boat go?   We don’t know and for the most part we don’t care.
Did you run into any pirates?    No, and we never had our car hijacked.
How much does it cost a year?     How much do you have?  That is how much it will cost.

We believe cruising is all about being comfortable. As your experience grows so will your competency and your comfort zone. A ten day passage is not much different than a three day passage. There is one thing that every cruiser should know how to do and that is to heave-to. It is an important skill when arriving someplace before daylight and if the weather is too rough for your autopilot to hold a course. Practice in calm weather and find out what works best for your boat and where the chafe points are.