03 February 2011

10 Questions for Driver

driver2Dave, Jaja, Chris, Holly, Teiga cruised from 1988 until 2003 first aboard Direction (Cal 25 hailing from Seattle, WA, USA) and then aboard Driver (Chattam 33, hailing from Oriental, NC, USA). They completed a circumnavigation plus a trip to the Arctic. You can read more about their trip on their website or reach them via email (jaja@midcoast.com).

What advice would you give to parents thinking about taking their children cruising?

Don’t over-prepare. For someone who is currently living a land based life, it’s difficult to know exactly what will be needed on the boat. Living aboard ifs extremely different than a land based life. Entertainment, education, privacy, cleanliness, space constraints, noise and discipline are a few of the everyday things that might be concerns.

On board life with children is incredibly rewarding. Each day presents new learning opportunities and bonding moments. For us, being able to spent so much time with our children was incalculably valuable for us and our children. Often boat kids are precocious and adult savvy. Since they spend so much time with adults, listening to and understanding conversations, they are able to contribute in mature ways. On our boat we almost always included our children in decision making in one capacity or another. Because we became such a close family unit it was important to each person to have a say in major decisions - even when our children were very young.

Some of the challenges to bringing up children on a boat are noise, space constraints and privacy. Each person has a unique threshold of noise level tolerance. Although I was rarely bothered by loud, excited children, Dave sometimes needed a little quiet time to think. The problem was finally solved one day when I came home with a pair of industrial ear protectors used by people working in airports. This was a wonderful and easy solution.

driver3 The biggest difficulty often concerns space - there never seems to be enough. Toys can take up an amazing amount of room and become a bone of contention when they’re strewn around a small cabin. To prevent toy overload think about bringing toys that can be used in conjunction with other toys as well as everyday hardware - like Lego. Lego also stows well. Depending on your boat storage capacity, it might be a good idea to have a  designated toy locker. Whatever fits is all the kids can have. If they only bring a few toys, and the locker is half empty, there will be room to get new stuff. Also, cruisers often trade toys to keep things interesting.

Biggest advice - Have fun with your kids everyday!!!!

Where was your favorite place to visit and why?

This is a hard question to answer because the criterion for what constitutes a “favorite” place morphed for us over time. Before we had children we loved the places where there was solitude and beauty, like the Tuamotu atolls. It was paradise for us to walk hand and hand, naked along an endless, deserted beach. White sand, sun, turquoise water and palm trees - it makes me want to go back just thinking about it! When our kids were little, they shared our love for deserted beaches. We spent hours beach combing, playing in the sand, swimming snorkeling, and walking. Australia and New Zealand stand out as being “favorite” places at that time, with low key, cool people and welcoming play groups for the kids.

When our kids grew to school age we loved each of the communities we settled in. Iceland, Norway, and Newfoundland were all places where the people were unbelievably accepting, kind and supportive. All three of those places have natural beauty and opportunities to experience raw nature. It would be impossible to leave out Spitsbergen. This was one of the most unique and captivating places we visited.

But when we’re pressed to answer which place we loved the best we usually come up with Cocos Keeling in the Indian Ocean. The reason? Well, it is a beautiful island with protected bays, deserted white sand beaches and a small community. But the reason we remember it so well is because it was a haven in a storm. We crossed the Indian Ocean early in the season and subsequently we experienced very rough seas and strong winds every single day. Cocos was a brief and welcome respite.

Describe your first sailing experience

The first time I went sailing was on the Shrewsbury River in New Jersey with my Dad. I was eight at the time and my father was new to sailing. He had joined a small club that had half a dozen 420’s. Sailing was the best thing I had ever done. I loved it from day one. I wanted the boat to heel farther, the wind to blow stronger, and I wanted to capsize and go swimming.

Dave's first sailing experience took place on the Cal 25 at age eight. He went out on Seattle's lake Washington with his mom, dad and sister. He hated it. Every time the boat heeled he screamed! At age 22, he rebuilt this same boat and renamed it "Direction".

My first ocean passage was on Direction with Dave. We crossed the Bay of Biscay in November. This was the best thing I had ever done up till that point. The passage was rough, windy, chilly and everything my heart could have desired.

What do you think is a common cruising myth?

Everyday is a holiday.

driver1With the benefit of hindsight, what are the boat selection criteria you would use to purchase a boat for long term cruising?

  • Price
  • Cruising destination
  • Hull integrity
  • Sailing performance

What is something you think potential cruisers are afraid about that they shouldn't fear? And what is something potential cruisers don't worry about that perhaps they should?

Be fearful of getting stuck on land, and not going!

Things I wouldn’t worry about:

  • Don’t try to bring everything with you - it’s easy to find stuff along the way. - Don’t worry overly much about medical problems - there are good doctors everywhere.
  • Don’t try to bring every type of medicine along - pharmacies exist in most places.
  • If you have kids don’t worry about education - living on a boat is an experience that surpasses almost anything they can learn while sitting behind a desk.
  • Once you’re out there and committed to a long passage, don’t worry about adverse weather - most boats are designed to survive extreme weather conditions. Sometimes the boat does better than the crew.

Describe the compromises (if any) that you have made in your cruising in order to stay on budget.

We swam under our boat and scraped the bottom weekly instead of buying bottom paint. Never used paper towels, or disposable diapers, and rarely used a laundromat. Stayed away from marinas and restaurants.

Basically we spent as little money as we could. We worked often. We never felt deprived. We never felt that we were making compromises. It was our lifestyle, and we loved it (even scraping the boat!)

driver5 How often have you faced bad weather in your cruising? How bad?

We had our share of storms. Some were pretty bad. Two that come to mind are our passage between New Zealand and Fiji (we experienced 50 knots for several days with our 5month old and two year old as crew). The other, was our passage between Northern Norway and Spitsbergen. It was blowing a gale and the seas were large, stacked and confused.

In your first year of cruising, what transitions did you find the most difficult?

When I first started to cruise with Dave, I was in my young 20's and all my belongings fit in a backpack. Dave and I met in the Virgin Islands where we were both working for a resort giving out snorkeling gear and teaching sailing. After a while, when I moved aboard Direction I wasn't really changing my lifestyle and didn't have to figure out what to "pack". And, cruising to bays where the wind blew us was what I had been doing metaphorically since college. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the transition to cruising life for me was fairly seamless. I was cruising through life on a boat instead of on land, which was actually easier in many ways.

Space could have been an issue, but I didn't have much stuff, and Dave and I spent most of our time outside. Given the warm, tropical weather we never felt cramped. I had no ties or commitments to shore other than writing the odd letter to siblings a few times a year. All that I owned was on the boat. Dave and I had no house, apartment, insurance, bank account, bills, stuff in storage, cars ... nothing. I believe, at that time in our lives, we truly experienced freedom. Probably, the hardest transition was trying to figure out how to make a phone call from different ports. Back in the 80's you had to go to a post office to place a long distance call. If you were lucky and your call went through you were directed to a "cabin" to talk. Between the business hours of the PO and the time differences between countries it was sometimes a challenge to get a line through.

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

How did you deal with diapers?

driver4I hand washed cloth diapers for all three kids. Every morning I washed out dirty diapers (10 - 12 of them) using two buckets, a pair of gloves, a scrub brush, and as little water as I could get away with. Dave carried the water aboard in heavy five gallon jugs so I tried hard to conserve. I used solar power to dry them (i.e. the sun) a clothes line and clothes pins. Consequently, all three kids were potty trained, both day and night, by 14 months. We rarely had an accident. When at sea, it was more tricky but we managed. Using salt water to wash diapers doesn't work. I never even considered trying it, although it was advise frequently given to me. "Imagine washing your underwear in salt water" was the observation I would throw back.