21 February 2011

10 Questions for Queen Jane

QueenJane Kate, Jordan and Jonah Bigel cruised from 2000-2006 through California, Polynesia, Melanesia, New Zealand, Australia, & Micronesia aboard Queen Jane, a Shannon 50 hailing from Seattle, WA, USA. Readers can learn more about their cruise on their website or through email (queenjane@bigel.net). They say: When we left the US in 2000 our son Jonah was 4 years old. He is now 14 and a student at Venice High School. We continue to live aboard in Marina del Rey, CA and plan to return to cruising when our son goes to college. 

What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?
That food and fuel were easily available almost everywhere. When we were preparing to cruise, the books we had all were written 10-20 years earlier when supplies and diesel fuel were all harder to come by than they were in 2000, or now. As a result, we ended up with way too much canned food, which we eventually threw out years later!

What piece(s) of gear would you leave on the dock next time? Why?
We installed a pneumatic tank level monitoring system (Tank Tender) which failed early on in our cruising and was totally useless.

In your experience, how much does cruising cost?
There is no one answer to that question except to say, it depends. Three things carry the greatest costs and managing these four determines the result; food, fuel, repairs and flying home to visit family.

I’ve known cruisers who purchase only basic staples like rice, flour, beans and catch their own dinner every day – their food costs are much lower than ours. I knew a couple once who spent 13 days making a 600 mile passage – they spent 6 of those days drifting in doldrums. We choose to burn diesel and arrive in half the time, increasing our costs accordingly. Finally, something is about to break. In our experience, cruisers who can fix anything on their boats don’t spend much on repairs, except for parts. We had to find and pay local refrigeration guys twice during the 6 years we cruised since we do not have that expertise (we know several friends who can and do work on their own reefers). We also had to haul and do bottom paint twice in 6 years (both times in Australia). If you are willing to do that work yourself, you can trim a good chunk of expense off your budget. Finally, some cruisers we know, including us, with aging or infirm parents (or with grandchildren) can find an annual or bi-annual flight home to visit family eating a big chunk of their budget.

So, to sum up, it all depends.

Is there anywhere you sailed to that was a disappointment?
No. We wracked our brains and couldn’t think of one. Some places we knew not to expect much, so we were not surprised, but most places we visited exceeded our expectations in every way.

When have you felt most in danger and what was the source?
Hand steering, at night, in a tropical storm. The source of the danger was exhaustion.

On a passage between Majuro, RMI and Pohnpei, FSM we encountered Tropical Storm Nan Midol, named after the ruins at the island of Pohnpei, for which we were bound. On this passage of 700 odd miles we had experienced 4 days of sailing bliss. But on the 5th day – about 120 miles from our destination – the TS formed nearly on top of us (our latitude was about 7N). By sundown we had a steady 45k from dead astern and had torn our mainsail. We were running under bare poles and making 6-8k surfing down the swells coming up from astern. Fortunately the storm was heading the same direction we were and moving much faster than us. By 2am the wind was gusting to 55+ (my wife put a rag over the instruments so she wouldn’t have to look at it).

QueenJane2 By dawn the wind had eased to 30k and we had out a small bit of staysail (which is on a roller furler). But during the night we had to hand steer, partly due to fear of broaching in the big seas, but also because the autopilot was making a clunking sound which meant the tiller arm holding bolts were coming loose (which is a chronic problem on our boat which requires periodic attention). We took 1 or 2  hour shifts, shackled in with our harnesses on (which we rarely wear) in pouring rain and tropical chillness (ok, it was down to 68F – practically freezing!). I for one had a hard time staying awake, standing at the wheel, soaking wet, steering down 25ft+ waves in 50k of wind. You’d think in those conditions you would just be so in the moment, but I just stood there, wheel in hand, for hour on end and I nodded off several times. Each time would force myself awake just as we screamed down the next roller – hitting 10+k occasionally. We never worried about the boat – down below all was peaceful and calm – she was more than tough enough to handle this, but I worried about myself being able to stay awake and prevent a broach!

Share a piece of cruising etiquette
Always respect local customs (and in some cases dress). If the port captain insists on feeding you kava before signing the inbound clearance papers, just drink it! Also, don’t scream at your crewmate while anchoring!

What do you miss about living on land?
We live aboard at a marina since we’re no longer cruising. But when we were cruising, the only thing we missed was the presence of friends and family.

What type of watch schedule do you normally use while offshore?
During the day we coordinated in an ad-hoc fashion, taking naps one at a time at some point during the day. At night we used 4 hour shifts except in bad weather when it would go to 3 or even 2 hours in severe weather.

What is the most difficult aspect of the cruising lifestyle?
Being separated from close family who are experiencing serious illness.

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

What are your two favorite non-essential pieces of equipment you have on board and why do you have them if they are not essential?

1.Desalinator Why? The ability to spend long periods of time in remote places that have either little or no fresh water resources makes a desalinator a must-have in our opinion. We’re always very careful about water usage and keep 100 gallons in reserve so when the watermaker breaks down, as it must, we get by fine until we fix it ourselves (with our well stock supply of spare water maker parts). When it’s working, it extends our ability to remain in remote and dry areas where we would otherwise have to head to a source of water to replenish. Am I wasting my energy writing this in 2010? Is there anyone left out there who DOESN’T have one (except Lin and Larry)?

2: Freezer. Why?  1)To  carry frozen meats/poultry, 2)To  freeze excess fish for future use and 3) To make ice. My family is happy to “rough it” for a few weeks, or even more. But for years? We actually turned off our freezer 4 years ago, when we became marina-bound. We prefer to shop for fresh food every few days. But when we were cruising, having a freezer was a luxury and makes cruising simply a more enjoyable overall experience, especially in remote areas where fresh meats cannot be had. I almost forgot the ice! I happen to feel that ice is a great civilizing influence and it is in important part of my day – frozen margheritas in the cockpit at sunset? Oh yeah, we got that.