01 August 2011

10 Questions for Irie

irie5 Mark Kilty and Liesbet Collaert have been cruising since 2007 aboard Irie, a Fountaine Pajot Tobago 35', hailing from Newcastle, Delaware, USA - they've never been there. They went down the ICW to Florida and then have spent their time in the Bahamas,Turks and Caicos, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, USVI, BVI,  St. Maarten/St. Martin and the Eastern Caribbean island chain down to Grenada. You can read more about their travels on their website and their blog or reach them by email (crew@itsirie.com).

Liesbet says: I am a former teacher, freelance writer and avid traveler from Belgium and my husband Mark is an ex-software engineer from the United States. We left the US with our two wonderful dogs (Australian Shepherd mixes) Kali and Darwin. We lost Kali in Puerto Rico at the age of 10.5 and recently lost Darwin during a visit to the US at the age of 9.5, both to cancer. It changed our lives and our family. Mark and I belong to the younger side of the cruising community and new family members are considered.

Why did you decide to cruise?
I love to travel, explore and expand my horizons any interesting way; Mark likes to sail. He was sick of the "American Dream", after 10 years of hard work and I'm just open to anything new. He planned on going cruising at some point in the future and meeting me made it (kind of) happen a bit quicker. I'm the traveler (I do like to sail as well), Mark's the sailor and together we are cruisers! We love being mobile with our own house. This interview covers our second attempt (the first one failed after two days) to be cruisers, even though back then I didn't even know what "cruising" meant!

irie1What did you do to make your dream a reality?
Nothing special really. We just followed "the steps" to make it happen, just like any other time I had an adventure in mind. But the story goes like this: When I met Mark in California while camping around the US in 2004, he had a long-term plan of going cruising. Since I decided to give up my travel plans to be with him, I encouraged him to do it sooner, so we could go travel by sailboat, something entirely new to me. Mark bought a 25 year old monohull, quit his job, sold all his belongings and all four of us moved into F/Our Choice/s for 5 months, working on her hard every day and getting her ready to go cruising. Two days out of San Francisco Bay, the dogs hated the heeling of the boat and were uncomfortable. Within 5 weeks, we sold the monohull, bought a camper and traveled overland to Panama and back for 1 year. Then, the sailing bug bit Mark again. We sold our set-up, bought a small pick-up truck (initial plan was to move to Belize, but that was right before the sailing bug bit) and camped in a tent with our dogs for two months in search of a decent and affordable catamaran. We found her in the Annapolis area, right before our self-appointed two-month deadline was up. Take two started after four months of preparation, in October 2007. The dogs loved it!

What do you think is a common cruising myth?
That life on a sailboat is (always) romantic, easy, wonderful, exotic and something to be envious of. That sailing equals freedom. That we cruise, because we are fortunate and/or rich! The reality boils down to one word: choices.

Describe a perfect cruising moment that will make cruisers-to-be drool with anticipation.
The wind is blowing a perfect 15 knots out of a favorable direction (off the beam), the sails are full and we are moving through the water smoothly. The sun beams in a blue sky and the breeze keeps us cool. The autopilot does the work, the crew is smiling, and the pup is relaxed in the cockpit. We approach the coastline of St. Lucia, where the giant Pitons loom picturesque on the horizon. All of a sudden a pod of dolphins greets our sailboat with playful jumps and speedy group movements through the clear water off our bow. Wow! (Oh, and then we catch a giant tuna and have sushi for dinner)

What is a tip or a trick you have picked up along the way?
Keep an eye on the weather and use a "weather window" to get to your destination, instead of a deadline (like meeting friends or family at a certain day). This is common sense more than a tip, but it is so true. Nothing is more annoying than having to bash into heavy wind and seas to HAVE to get somewhere.
Talk to other cruisers to find out about the lay of the land (custom and immigration rules, points of interest, good harbors .)

irie2ALWAYS make sure your anchor is set, no matter how light the wind is.
Do as much as you can yourself; it saves money, frustration and time, you know it's done right (albeit after a few tries sometimes) and who to blame and you learn more about your boat.

In your first year of cruising, what transitions did you find the most difficult?
Our first year of cruising was actually the best one. We discovered new places, enjoyed being with our dogs on all the beaches, didn't stress about finding and having jobs, had a sailboat in good working order and I was living in my biggest "house" ever! What I remember as finding "difficult" was the fact that there are barely any other young cruisers out there and that we were soooo dependent on the weather (and had to find safe havens each time a cold front made it down), something -in my opinion- that takes away from your sense of freedom. Being so reliant on the weather (which means skipping new places, islands and countries) still bugs (and restricts) me.

What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you found particularly accurate?
I didn't really hear or read about cruising before we started doing it ourselves. But, what I would like to add as a benefit to cruising (which I might as well have read, or written about myself) is that it is very easy to meet other cruisers and be part of the cruising community, that it can be done cheaply, that you become accustomed to "social drinking", that there is a lot to do (1, 2) and that sailing in perfect conditions is awesome.

What I heard from other cruisers before we left the US is that The Bahamas are one of the best and most pretty cruising grounds. Back then I found that hard to believe (they are relatively close, the closest, to the US), but now, after three seasons in the Eastern Caribbean, I have to admit that I do agree (so far)!

Are you attracted more to sailing itself or cruising-as-travel and has that changed over time?
I am a traveler by heart, not a sailor. I just love exploring new territory and experiencing new cultures, languages, sights. However, when the conditions are "right", I do love the sailing as well. Just feeling the boat, the wind, the elements, and staring at the horizon. Very peaceful. I have learned to really enjoy it, especially during daytrips while and after months of sitting in the same place, working.

Of the changes, choices and compromises you had to make along the way, which were you happiest and most satisfied about, which do you wish you had chosen otherwise and why?
During this second sailing attempt, we decided to get the boat ready enough to live and sail comfortably, without more gadgets than needed. We made that "mistake" the first time around, and worked on that boat for eight months in total to turn it into the "perfect" cruising boat. This time, we got her going after a few months (note: Irie was a newer boat than our previous one as well) and learned through experience what was needed.
Since we've left, we bought and installed solar panels and a wind generator, very good decisions. We also collect water in an efficient way now. Living off and with Mother Nature is very satisfying! Sitting in Luperon, the Dominican Republic, during a whole hurricane season was easy and safe, but not good for the boat and a bit boring (that was before we had jobs as well). We vowed not to do it again and rather pick a hurricane destination where some exploration and sailing can be had (like Grenada).

We started our own business from our small sailboat in the Caribbean and are still not sure whether that was a wise and good decision.

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

irie3How can you afford to cruise? 

Since Mark and I are relatively young, we get that question asked a lot, especially by non-cruisers. Obviously we are not retired and by choice we want to live this lifestyle longer than a one or two year sabbatical. We can only function and be happy onshore for a couple of years at the time, so a floating house is a good compromise of having our own place and being able to travel.

How we afford it is by working along the way, what in turn takes away from the cruising experience. Most of the time, we are stuck in one place trying to make money and the enjoyment of cruising, sailing and traveling has dwindled down to only a few weeks out of the year.

We pick our anchorages based on WiFi (wireless internet) availability (and dog friendliness in the past). I write, translate, find miscellaneous jobs, and help out with our business, Mark runs the business, customer service, website, part of the sales, and so on. Not always easy from a simple boat in a simple location. Together we run the daily boat errands and fix all the boat issues. It's a busy life to be cruisin'!