31 October 2011

10 Questions for Leander

leander2 Paul Robertson, Sima Baran, and Alexander Robertson have been cruising since 2007 aboard Leander, a Bristol 41 hailing from  Boston, Massachusetts, United States. They have taken a circumnavigation route, starting in Boston, heading down the U.S. east coast, through the Panama Canal, through the Pacific Ocean and Islands, visiting New Zealand, Australia, SE Asia, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, and are now in the Eastern Mediterranean. Readers can read about their adventures on their website.

They say: Paul is originally from Boston, and Sima from Istanbul, Turkey. We met when we were both working in Boston. We had only modest prior sailing experience, and we started cruising as a husband and wife team of two shortly after we bought the boat, our first, and got married. We’ve since been joined by a third crew member, our young son Alexander, who was born in November 2010. 

Why did you decide to cruise?
We were both working long hours, Paul as an attorney and Sima a management consultant. We thought that our all-enveloping careers were causing us to miss out on other meaningful aspects of life. For two non-sailors, the prospect of sailing across oceans to far-away lands posed a particularly exciting challenge, and would be a good way for us to see a bit more of the bigger picture.

What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?
Most marine vendors do not share your goal of having quality work done at a reasonable price. Learn to do as much as possible on your boat, and be vigilant in those situations when you must pay for parts or services. Time and again we’ve paid for work that was both overpriced and deficient, and typically found we have no recourse after the fact. Who cares about you – you’re sailing away to the next port! With a little bit of practice, reading, and speaking to others, you will ALWAYS do a better job than someone with less of a vested interest in the outcome. When others must be called in, define the scope of the work as concretely and narrowly as possible, get things in writing, and watch the work like a hawk.

Over the time that you have been cruising, has the world of cruising changed?
Useful information available for cruisers on the Internet has exploded. Sites like IWAC, “Wiki Cruising,” and the numerous blogs and photos posted by other cruisers are providing a more complete picture of the cruising life and potential cruising grounds.

Describe a positive experience you have had with local people somewhere you have visited?
The people on the island of Tanna, in Vanuatu, were exceptional. In the place of TV, the internet, and consumerism, there were nightly kava rituals, community meetings, and a family garden. And the islanders reached out to us. During our three-week stay, Paul drank kava and played soccer with the local men and Sima learned to weave mats with the local women. It was pleasant, relaxing, and magical.

What is something that you were dreading about cruising when you were dreaming, that is as bad or worse than imagined?
The amount of work we need to do to keep the boat in shape. Non-cruisers sometimes don’t get it, and when we tell them of how much time we are spending on fixing this or maintaining that, they wonder if our boat is a “lemon.” But we’re all out here doing the same thing. The ocean environment beats on things, and although our boat is one-tenth of the size of the house that we lived in before we left, it is ten times as much work. Really.

When have you felt most in danger and what was the source?
Traversing Pirate Alley – the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the start of the Red Sea. We made the passage in 2010 after concluding that the odds were strongly in our favor. But our hearts were still in our throats for the month and half it took to get through. In light of the subsequent attacks, we wouldn’t do that that trip now. And as we think back, maybe all the preparation we did gave us nothing but false comfort, and was an attempt to control things over which we had, in retrospect, no control.

How has cruising affected your personal relationship?
We figure that one year of life together on the boat is the equivalent of about seven years of life on land. All the time together has accelerated the pace of our relationship. Challenges that might have developed five or ten years down the line had we been together less, have become manifest more quickly. But we’ve also been able to develop tools to anticipate and resolve problems at the same quickened pace. So, in the end, we’re in a better place. (Said another way, laughs Sima, although I’ve become more accurate at throwing frying pans, Paul has become just a little more adept at ducking them!)

What type of watch schedule do you normally use while offshore?
We have found that watches of less than four hours are not practical for us because we each need sleep in chunks that are at least that long. We are both on watch during the day. Sima takes watch from 8 p.m. to midnight, Paul from midnight to 4 a.m., Sima from 4 a.m. until Paul awakes in the morning, and Paul from that time until Sima awakes later in the morning. But this was before young Alexander joined us, and we will perhaps need to modify this.

Share a piece of cruising etiquette.
Bend over backwards to be polite to others. You’ll find people on the water who are willing to mix it up with you if you’re game, but it is a draining game. Try to assume the best. Smile and wave at the next boat you encounter, even if the three before didn’t return your greeting. Accept that the boat has anchored a little close. They couldn’t find a better spot, probably. And don’t you remember? Last time that was you.

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

leander1 What has it been like cruising with an infant son?

Challenging! We figured that with Alexander, we’d have one less person with a free hand, but he often takes us both out of commission. So things take twice as long as before. For us, an “early” start now means 10:00 a.m. And we don’t do drinks with others at sundown so much anymore. But he loves to hike with us, and we can strap him to our back and go explore, one of our favorite things to do. We certainly wouldn’t want it any other way.