26 June 2017

10 Questions for Naoma

Nicole and Ryan Levinson have been cruising on their current voyage since 2014 aboard SV Naoma, a 1988 Ericson 38 hailing from San Diego, CA, USA. They left San Diego for Mexico and then made the jump to French Polynesia where they have been cruising since 2015. They have been sailing together since the late 1990's but started more seriously cruising the waters off Baja, Mexico and southern California in 2006.

They say: "I may seem like I have the maturity of a 10 year old but really it's more like a teenager..."

You can learn more about their cruise through their videos or on their Facebook page.

Cruiser rant: What is something that drives you crazy?

You mean aside from Nicole doing Yoga in her black bikini?  We don't appreciate when cruisers publicly post detailed information about some of the more remote or less commonly visited areas they've explored.  Especially in the Soggy Paws Compendiums or on personal blogs where they include names and/or coordinates.  We think the Compendiums and blogs are a valuable resource, especially for new visitors to an area, but we strongly believe they should be focused on information about the "gateway" anchorages.  In other words, anchorages that are generally already well known and commonly visited.  Once cruisers reach those gateways they can explore remotely or remain mainstream as they see fit!  We personally witnessed one particular spot in the Tuamotus that was more or less ruined (in our opinion) after detailed information about it was included in the Compendiums and shared widely via email.  One season we anchored there alone.  The next season there were a dozen other boats having endless beach bbqs (and leaving the fire pit residue) on the otherwise pristine beaches, disturbing motus that are bird nesting places, leaving the remains of trash burns, stomping all over the coral in the shallow water, carving their initials in trees, etc.  We heard it just got worse as the season progressed.  There are plenty of anchorages for that kind of behavior but precious few that offer a glimpse of "untrammeled" nature or the experience of true solitude.  If you "discover" a remote uncrowded paradise please don't share it with anyone except maybe a few trusted friends or you will destroy the chance for cruisers following in your wake to also have the special experience you had!  Certainly don't share it with the entire world on the internet or Compendiums!

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?

Many potential cruisers, especially from the USA for some reason, are afraid that if they have not adequately prepared for every conceivable contingency then they are doomed to certain death on the high seas.  It is up to each individual to decide what level of preparation is "right" for them but potential cruisers should know that no matter how much they prepare there is always something that they didn't foresee that could cause injury or death.  Accepting a level of risk is a fundamental part of cruising and a key part of adventure!  The thing potential cruisers SHOULD worry about is letting their fear and endless preparation become a reason for never leaving.  There's a great saying, "There are two types of cruisers - Those that leave without being fully prepared and those that never leave..."

What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?

The location of good surf spots in French Polynesia...  :)  Kidding aside we feel we were given excellent information before we left and can not really think of any other particular thing we wished we had known.  On the other hand there was a lot of stuff we were told that we later regretted ignoring such as "have a gravity feed system pre-rigged for butane" or "you will want a bigger watermaker" There was also plenty of stuff that people told us or we read that turned out to be a bunch of garbage...  Consider the source!

Was there anywhere you visited that you thought was overrated (not as good as you had heard)? Was there anywhere you visited that you thought was underrated (better than you had heard)?    

We were not big fans of Nuku Hiva, especially when compared to the other islands in the Marquesas chain.  On the other hand we thought the Marquesas in general were underrated.  We only spent six weeks there our first time through but when we returned we spent six months and could have easily spent more.

What is something about the cruising culture you like and what is something you dislike?

We like the sense of community that we've experienced amongst cruisers, especially in the South Pacific.  There is a strong practice of looking out for each other and expressing genuine good will towards each other.

We are not fans of the packs of boats that travel en masse like locusts swarming anchorages with a sense of entitlement since they are part of this-or-that rally or whatever.  Luckily the rally clones tend to blaze through, always in a hurry, and once their trash is picked up and whatever damage they caused is repaired, life usually returns to normal.  :)

Nicole adds that she thinks it's an unfortunate tendency for many cruisers to crowd into certain anchorages and just endlessly socialize with each other rather than seeking a deeper connection with the local place and people.

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

At the risk of sounding glib I'll say that the main requirements for a boat for safe fun long term cruising are the boat must be likely to stay afloat, can move, and can hold food/water.  Anything else is just layers of comfort and increased margins of safety.  I think too many people stress about what is a "blue water" boat or whatever even though they plan to follow relatively easy trade wind routes.  Those people often end up in somewhat unresponsive expensive tanks built to survive cyclones despite never seeing winds over 30 knots...  Thor Heyeredahl "sailed" from South America to the Tuamotus on a bunch of logs tied together!  People cross oceans in kayaks, paddleboards, whatever.  Think of it this way, what are the chances you will simply drop dead or become gravely ill in the next three weeks?  Fairly slim, right?  The same is true of a blue water passage!  In many places if you sail during the right seasons you have extremely little chance of experiencing a major storm.  If you can stay afloat, keep moving, and have food/water the chances are you will be fine even if "extra" stuff breaks like your chartplotter, computers, etc.

With that in mind, and the benefit of hindsight, if I were to start over I'd likely pick the same boat but possibly modify her to have fewer through hulls and possibly more secure hatches and portlights (enhances the "stay afloat" factor!)  Our boat is fun to sail, she is responsive, handles well, is fast in wide range of winds, and is well built.  She would probably not be our first choice for sailing in high latitudes or long off-season passages in a cyclone area but those are not our intended routes. We see a HUGE variety of boats out here, from cheaply built coastal cruisers (some don't even have toilets) to top dollar luxury ocean sailing yachts with all the latest gear.  The boats are all different but they have one thing in common... They all safely crossed the ocean to get here.

Is there something you wish you had bought or installed before starting cruising?

A programmable battery charger (versus one with a few pre-set programs) so we could more easily equalize our batteries. Possibly a charger that can handle both 110v and 220v.  When we left we did not yet have a Honda 2000 gasoline generator but it has become invaluable and has saved us from having to put countless hours on the engine.  We left with 400w of solar but have since increased to 700w.  Finally, a larger capacity watermaker would be nice.  Ours is efficient, small, and reliable (so far) but at 7-8gph it takes a looooong time to fill our tanks.  Sorry, I know you asked for one thing so consider this a 4 way tie...  :)

How did you (or did you) gain offshore experience prior to leaving?

We did not gain any offshore experience before leaving but we were both already sailors with extensive coastal experience.  I (Ryan) have been sailing most of my life.  For over a decade I taught keelboat sailing at a few notable centers including J-World and as an adjunct professor of keelboat sailing at San Diego State University.  I have a masters license and have worked as mate and captain of large (120'+) luxury sailing yachts in California and Mexico.  I sailed on the US Sailing national team and was a former national champion (along with my teammates) for my class.  I am an Emergency Medical Technician.  Before this voyage I spent a few years studying extensively - stuff like celestial navigation, life raft survival, long distance communication, diesel engineering, electrical maintenance, marine firefighting, meteorology, and other related topics. With the exception of the rigging we did nearly all our own boat work and installations while preparing Naoma for this voyage.
Nicole is also a certified sailing instructor, although for smaller boats, and she has experience working on large sailing yachts including standing navigational watches.  She is an Emergency Medical Technician and is a former San Diego ocean lifeguard.

Having said all this we are often anchored next to people who literally purchased a boat having never sailed a day in their lives before heading out on their voyage.  I'm not recommending that, but it does help keep things in perspective...

What do you dislike about cruising that surprised you? 

Cruising can create distance from your "community" back home, not just in a geographical sense but also because this is a truly life changing experience that few or none of your friends and family will never really be able to relate to.  We were not so much surprised by that fact per se but rather by the extent to which we find it's true.

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

What is your favorite YouTube sailing channel?

Two Afloat Sailing!  ;)