28 August 2017

10 Questions for Amandla

Captain Fabio Mucchi & First Mate Lisa Dorenfest are currently cruising aboard Amandla a Beneteau Oceanis Clipper 473 hailing from London, UK although Fabio is Italian and Lisa is American.

Fabio started cruising in 2001, Lisa in 2011, and they have been cruising together as a team since 2013.

Fabio cruised the Mediterranean on the first Amandla (a Beneteau Oceanis 381) from 2001-2003. He crossed the Atlantic in the current Amandla in 2005 and spent 6 years cruising the Caribbean, South, Central America, US East Coast, Bahamas. Lisa sailed in from The Netherlands across the Atlantic in 2011.

In February 2013, Lisa joined Fabio on Amandla in Isla Mujeres Mexico. From there, they sailed from Florida to Hawaii via Panama, Galapagos, and French Polynesia. From Hawaii they sailed to New Zealand, spending another season in the islands before arriving in Australia.They have since cruised from Australia to Thailand where they plan a refit in preparation for an Indian Ocean crossing in 2018.

You can learn more about their cruise on Lisa's blog or by reading Fabio's book.

They say: "We are both cancer survivors.

Lisa was diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer in the middle of her Yachtmaster program in England in 2011. She returned to the sea a week after undergoing a lumpectomy to complete her Yachtmaster Program and cross the Atlantic as Watch Lead. Her cancer returned while she was working in NYC in 2012 and she had a mastectomy prior to setting off across the Pacific in early 2013. She has been cancer free since August 2012. 

Fabio returned home to Italy after closing his boat for the season in Guatemala in 2011 and was diagnosed with throat cancer. He was treated from November 2011 through January 2012. After a lengthy recover, he returned to Amandla in November 2012 to prepare for a Pacific crossing that commenced in early 2013. His cancer metastasized in 2015 requiring a liver resection in New Zealand. He captained Amandla from New Zealand to Fiji 45 days after surgery. In late 2015, the cancer resurfaced in several lymph nodes, requiring four rounds of chemotherapy in Sydney. He has been cancer free since April 2016."

Finish this sentence “One thing I’ve learned about passage planning is…”

Lisa: “The only certainty is that our plans will change”.  As a career project manager, it was initially difficult for me to adjust to the fluidity of sailing plans. Their mercurial nature is teaching me to live in the moment and take things as they come.  The most important thing is to be prepared with contingencies when things don’t go according to plan (e.g. ‘what if the weather turns bad when we are scheduled to depart to meet guests in another port’? We now know the answer is ‘defer travel until weather permits’. Our guests can either come to us or wait until the weather allows us to get to them).

Fabio: Prepare your passage for the best weather time of the year. Do not cross during or just before or after the end of hurricane season. Early or late season hurricanes are a possibility. Check your spare parts list and add if necessary. Only you know the state of your boat and can guess what might break.

Having been in both the Atlantic and the Pacific (and Indian) oceans, how do they compare?

Lisa: The Pacific is big. One leg in the Pacific (Galapagos to the Gambier over 21 days) took longer than an entire Atlantic crossing.  The Pacific requires much more self-sufficiency: adequate provisions and replacements aren’t readily available. You need to come with deep stores and sufficient knowledge to troubleshoot issues as they arise with minimal assistance. The Pacific is called the Coconut Milk Run, but for us, it was more like a Milk Shake. The weather was far more predicable in the Atlantic due to the extent of sea traffic piloting its waters and providing feedback to weather services. The Pacific was far more likely to throw us surprises. When a grib file was showing ‘oooo’ winds in an area, we found that meant ‘watch out, we have no idea what is going on here, but it promises to be strong and swirling. Reef! ‘

Our experience in the Indian to date has generally been a windless one although we sailed more than expected in Indonesia (40%!!!). But we have only just begun this Ocean and understand there are many challenges ahead.

Fabio: Crossing the Atlantic East to West is relatively easy. The Pacific raises the bar. Aside from lengthy passages, difficult weather and less accurate forecasting, some areas like Tuamotus require you to learn new skills including entering narrow passes with strong tidal current and anchoring among coral heads. In Fiji we encountered unmarked reefs. Some other areas are not accurate on charts. The crossing from Tonga to NZ either way can be treacherous. It is a continuous learning process

What is the most important attribute for successful cruising? 

Lisa: You have to really want to be here. It is not always unicorns and rainbows: sometimes it can be a real nightmare. As the old adage goes ‘cruising means fixing boats in exotic places’. The list of repairs can seem endless. And given the tight quarters and lack of alone time, a year’s partnership at sea is equivalent to a 10 years partnership on-land. But even in my darkest moments, I always choose to remain in this life, to complete my dream of circumnavigating the world under sail. At its worst, it is better than sitting around wishing I was living my dream. And at its best, there is nothing comparable.

Fabio: Be always vigilant. Do not rely on your instruments only. Keep your eyes open. Do not take unnecessary risks, reef early. Don’t be afraid to change your plans, to change your route to turn back and abort if necessary.

Always be prepared for injuries on board. It may never happen (so far so good) but a good First Aid Course could save a life. Have a good pharmacy on board and learn basic techniques

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?

Lisa: ‘The boat will never be perfect enough, my knowledge will never be deep enough, the time just never seems quite right’…but it is. Cruisers should be most worried about never leaving the dock.

Throw-off the bowlines… you’ll be glad you did.

Fabio: What she said.

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

Lisa: The best thing about the cruising culture is that it is generally supportive, friendly and welcoming. Everyone is willing to share information and pitch in to get another out of a bind. I’ve made some amazing friends out here. The worst thing about the cruising culture is that it can be just like any other. Cliques sometimes form, there are people with strong opinions about ‘what a cruiser should and shouldn’t be’, and in spite of the exposure to multiple cultures, a few sailors remain surprisingly prejudiced. It isn’t some magical wonderland where everyone is all the same and everyone gets along with everyone else ‘all the time’, feeling nothing but love. You will find all kinds out here.  I simply chose to deal with these normal life challenges in an anchorage rather than a cul-de-sac.

Fabio: in some areas of the Caribbean like Georgetown, Bahamas, hundreds of boat spend the full season without picking up the anchor. This is not sailing, it is like parking yourself in an RV campsite. Too much booze at parties too, it becomes the link for socializing.

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

Lisa: While at sea, I love our boat and wouldn’t change a thing (except for adding a washing machine). But at anchor, I do envy those roomy catamarans with all of their storage and entertainment. And what I would give for a crewed, 72-foot mono-hull with a walk-in engine room…maybe next time around.

Fabio : In part, it depends from your budget. I chose a 48ft for the added comfort. It is long enough for blue water passages but not too big to sail solo.  Electric winches, bow thruster, full batten main, lots of chain (we have 360ft) water-maker, SSB HF radio, solar panels and wind generator, AIS transponder, forward sonar, and plenty of navigation back up (4 computers, 2 iPads, 2 plotters) to sail safely paperless.

What is the next piece of gear you would add to your boat if it were free?

Lisa: A washing machine

Fabio: Satellite dome for Internet but it should come with a free unlimited connection too.

What type of watch schedule do you normally use while offshore?

Lisa: Captain 0600: 1200, First Mate 1200: 1800, Captain 1800-2100, sometimes 1800-2200, First Mate 2100 (or 2200): 0000, Captain 0000-0300, First Mate 0300-0600 ….my favorite watch, the only time I am up to see the sunrise.

Fabio: Like she said

Are you attracted more to sailing itself or cruising-as-travel and has that changed over time? 

Lisa: Initially, admittedly, it was more about the goal of circumnavigating the world under sail as quickly as possible and then getting back to building my career in New York City. The Captain managed to slow me down and build excitement about other sailing grounds (we are now strongly considering The Magellan Strait and beyond after Brazil rather than returning home).  I always had a desire to vagabond, but I thought I would do it in short spurts with long career stints in between. I’ve now been out here for four years and expect to have many years of travel under sail in front of me.

Fabio: I like a mix of both. I am more a slow cruiser. I enjoy living and getting to know places and people. But the first year with Lisa we sailed 11,000 nm in one season

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

Lisa: Do I need my own boat to go cruising? Nope. There are several sites with boats looking for individual crew or crew couples. I list many of them on my website on my ‘Sailing Links’ page. Even if your long-term goal is to sail on your own boat, crewing for others is a great way to get experience and build sea miles.

Fabio: Do I regret my choice to be a full time live aboard? Absolutely not. I have been doing it since December 2005 and I cannot imagine living on land for extended periods of time, at least for the time being.