14 August 2017

10 Questions for Bella Vita

Brett & Stacey Hoopes have been cruising since 2012 aboard SV Bella Vita, a 1995 Hylas 45.5, hailing from Seattle, WA, USA.

From Seattle, they sailed down the west coast to Mexico, then across the Pacific (French Polynesia, w, both Samoas, Tonga, NZ, Fiji) then Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Australia, Indonesia and are currently in Malaysia.

You can learn about their cruise on their blog.

They say: "I worked in the boating industry for 10 years (Marketing Manager for Fisheries Supply) and Brett worked as a Sonographer at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance before we left.  While there, Brett met and cared for many vibrant people who passed away from cancer before their time – many of who had big plans and dreams for when they retired….that they never got to do.  This strongly reinforced our decision to go cruising while we were still young enough to really enjoy it instead of waiting until we retired.  Life is short and you never know what will happen."

Tell me your favorite thing and your least favorite thing about your boat.

Bella Vita is an amazing boat – the perfect size (IOHO) and strong enough to withstand big seas.  We’ve always felt like she could handle WAY more than we can, so probably my (Stacey’s) favorite thing is how safe I feel aboard her at sea.  Brett loves how well-thought out and laid out she is.  My least favorite thing is that it doesn’t have a washing machine aboard (hope to rectify that some day!) and Brett’s is that we can’t access the anchor locker from the deck.

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

Brett:  High quality insulation around our fridge.  This has been a MAJOR issue ever since we got to warmer climates.

Stacey: A washing machine!

What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you didn't find to be true?

Living in the USA, there is a lot of press devoted to how dangerous many parts of the globe are and how we should be concerned about traveling there – especially in Mexico.  We’ve been out now for almost 5 years and NOT ONCE have we ever felt we were in danger (other than from Mother Nature!).  We’ve been amazed by the kindness and giving nature of the majority of people we’ve met along the way.  They’ve made us feel welcome in pretty much every country we’ve visited.

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?

Again – people shouldn’t fear that these places will be dangerous or that people are out to steal from them.  That’s not to say you should leave everything open and invite people to take advantage of you – but you shouldn’t waste time on the fear of the unknown when it comes to foreign lands.  What should people worry about?  THE WEATHER!  Do everything you can to learn about understanding weather forecasts and how to interpret them to aid in your routing.  The ability to know when to sit tight and when to GO is one of the most important parts of cruising successfully.  Brett adds that you should NEVER have a timeline – it will get you into trouble every single time.

Where was your favorite place to visit and why?

Suwarrow – hands down.  You can only get there by boat, and there are only the 2 park rangers that live there – so the area is completely untouched by tourism.  It was amazingly beautiful, an absolute paradise.  While some cruisers complain because you are only allowed to anchor in one area, which is open to winds and filled with coral bomies – we found that it was a little slice of heaven.  Beautiful, clear water filled with marine life, gorgeous huge manta rays, sharks, fish of all kinds and birds galore.  We spent the full 2 weeks allowed there and only wish we could have spent more time.  A close 2nd was the Tuamotos – specifically south Fakarava – which to this day had the BEST snorkeling/diving we have every experienced.

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

What we like:  The cruising culture is amazing.  Cruisers are always willing to be there for each other – to lend a hand to help fix something, to rally around a boat in dire circumstances, or to just share a beer after a hard days work.  A perfect example – while we were in Tonga our fridge stopped working and we needed new brushes.  We asked for recommendations from local cruisers on the daily net – and after the net we were contacted by a boat we didn’t know (at the time) named Iolea.  Paul and Kate just happened to also own a Hylas, and wondered did we happen to have a Grunert refrigeration system like theirs?  It turns out they had a spare set of brushes and were happy to loan them to us until we could get new ones delivered (which of course we immediately gave to them).  These two wonderful cruisers resolved our mini-crisis in a matter of hours – so fantastic!  We also love that cruisers have no qualms about visiting another boat and starting a conversation with cruisers they’ve never met….and within minutes they are likely invited aboard for a tour or a refreshment just because you’re sharing an anchorage.  How many people at home have no idea what the names of their neighbors are even though they’ve lived next to them for years?  I love the closeness and community of cruising – you really do make friends for LIFE!

What we dislike:  Watching some cruisers absolutely loose their sh!t with locals over something stupid because they expect the efficiencies of their home in a foreign land.  There is nothing more mortifying than watching a fellow cruiser (especially when they are from your home country) behave badly with the locals.  We are all ambassadors out here and should never forget to treat locals with the respect they deserve, even when things are not going to our liking.  We are guests in THEIR country and should act accordingly.

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

During the day we don’t really have a standard schedule – whoever wants to sleep can nap as needed.  At 7pm we institute a 3/4/4/3 schedule, with me (Stacey) sleeping first.  If nothing is happening in the morning, I’ll let Brett sleep until he wakes up naturally.  If one of us hasn’t slept well (up during their offwatch time for sail changes, etc.) we make a concerted effort to get that person the rest they need during the day.  It’s important that we are BOTH functioning as well as possible, so we’ve found this works great for us – but every couple we’ve met is different.  During rough weather we often shorten up the duration as 4 hours on can be exhausting in really bad weather.  When you first start out it’s important to experiment and find out what works best for you and your partner.

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

While we both love to sail – we definitely are more attracted to cruising for the travel.  I’ve always loved to travel, but am not fond of flying and hate living out of a suitcase – so the idea of traveling with my home was extremely appealing.  We have loved the comfort of having our floating home when everything around us is constantly changing and unknown – for me, having that little bit that is familiar is really important when you are traveling full time.  These days I sometimes worry that we’ve become true sea gypsies and will never be content to stay in one place for a long time ever again.  I guess time will tell, but as long as we can make the money last we will continue this life for as long as we possible!

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

Never trust your charts.  Always keep an active watch near land and assume your charts can be as much as a ¼ mile off.  While our charts (Navionics on our RayMarine system) have been exceptionally accurate in most places, there have been exceptions and it’s imperative to use dead reckoning and all the information you have at hand in conjunction with what the charts are telling you.  We also augment our charts with a program called Ovitalmap on our iPad that allows you to download Google Earth images for offline use.  It has saved our bacon more than once and is brilliant when you are cruising in areas where there are no charts at all.

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

How has cruising changed you?

When we first left, we were completely caught up with the rush, rush, rush of city living.  Time just continually flies by and before you know it another year has clicked by and nothing has really changed.  But when you cruise, one of the best parts is living a slower life that is less about acquiring things, and more about acquiring experiences.  It brings home the fact that the people you meet and the experiences you have with them is what life is really about.  Life is nothing without love and learning – about confronting your own personal fears and moving past them, while constantly challenging your personal “safety zones”.  Cruising has made us more patient and less judgmental – more understanding of adversity and how it can change people for the worse or for the better.

I think it took us a good 6 months to really start slowing down and accepting the slower pace of our new life.  Having time back – to be completely in control of our own time and how we use it has been a wonderful gift.  Being able to see the world on a small budget is amazing – something I never even knew was possible until we started cruising.  Now that we’ve slowed down and seen so many different places, experienced so many different cultures, we’ve really begun to understand how similar we all really are at our core.  We’ve seen some amazing things and completely different cultures – but at the end of the day the people we’ve met all have the same basic needs and (for the most part) the same values.  They show pride in their country, love for their families, frustration with their governments, they want the ability to feed and raise their families in a safe environment, and they experience all the same feelings and frustrations we’ve experienced while living in the United States.  What used to seem so amazingly different is actually almost exactly the same, no matter what the culture or religion dictates.  If we  could just get people who haven’t traveled to understand that, what an amazing world we would live in.