13 November 2017

10 Questions for Jacaranda

Co-captains Chuck Houlihan & Linda Edeiken began their current cruise in 2005 on SV Jacaranda, an Allied 39 hailing from San Diego, CA, USA.

They have remained in the Pacific on this cruise, heading south and then west: Mexico (for 7 years), Central America, Ecuador, Panama, Galapagos, French Polynesia.

Previous to this cruise in the 1990's Chuck sailed Jacaranda from Mexico to Australia taking 6 years. In the 1970's Chuck crewed with his sister and her husband on a Lapworth 36 called “Gambit” in Fiji, Samoa, Tonga.

Readers can learn more about their cruise on their blog.

They say: "Both of us are very avid travelers who have done extensive independent world travel before meeting each other. Besides sailing we continue to enjoy land journeys. Linda chronicles our experiences in “Passage Notes” on our website. She includes helpful details about places to stay, places to eat, travel routes, etc. for those wanting more details in “Trip Reports”.  Chuck is retired from the IT business but Linda continues to do her art and jewelry on the boat."

Over the time that you have been cruising, has the world of cruising changed? 

There are significant differences from when Chuck started cruising 40 years ago.  Back then boats were much smaller and mostly monohulls; 35 feet would have been one of the larger boats whereas today it would be one of the smaller ones in a fleet comprised more and more of catamarans.   Huge changes in navigation and communication have also occurred.  Chuck first cruised using a sextant and thought he had died and gone to heaven when sat nav was introduced.  He relied heavily on paper charts.  In addition,  we now cruise with GPS and Google earth charts (OpenCPN, GE2KAP, SASPlanet) which are incredible. As a consequence of GPS opening the way, many places that were remote are now full of cruising boats. Today it is harder to get off the beaten path - you still can but you have to try harder and go further.

Fewer boats are cruising with SSB radios which means the cruiser nets that have been so important for socializing, information exchange, and safety tracking are declining in value.  More boats are substituting satellite systems. Cruisers with ham radio licenses are going the way of the dinosaurs.

The connectedness of programs like sailmail, winlink, and satellite systems make staying in touch with friends and family much easier than before. Internet availability seems to be an added criteria for what makes a good anchorage nowadays.

Today, the staggering amount of electronic gear on a cruising boat means more time in port getting things fixed, the need for more charging power and bigger battery banks.

Cruiser attitudes have changed too. The wonderful aspects of camaraderie and helping one another that is a hallmark of this lifestyle still exists. But we sense a decrease in the commitment of giving back to the wider cruising community. Many boats don’t understand the concept of “leaving a clean wake” for others coming behind them, let alone thinking of ways to improve the experience for the next wave of cruisers.

What is a cruising tip or a trick you learned along the way?

Lots of stuff here.

Chuck learned a tip from an old “salt” many years ago about how to discourage gooseneck barnacles from attaching to the hull during long ocean passages by trailing a line from the bow for 30 minutes a day.  He has passed that on to many cruisers doing the Puddle Jump over the years.  That and a number of our little tips for everyday living on the boat can be found on our website in "Other Good Stuff.”

The sun is your worst enemy so be vigilant and proactive.  We cover ourselves as well as anything on deck that can be destroyed by exposure to those harmful rays, even our roller-furler blocks and the handholds on our dinghy.  And don’t leave the covers off your sails - we cringe when a boat sails into an anchorage and leaves the sails exposed to the sun for days.  Check your sail covers by holding them up to the sun - if you can see light coming through then UV's are probably eating up your sails. Time to make new ones. Insist on using Tenera (Gortex) thread for any canvas work. Tenera thread will outlast the material and you will never have to resew. It’s worth the pricey $100/spool cost.

Ever since he purchased Jacaranda 30+ years ago, Chuck has kept a detailed work log, now maintained in an EXCEL spreadsheet.  This has been an invaluable record of when work was done, especially years later when the project has to be redone. It includes details like part numbers, vendor contact info, instructions to himself for removing or repairing gear, plus photos of specific installations step by step.

Install an item with the thought of having to take it out for servicing. This is a hard concept to fathom when the item is new but surely at some point later on you will have to remove it.

Linda keeps a computerized inventory on the boat for food provisioning and for the contents of most lockers.  It is a nuisance to set up initially but she finds it invaluable when you need to locate something.  There is a sample format on our website.

In your own experience and your experience meeting other cruisers, what are the common reasons people stop cruising?

  • Running out of money
  • The arrival of grandchildren
  • Physical limitations due to injuries, health or age 
  • Break up of a relationship
  • Caretaker responsibilities for a child, relative or aging parents “back home” 
  • For “kid boats”, schooling needs (most often for an older teen or high schooler)
  • Not enjoying the lifestyle/boredom
  • Fulfillment of a travel/hiatus goal and the desire/need to resume a career

Personally, we say we will be cruising until we are either not having fun any longer or we are too physically challenged to continue.  We have a vision of sitting in our rocking chairs overlooking the sea somewhere at sunset, reminiscing about our cruising days while snacking on the granola bars from our ditch kit.

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

Not really because we always go into a new place with an open attitude of exploring and looking for the best. That said, we were disappointed with Panama City, Panama as a place to stay on a small boat because, surprisingly, we found it very cruiser UNfriendly.  The City and its environs (Casco Viejo, the Canal, rain forest, indigenous communities, etc.) were fascinating and wonderful and we had some fantastic experiences.   However, we felt the lack of good anchorages and adequate facilities for cruisers made it uncomfortable or expensive as a place to be aboard your boat.  This was unexpected since it is so much about ocean-going travel - but the focus is on freighters and expensive motor vessels and small cruising boats seemed to just be tolerated.  We wouldn’t want to go back on Jacaranda but we’d return as a visitor in a heartbeat.

Was there anywhere you visited that you thought was underrated? 

We fell in love with Colombia!  We did not cruise there but flew from Ecuador.  We think it is underrated because, in the minds of many people, its old reputation as a dangerous drug cartel-controlled country has not yet been supplanted by its new reality as a safe place to go.   The people were over-the-top friendly and welcoming.  The variety of landscapes were ecologically diverse and culturally interesting.  Among our favorite experiences were attending the annual Flower Festival in Medellin and seeing the spectacular CaƱo Cristales (River of 5 Colors).

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

In Chuck’s earlier cruising in the 1990’s, Jacaranda had been well outfitted although pretty basic.   For this current journey, we did a lot of upgrades and we added a windlass, radar, and more substantial autopilot.  Linda’s only request was for a water maker.  In hindsight, we regret removing our hot water heater (we thought we needed the space for the water maker).   Our wish list:  space for a dive compressor and tanks (just no room!), a 60 lb. anchor to replace our 44 lb. Bruce, and a more efficient refrigeration system.  We love our AIS (our most recent installation) and we’ll be investigating lithium batteries in the future.

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

Chuck raced, delivered boats and joined his sister and brother-in-law for a while during their circumnavigation on their Lapworth 36 in the South Pacific in the 1970's.  His advice: Gain sailing experience by racing and as skills build, offer to help deliver boats.  Crewing on different boats with different skippers will teach you a lot - both what to do and what not to do.

Linda was introduced to sailing in her twenties when she visited her parents who had bought a sailboat and went cruising in the Caribbean for two years. However most of her offshore experience was cruising on Jacaranda.  We took a number of extended trips to the Channel Islands (CA) from San Diego during the years before we left to go cruising.

Have you ever felt in danger and if so, what was the source? 

Chuck’s first delivery from New Zealand to Sydney in 1977 in the middle of winter (maybe that's why he got the delivery) was a very difficult trip with much heavy weather.  Using a sextant, he was not really sure he was plotting accurate fixes until he closed with Sydney.  The boat leaked like a sieve and was not very seaworthy - while he was not in immediate danger it was not a comfortable trip.

Getting caught in the infamous Queens’ Birthday Storm (NZ to Tonga)  in 1994 was a nightmare.  A Force 12 storm with winds of 70 knots and monstrous 30’ breaking seas, it was extremely dangerous and became the most disastrous storm in NZ rescue history (7 boats abandoned and one boat with crew lost). But he and his crew and Jacaranda came through unscathed. There is a lot of luck in this game :-)

Linda hopes Chuck’s experience will fulfill their quota of dangerous situations so she doesn’t have to ever go through anything like that!

What do you find most exciting about your cruising life?

Our boat is small but our life is big.  The cruising lifestyle is a dream for folks like us who have a love of travel, adventure, sailing, the sea and nature and for whom routine is anathema.  We are excited by:

  • A lifestyle of freedom, independence, daily adventure and open-ended possibilities
  • The joy and “spirituality” of sailing and harnessing the wind.
  • The mobility - freedom to relocate/move our home about.
  • Immersion in and closeness to the natural world, especially the sea - surrounded by “something of the marvelous.”
  • Living like a turtle, traveling the world with your home on your back.
  • Seeing new things with new eyes - experiencing new places, cultures, language, people, traditions, customs in a way that is uniquely possible.
  • The supportive camaraderie of fellow cruisers and the ease of making friends from all walks of life - a diversity of people you would never be exposed to at home.
  • Living with a high degree of self-sufficiency and a small carbon footprint on the world.

We are grateful very day and never lose sight of what a special world it is out here.

Cruiser rant: What is something that drives you crazy?

Irresponsible cruisers who don’t do the right thing, intentionally abuse the rules, and don’t “leave a clean wake”…… people who try to game the system and take advantage of it for their own selfish needs, not realizing that it hurts the cruisers who follow them. Examples are sneaking into a marina when the office is closed to steal water rather than pay for it, not paying a dinghy dock/anchorage fee when they know they are required to because the attendant happens to be absent, stopping in the Galapagos citing a phony mechanical breakdown to buy fuel and avoid paying the initial entry fees, and leaving a marina without paying outstanding bills. This gives cruisers a bad name and often results in boats following behind being dealt with quite differently.

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

We’d like to talk about “giving back” as cruisers.

When your lifestyle is about travel, people you meet and cultures you experience touch your lives and your heart. We have experienced the kindness of people all over the world and so it has become part of our value system to try to reciprocate and contribute to those who we encounter.  “Giving back” or “paying it forward” are concepts that are very dear to us and something that we strive for wherever we go.

We try to give back not only to the people in the countries we visit but also to our own broader cruising community by finding or making opportunities to volunteer to help with our time, skills, or sometimes, money - it can be a family in need, a child who can’t afford school expenses, a community project, a cruiser event, a charitable organization, a cruising family who has lost their boat, or the need for cruiser networking and information.  Chuck enjoys being very active on the cruiser radio nets.

A recent example we are very proud of occurred in the Marquesas Island of Nuku Hiva in French Polynesia.  We became a major sponsor of a new va’a (outrigger canoe) program for younger children on the island and our donation helped the community to purchase two child-sized canoes, paddles, and life jackets.   This early exercise program will give the kids healthier lifestyles and will allow them to be better competitors in the French Polynesia national sport of va’a racing.