Serendipity at 15 Months

Welcome Serendipity to Newly Salted! Read this interview as originally published on their blog.
Just before we get geared up to start cruising again after nearly five months now of sitting out hurricane season in Guatemala, I figured it would be a perfect time for a little question and answer time about our lives since there hasn’t been much other boating excitement going on lately. But this isn’t any ‘ol interview, it’s being done in connection with Newly Salted, a companion site to Interview with a Cruiser, who’s purpose is to ‘Record some of the wisdom of the masses of cruisers who are out there on the water, for the dreamers and planners still at their desks, using a focused interview format’.

First time visiting us? Here’s a little background. We are Matt and Jessica, and have been cruising for 15 months, starting in our home port of Muskegon, Michigan, on the east coast of Lake Michigan. Working our way through the Erie Canal and East Coast, our remaining time before hurricane season was making a jump from the Eastern Caribbean to the Western Caribbean, visiting places like the Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica and Cayman Island before settling in Guatemala, where we currently sit, until cruising season is once more upon us. All of our adventures are cataloged on our website, and on our Facebook page at MJ Sailing.
 Leaving Muskegon for the last time, officially cruisers now!

What is something you read or heard about cruising, that you found to be particularly accurate?:

That a cruisers plans are written in sand at low tide. We were naive, or maybe just determined and stubborn, but when we left Lake Michigan we had a very well laid out plan and we thought we could stick to it. That plan was for a circumnavigation in the span of four years. As soon as Hurricane Sandy came along our plans began to deteriorate as we fell behind schedule. We still tried to rush down the east coast, and even after spending a few months in Florida, we thought we could rush through the Bahamas in time to still jump over to Panama for a canal crossing this year. Going from Lake Worth Florida to George Town Bahamas in just ten days, we realized we didn’t want that kind of fast paced travel that a circumnavigation would press on us, and we’d rather slow down and take quality over quantity. We’d heard this many times before we left, but it took 7 months of cruising for it to actually sink in.
Our first anchorage of the trip, South Manitou Island, Michigan.

What do you find most exciting about the cruising lifestyle?: 

That there is always something new to see. Some places you get really attached to and others you don’t mind departing after a day’s visit. But the great thing about the cruising lifestyle is if you don’t like it, you can always pick up and leave until you find something that suits you better. We also love meeting other cruisers that have been out there and doing it for awhile, learning the ins and outs of certain places, and then getting excited to visit there ourselves.
Cruising past the Detroit City skyline.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome as a cruiser?:

For me, Jessica, it has been seasickness. It plagues me almost every time we travel and I’ve begun to dread any passage that lasts longer than sunrise to sunset. For those I can sit in the cockpit and stare off into the horizon, comforted by the fact that at least I’ll be at a calm anchorage that night and will have the ability to move around the boat again. Anything longer than that to me is a jail sentence, being confined completely to the cockpit where my symptoms are minimized, but I can’t even pass the time by reading a book. I can only sit there and stare. And stare, then a little more, and then some more after that. I’ve used just about every remedy there is, scopolamine patches, pressure point wristbands, and Dramamine. I’ve heard that seasickness will fade on long passages, after you’ve been out for 3-4 days, but our longest passage has only been three days, so I haven’t been able to find out yet if that holds true.

For Matt, the biggest obstacle is not being as productive on the boat as he was on land. Every day he got up with a purpose, went to work, enjoyed doing it, and felt good about it at the end of the day. Now that we don’t have schedules or the same kind of responsibilities, he used to feel useless while sitting around the boat and converting most of his time to relaxing. He’s found a remedy for this by keeping himself busy with the boat, or planning projects for the boat. Which, while we’re sitting at the marina with easy land and electricity access, he’s got about six projects going at once. And keeps planning more…

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

Now that we’ve been out for awhile, we can both agree that an invaluable tool for us right now would be a backup generator for our solar panels. There’s currently three solar panels on Serendipity, one that’s 205 watts, and two that are 135 watts, for a total of 475 watts, which is actually pretty good. And when there’s sun out we’re bringing in power like crazy. The only issue is we assumed that being in tropical climates, we’d have sun 90% of the time. Which we’re starting to find out is not the case. When it’s just one or two cloudy days, the power we’ve saved up can usually tide us over until we see the sun again, but anything after that and we go into complete power lockdown, keeping the inverter off and even turning off the chill box at night (our biggest power consumer).  Running the engine is an option, but we don’t want to have to rely on that. We enjoy our electronic toys like laptops, tv, e-readers, and playing the stereo, and don’t want to have to give them up because the sun is being an unsocial sonnofa b.
Cementing our friendship with our first buddy boat, in Annapolis.

What piece(s) of gear would you leave at the dock next time? Why?:

Because Matt is fairly obsessed with researching any new hobby that takes his interest, he spent hours of each day before we left pouring over websites and forums and question and answer sites (like IWAC) to see what other people carried on their boats or wish they had. He then translated it to our boat, our cruising needs, and our personalities and lifestyle. We were pretty stumped for this question because we kind of love everything we have on this boat, I think he did a great job of figuring that out for us (although I was hounded relentlessly for my opinion as well). If we had to pick one thing though, I think we’d go with davits. 

Surprised? I know, that’s usually on every cruisers ‘must have list’, even before things like solar panels or a water maker. The reason we might leave them behind next time is that they are only used at night to get the boat out of the water (for security and cleanliness reasons). Anytime we’re on passage we’re not sure if the davits can handle the brutal strain and we’ve already had two* incidents of breakage when we’ve left the dinghy up on passage, so we haul it up an secure it on the foredeck anyway.  Every.Passage.   I do love them for at night when we pull the dinghy up, but as Matt reminds me, that can also be done with a halyard on the foredeck.

As you started cruising, what transitions did you find most difficult?:

This one kind of makes me laugh because one of my most difficult transitions is so far off from what most people would expect. There are plenty of things that can drive a cruiser bonkers, things like cockpit showers (we disassembled the shower in our head), rough passages, and sleeping two people to a bed that should really only comfortably fit one. I let all of these nuisances roll off because I was expecting them. I was dreading them before we left, and they turned out not to be as bad as I imagined. The thing that surprisingly did get me, was cooking in our galley. The lack of good space there is what drove me crazy. There’s very little counter space, and a good portion of it is the top to our chill box. I’d be busy preparing dinner on the ‘counter’ and realize I needed something from the chillbox, so I’d have to move all my items away to lift up the top. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I’d then spend the next five minutes digging through the chill box and placing all of it’s contents on the companionway stairs until I found what I needed, because that was the only open space I had to lay them down. I’ve since become more accustomed to it, but for awhile, that nightly routine could almost drive me to tears.
Exploring the Exumas, Bahamas.

What is the thing that has surprised you most about your cruising lifestyle?:

That we’ve begun to crave friends and buddy boats. For the most part, both of us enjoy our solitude and spending time solely with one another. At least, this is how we were back on land. Spending all day surrounded by people at work, we looked forward to our quiet time together at night. When we left we told ourselves we’d never get sucked into the world of buddy boating and living on someone else’s schedule, where they wanted to go or what they wanted to do. Nope, it was going to be just the two of us, making our own decisions and relying on no one else. But somewhere along the way we did find a buddy boat and realized we enjoyed it immensely. Other people to share in your highs and your lows, someone to force you out of your lazy habits to try new things, and even just the novelty of having someone different to talk to. Don’t get me wrong, we still love our solitude from time to time, but once you have that for too long, things can get a little lonely in this life.
Enjoying the waterfalls in Jamaica with a large group of buddy boats.
(Photo courtesy of Jason Windebank)

Is there anything you would like to say to the readers of this interview?:

Yes! Please get involved with the crew of Serendipity! E-mail us, comment on our website, and on our Facebook posts. We’d love to hear anything you have to say! As I said, this can be a lonely lifestyle sometimes, but just knowing there are people out there following along makes us feel much less isolated, and any sign that you’re out there is an instant mood lifter.
Strolling the streets of Cuba.

And now, a few questions our readers want to know about us and our cruising lifestyle**:

How hard is it to get food and supplies along the way?

It depends on if you’re trying to fully provision your boat or just get through the next few days to make meals, ect, as well as your taste in food, and what you’re willing to pay for it.  Once we got out of the States and into the Bahamas we had a fully stocked boat from Florida.  We know that the Bahamas are quite expensive and didn’t want to spend money on non perishables that we could bring with us.  The Bahamas didn’t happen to be great for fresh produce, but hey, our meals usually consisted of Pop Tarts and Ramen Noodles, so it wasn’t an issue for us.  Other than that, you could find what you needed, but at a price.  Every place else we’ve been so far we’ve been able to find decently stocked markets and stores within a mile or two walk, although Cuba was quite hard for provisioning as well.  I wouldn’t planning getting much more than produce or meat there.

How have you found fellow sailors as you’ve traveled?

There’s been two main ways we’ve found other sailors on the water.  One is actually this website, which has brought me in touch with some of my now best friends Jackie and Ron back in Michigan, and other cruisers like Ryan and Tasha on s/v Hideaway, and Frank and Yu on s/v Moitessier.  All other times we’ve found other cruisers by approaching or being approached at anchor, or run-ins on land.  It’s pretty easy to spot other cruisers, and even easier to strike up conversations.  Which always lead to sundowners on someone’s boat or in a local bar.  It’s just that easy, and it works every time.  (I will admit, we can be a little shy sometimes, so we’re usually the ones getting approached at anchor.  It’s how we met our now great friends on s/v Skebenga, and I’m so happy they came over to say hi!!)

Would you do it again?

For those of you who are new to the site or haven’t been following along for long, you might not know that both Matt and I just about had a complete meltdown back in June and wanted out of the cruising lifestyle.

One year in and somehow the lows felt more frequent than the highs and we were tired of constantly caring for a boat that is always in need of maintenance (as all cruising boats are, unfortunately), or visiting an island that looked pretty much like the one we just left.  I am still thankful that Guatemala, with it’s high peaks and lush green forests, was our next landfall after this breakdown, or you might have seen Serendipity for sale on Yacht World.  Luckily some time at a marina, a visit home, and experiencing traveling via backpacking, gave us a new perspective on cruising.  We felt refreshed and invigorated, excited to get going again.  Over this time we realized what we like about cruising, what we don’t, and we think we’ve redefined our future plans to make it work out for us.  Just ask us another year into cruising though, hopefully Serendipity is still on our possession and we’re still out on the water.

*Our first accident with the davits was when we were traveling 10 miles in Lake Michigan, and had the dinghy up on the davits along with our 9.9 hp outboard.  Beating into some waves, the strain was so much that the arms literally bent in half.  We had them replaced with larger stronger davits, but we always made sure to take the large outboard off after that.  Our second accident was in the Exumas in the Bahamas, when the bracket that mounts the davits to the pushpit snapped, and we had to do some quick and fancy work with ratchet straps until we could find a welder to fix the bracket.

**If you asked a question on our Facebook page and I haven’t responded, don’t worry, I’m not ignoring you.  I’m planning on doing a second question and interview post where I include them.  Anyone else have a question for us?  We’d be happy to answer it!

Wimahl at 4 months

Welcome Wimhal to Newly Salted! Read this interview as originally published on their blog.

Ariel, Mahonri and Lenin (the boat dog!) on a Cape Dory 28 (our short list boat!) that we got for a very nice price the start of this year. We named it Wimahl but still haven’t painted it yet, so it says Bantam on it. We lived aboard while doing repairs until we felt good about heading out to sea. Our goal was to head north to the San Juans and Canada. For those curious, little baby Lenin (of LOVES to sail, and loves to kayak, he just hates to get wet. He wears a lifejacket and stays harnessed in for safety as do we all :)

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

Ariel: Honestly, we didn’t even finish packing before we left. We got all amped up and just left with some of our stuff that we wanted to bring with still in storage in Portland. But of the things we don’t actually own, we’ve considered sculling oar, a wind vane, a wind generator, a pedal electrical system and a pedal propulsion system, as well as a drifter and a storm sail, all of which we don’t have (or don’t have yet) for various reasons. Maybe a hammock for passages.

Mahonri: should have gotten rid of the engine, which is the opposite of that. pedal engine, sculling oar! light air sail, as in a drifter or something.

Is there a place you visited wish you could have stayed longer?   

Ariel: a part of me was happy to stay off Sauvies for a while. Beer, nude beach and summer time.

Mahonri: not really yet. I feel like we’ve stayed too long in a few places.

When you are offshore, what keeps you awake at night (that is, what worries you most)?   

Ariel: the Pacific is loud and big. It sounds like it is smashing the boat to bits, even though I know in my mind it isn’t. It feels like it is lifting the boat up and dropping it. Also, sometimes, puking.

Mahonri: collision at sea.

Favorite thing about about the boat?

Ariel: solar panels and composting toilet. Green living!

Mahonri: I’m bad at these types of questions.

Tell me your least favorite thing about your boat?

Ariel: the galley is kind of weirdly shaped and the cabneits are spaced weird, but thats it.

Mahonri: could be bigger?

How often have you faced bad weather in your cruising? How bad?  

Ariel: We came down the Columbia, to the Pacific, up to the Straits of Juan de Fuca. Is there any other kind of weather? JK, it was summer, there was some good weather. For real though, the Columbia gets rough!

Mahonri: The worst we hit was up in the [Columbia] Gorge.

What is your most common sail combination on passage?  

Ariel: we usually fussed around between the jib and the genoa, but we were trying this awesome downwind set up that I called butterfly sails and he called twin sails, and then our mainsail tore in half (again) so we had to get a new one because it was super old and just couldn’t be repaired again :(

Mahonri: clubfooted working jib and main

What piece of gear seems to break the most often?  

Ariel: seems to me that its always the damn sail, but its probably something else. We also frequently loose everything out of the kayak by not taking stuff out of it at night.

Mahonri: the mainsail (getting a new one!).

As you started cruising, what transitions did you find the most difficult?

Ariel- there is alot of transition. Taking a kayak to just go for a walk, being in a new town, state, country every week. sometimes we don’t even have phone. things get broken from other boaters wake. It’s like living in a permanent earthquake.

Mahonri- having the lady and the goddamn dog around 24/7.

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

Ariel: we heard this almost mythos surrounding the crossing of the Columbia River Bar, and the idea of crossing it, and sailing NORTH? impossible! but we read and did our own research and realized people are just scared to sail windward and are scared to even go out and try things, and we aren’t like that, so we stopped listening to fearful gossip and tried to tune in to more reliable sources. Up in Puget Sound, and the Straits, it’s the same way. But now we know.

Mahonri: that going north from Astoria to Puget Sound is IMPOSSIBLE!