Arcas at 6 months

Read this interview as originally published on NASailor.
We’ve featured many of the entries in the interesting “Interview with a Cruiser” series, a web project created by Livia Gilstrap to document the experiences of long-term offshore cruisers. At her readers’ request, Livia has started a new site called “Newly Salted” to showcase interviews with cruisers who have gone on shorter journeys or just started their cruise. She invited us to interview ourselves about the six-month cruise we took in 2009. We were honored to participate and decided to publish our answers here as well to give our readers more insight into the sailing history of NASailor’s founders.

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

Beth: I wish that someone had explained the “you can’t rush mother nature” aspect of cruising. Basically, that you have to give up on the idea of scheduling where you are going to be at any given time. Frankly, I don’t know if that’s something you can learn without experiencing it. The first few weeks of our trip were incredibly stressful because we were in too much of a hurry. After trucking Arcas to Florida and fitting her out for our trip, we went for a two-hour sail as our sole break-in before crossing the Gulf Stream the next day. I paid for that stupidity by spending the entire crossing with my head leaning against the dodger, eyes closed, seasick.

Hill: I wish someone had told us, “Don’t go for less than six months.” It takes at least 2-3 months to adjust to the cruising way of life. We planned our trip for six months, but that was just luck on our part.

In your first year of cruising, what transitions did you find the most difficult?

Beth: The transition to being hyper-aware of the weather and environment and understanding what the potential consequences could be for us and the boat.

Hill: Being a full-time mechanic, having to manage all of the systems on the boat, from the battery to the engine, and knowing that there is no safety net out there. I had to understand how everything worked and how it was wired together. On land, you can just call a professional and you don’t have to know exactly what’s wrong. On the sea, you are responsible for diagnosing and fixing many problems. There is no mechanic, except you, at least for the basic stuff.

What mistakes did you make in your first year of cruising?

Beth: Creating a much more ambitious trip plan than we could realistically accomplish, not only because of timing, but also because of what I was ready to take on as a first-time offshore cruiser in a 29-foot boat.
We also underestimated how expensive the Bahamas would be, even though we’d heard that it would be from some of our cruising friends. The food prices there are ridiculous. We should have stocked up on way more food before we left. We thought we bought a lot, but should have bought at least 4x more than we did before leaving.

Otherwise, we did a good job planning the trip. One of the good things about a 29-foot boat is that you don’t have a lot of room for extra stuff. There wasn’t much we brought that we didn’t use, and there wasn’t much that we didn’t have that we wished we had brought. Most of the credit goes to Hill for planning our systems well.

What do you enjoy about cruising that you didn’t expect to enjoy?

Beth: Watching the sun come up on an overnight watch.

I also really loved planning our routes and destinations. Before this trip, I had only sailed in places like Chicago, where there aren’t many harbors to explore, or Maine, where Hill has been sailing since he was a kid. At first I had no idea how to read a chart to figure out what would be a good anchorage or the best way to navigate from point to point. By the time we got to Eleuthera, I was doing 90% of the trip plotting. I still remember the look on Hill’s face the first time I disagreed with him on where we should go next and then pulled out the charts to explain why I thought my option was better!

I’d pass hours looking at the charts and cruising guides to figure out where we were going to go next. That’s one of the best parts of cruising – having time to do whatever you feel like doing. It’s such an incredible luxury.

Hill: Even though it was stressful at times, I enjoyed the responsibility of being the Captain and managing the boat. It would be hard for me to crew on someone else’s boat now.

What do you dislike about cruising that surprised you?

Beth: To directly contradict the above answer…I hate long offshore sails. More than 36 hours and I want to kill myself. They are either boring or scary, and neither is fun.

Also, doing laundry in a bucket. Hate it.

Hill: To also give the flip side of my previous answer, the constant responsibility of being Captain could be tiring. As the more experienced cruiser of the two of us, I was ultimately responsible for the boat and our safety. Although I had cruised before and also led the crew on Arcas during the racing season, it’s not the same as being Captain 24/7. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, but sometimes I just wanted a break.

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

Beth: Sometimes there’s the perception that cruising = roughing it. That’s not necessarily true, even for those who don’t have a ton of money. You just have to make choices and prioritize what’s important. For example, we knew we would be using our computers and listening to a lot of music, and in general we didn’t want to worry about power. So we had four solar panels and four house batteries on our little 29-foot boat. It got us some interesting looks in the harbor, but we never had to run the engine to charge up our batteries.

You do have to make tradeoffs on outfitting your boat, unless you have money to burn, but you don’t have to give up everything.

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

Beth: A bigger boat.

Cruising on a 29-foot boat (especially one designed as a racer-cruiser) can be challenging. Our euphemism was that she was “lively”. Our friends who did a two-year cruise in a heavy offshore boat needed at least 15-20 knots to really move, whereas our boat started to get hard to handle at 20+ knots.

On the other hand, we could outsail almost any cruising boat under 40 feet, and Arcas’ maneuverability did come in handy at times. Docking, anchoring, etc was much easier. When we bought Arcas, it was for cruising and racing in Lake Michigan – we didn’t intend to do an extended cruise on her. But that’s the boat we had. Next time we’ll go in a real offshore cruiser.

Hill: We should have had all-chain anchor rode instead of chain+line. The chain+line combo was a pain in the Exumas because of the current – it would wrap around the boat and we’d have to undo it. The boat also wagged more at anchor. We replaced it with all-chain once we returned to the U.S.

What piece of gear seems to break the most often?

Beth: Everyone seems to have an autopilot story. We had a Simrad and brought along a backup. Ours never broke, but it did have “issues”. We named it Sinbad and our running joke was that Sinbad had a drinking problem that affected his steering ability. If we didn’t’ treat him properly, he’d pay us back by hitting the sauce.

Hill: The alternator broke before we left and we bought another one. We brought the original one as a spare and ended up switching them back out while trying to diagnose an engine problem. This goes back to my earlier comment about having to be the on-board mechanic.

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

Hill: We brought the spinnaker and all it did was take up space in the v-berth. It would have required both of us to be on deck all of the time managing it and we couldn’t have used the autopilot with it. It wasn’t worth bringing.

What are your plans now? If they do not include cruising, tell us why.

Beth: We always planned to do a relatively short sabbatical and then return to “normal” life. Because we are on the younger side (30s) we wanted to come back to continue with our careers and start a family.

When we returned, we moved to a new city, and then a few months later we decided to start an online sailing magazine called North American Sailor. It was the perfect way to combine our career backgrounds with our passion for sailing.

We are already planning to take another long-term cruise after we have a family. But at least once a month we discuss taking off again. Now that we’ve done it once, it won’t take us long to get ready to do it again. The biggest obstacle is the boat…we won’t do another long cruise on Arcas.

In the meantime, we’ve been loaning ourselves out to Hill’s parents, who recently retired, and cruising/racing out of Annapolis.

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

What do you miss the most about cruising?

Beth: Having a bathing suit and shorts being my outfit for the day. I also love sailing into a new harbor – especially if it’s a town that was originally built around a harbor. I love seeing it first from the water just as people did hundreds of years ago. Like Charleston – that’s a city that is so much more spectacular when approached from water, not land.

Hill: Just the lifestyle and being off the grid. Being able to have a lot of free time to read, swim, chill out, fool around with systems. I also miss the dinghy rides…motoring in with a bunch of empty bags and exploring a new town.

Island Bound at 3 months

Read this interview as originally published on Sailing SV Island Bound.
Background: Kevin, along with wife Erin and daughters Hannah (age 8) and Isabel (age 5) are all lifelong boaters, but first began sailing when they purchased and restored a 25 foot sailboat in 2007. They now sail aboard a 28 foot Irwin sloop out of Grand Haven on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. During the summer of 2009, they spent the better part of 3 months and over 1000 nautical miles cruising roundtrip to Lake Huron’s North Channel and nearly every port and island in between. Future cruising ideas include a possible trip out the Erie Canal, down the ICW and into the Bahamas. This interview focuses on their 3 month North Channel cruise experience.

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

That cruising is addictive and the hardest part is returning to port when the cruise is finished. There’s really no easy way to re-adjust to life back on land. The pace, distractions, complexity and consumerism of being a landlubber become much more visible after having cruised for an extended period of time.

2) What transitions did you find the most difficult during your first extended cruise?

Living in a small space with 3 other people with just a fraction of the possessions and “stuff” that we were all accustomed to back at home. While the transition can be difficult, it is not without great reward. Learning to live with less, growing together as a family, and relying on each other for companionship and our individual strengths are some of the priceless gems of cruising.

3) What mistakes did you make on your first extended cruise?

We wished we had stayed longer in certain anchorages, but felt pressure to move on to see the next great place. In retrospect, slowing down and cruising at your own pace are what it’s all about. Though the North Channel is uniquely stunning, the most beautiful part of the cruise was seeing our family work together to meet the challenge of moving a small boat a very long distance.

4) What is one piece of gear/equipment you have onboard that you couldn’t do without?

Easy answer…our autopilot! We simply can’t imagine putting any serious miles beneath the keel without the help of a good, reliable autopilot. The autopilot (or any self-steering device) not only prevents fatigue but also allows you to do other things while you’re on passage such as cooking, cleaning, repairs, etc. as long as you keep a vigilant eye on your surroundings and position. If money weren’t a factor or if we were on even longer ocean passages, we’d also install wind vane steering to supplement the autopilot and save on battery usage. You can see our Autohelm ST1000 in action in this earlier blog post from the cruise. Additionally, we really enjoyed having a hammock onboard for lazy afternoons on the hook and a small 2-gallon shop vac for easy clean-up on those rare days when we had shorepower.

5) What is one piece of gear/equipment you wish you had onboard?

A bigger solar panel. We carry two very small (2 watt each) trickle-charge solar panels, but they don’t do much. It would be really nice to harvest enough solar energy from the sun to keep our little Norcold refrigerator going instead of relying on block ice. A small (perhaps foldable) bicycle would also be a nice addition for those occasional long treks for provisions while in port.

6) What do you enjoy about cruising that you didn't expect to enjoy?

The food! I was pleasantly surprised that we were usually able to make healthy and delicious meals while cruising. Some of our favorites included fresh caught walleye encrusted with Frosted Flakes cereal, freshly picked wild blueberries in blueberry pancakes, and banana and nut oatmeal. Prior to cruising, I expected that we’d be eating a lot of mac and cheese, ramen noodles and peanut butter sandwiches, but I’m happy to report we mostly avoided those. All in all, cruising seems to keep you healthy because you tend to eat smaller meals (small galley = small meals) and stay active trimming sails, washing the boat, paddling to shore, hiking to the store, etc.

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

We thought we’d find lots of other cruising boats with kids onboard, but after nearly 3 months we hardly ever crossed paths with any other cruising kids. This may or may not be something specific to the Great Lakes, but we fully expected that our two daughters would make lots of new friends. Fortunately, they had a great time being each other’s own best friend. They weren’t bored by any stretch, but I’m sure more kids would have made the cruise that much more enjoyable for them.

8) What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you found particularly accurate?

We had always been told and read how friendly and helpful the cruising community is and are happy to say that our experience backs this up. For example, the crews of the other boats in the many anchorages we stayed in were always stopping by in their dinghies to welcome us and share tips on the current anchorage and suggestions for the next anchorage. Cruisers are a very self-sufficient lot, but that’s not to say they don’t enjoy community and socializing with other cruisers.

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

We have a relatively small boat for a crew of four and therefore spent a lot of pre-cruise time planning what we should take and where we would store it so there really wasn’t anything onboard that we’d leave behind next time. In fact, we’ll probably take more the next time we go. There are pieces of safety gear (climbing harness for mast climbing) and electronic gadgets (WindMate anemometer) that rarely were used, but we’d still bring them along again either because they are essential for safety and/or repairs or simply small enough, in the case of the WindMate, that they didn’t take up unnecessary space.

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

We always find it interesting to hear how people are able to afford to cruise, both from a temporal and financial perspective. In our case, we have a very modest paid-for boat and only cruised as long as we were able to be away from shore. Erin is a schoolteacher so naturally she can be away from her job for three months in the summer. Kevin is fortunate enough to have a part-time position that allows him to telecommute during a cruise. This of course meant we had to bring along a laptop and printer and find reliable WiFi signals on a regular basis, but it worked out and allowed us to cruise for a summer. If cruising is a priority, you’ll find a way to make it work. There’s definitely trade-offs to cruising, like missing your family back at home, but we’ve the rewards found across large stretches of blue water are not to be missed.

Siempre Sabado at 6 months

We are Stephen and Lulu Yoder. We sail a 1976 Westsail 28 which we've named Siempre Sabado ("Always Saturday" in Spanish) to celebrate what was our favorite day of the week during the years that we had to work for a living. We are now retired and can do pretty much whatever we want each day, just like we used to on Saturdays. Our hailing port is Silverton, Oregon, USA although there are no navigable waters anywhere close to Silverton. It's more an homage to the place we lived, worked, and raised our children for 25 years. A nice little town. We have only just started our cruising life, having only been away from our former home port of Newport, Oregon since Late July, 2010. Since then we have cruised down the coasts of Oregon and California and the Pacific coast of Baja California. We are currently anchored in La Paz, BCS, Mexico. Please feel free to follow our blog which also lists our email address. We welcome e-mails as well as comments (using the "comments" feature on the blog).

Rather than collaborate on answering these questions, we have decided to answer them independently and then post both answers.

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

Stephen: I wouldn't put off the start of a cruise to get it but I'm wishing now that I had a wind generator to supplement our solar cells. Unless you have a really good way of pointing your solar panels at the sun, at the right angle and can adjust it many times a day, you just can't get what they're capable of putting out. And, at anchor, since the boat keeps swinging around, keeping the panels oriented for the best return all the time is pretty much impossible. On the other hand, the wind does seem to blow a lot.

Lulu: Not Me... I'm very happy with our boat as is. Of course I'm not the one that knows about all of the stuff that's available. Maybe that's good.

2.) What do you miss about living on land?

Lulu: Summer in the Silverton Hills, spending my days outside in the yard and surrounding woods.

Stephen: Nothing really. Oh, maybe my woodworking tools and my shop once in awhile, but only so I can make stuff for the boat. Granted, it's only been 6 months but I honestly don't really miss anything about living on land.

3.) In your first year of cruising, what transitions did you find the most difficult?

Stephen: Before we actually started our cruise, we lived on the boat, without a car, for a year. Basically cruising without going anywhere (some would argue we've been in La Paz long enough to qualify for that description again). The hardest transition during the living aboard time and the actual cruising time was pretty much the same: Our living space shrunk from 5 acres to 28'. Huge transition and difficult although we try to keep it as easy as we can by trying to keep each others' needs in mind. The other tough transition is getting used to how long it takes to get the most mundane things done. Grocery shopping that used to take us a couple hours (including driving to the store and back home again) now takes all day. And we still have to go back the next day to get the stuff we couldn't carry the first day. And, since we've been in Mexico, there's also the difficulty of just finding what you're looking for and not being sure whether or not it even exists here.

Lulu: Being anxious a lot. Not scared so much as not having the experience to know what is likely to happen in many circumstances and therefore being anxious in anticipation.

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

Lulu: We didn't have much... A 2 week trip on a friends boat and bringing our own boat from Anacortes, WA to Newport ,OR. It wasn't a lot but it was enough to keep it from being a scary "unknown". 

Stephen: Basically, we didn't. Okay, that's not entirely true. We went on a trip with friends, on their sailboat, from Astoria, Oregon to Barkley Sound, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. That was pretty much it. After that, we brought Siempre Sabado down the coast from Anacortes, Washington where we purchased her, to Newport, Oregon where we home-ported her. The ocean portion of that trip took two and a half days of round-the-clock motoring. We didn't feel confident enough yet to sail the boat at that point. We lucked out and had a reasonably easy time of it, aside from the multitude of fuel filter changes that had to be made. Saltier folks than us (it didn't take much to qualify) kept trying to get us to do a shakedown cruise before we left Newport. Just head straight out into the Pacific for 3 days and then sail back to get an idea of what works, what doesn't and how we and the boat would handle stuff. But I always figured that, if I was sailing for 6 days, I certainly didn't want to end up back in Newport. I'd rather gain 6 days of southing. And what's the difference what port you pull back into if the boat is everything you have? Also, in hindsight, I'm afraid that if we had done a shakedown as recommended, and had the kind of weather we experienced when we finally left Newport, we may not have continued on with our cruising plans.

5.) How would you recommend that someone prepares to cruise?

Stephen: I can only tell you what worked well for us, and it was more of an accident than a plan. We had originally intended to leave Newport in 2009. However, as our departure date neared we still had a lot of items on our to-do list in spite of working 12-hour days to try to get everything done. Also, doing all the stuff on the list had pretty much depleted our savings. So, we decided to winter over in Newport, get the rest of the list done at a more reasonable pace and save some money. The upshot of this was that we got to get used to living on a 28' sailboat, in usually-crappy weather, without a car. But also without the added stress of big seas, round-the-clock watches, and new places. Consequently, by the time we actually took off, living on the boat and living without a car were just what we did. No big deal. This made it much easier to deal with all the new stressors that actually untying the dock lines brought forth.

Lulu: Just decide what steps you need to take and get started. Stephen really did all of the planning and I helped with the actual projects.

6.) Tell me your favorite thing about your boat.

Lulu: I feel safe and cozy at anchor and cruising.

Stephen: You mean besides the fact that she's the prettiest, saltiest looking thing in the harbor? My favorite thing about Siempre Sabado is that she's a Westsail with all that includes. The most important thing it includes is the amazing feeling of safety she gives us. We got tossed around a lot in Oregon and Northern California. It was very uncomfortable, But neither of us were ever scared that the boat couldn't handle it. We've talked about it so this is not just me putting words in Lulu's mouth. We had complete confidence in the boat to get us there safely. She's also small enough that you don't have to be worried about being tossed across the cabin in rough seas. You just can't get tossed very far.

7.) Tell me the least favorite thing about your boat.

Stephen: She's so SMALL! It would really be nice to have enough room to entertain another couple comfortably, or have the occasional overnight guest, or just to have enough room so that both of us could be doing something that requires moving around the cabin at the same time. And, of course, who couldn't use more storage? At this point in our cruising/liveaboard life, I can't think of much of anything else I'd want to store, even if we had a bigger boat. I'd just like to be able to store what we have in a more organized manner.

Lulu: Not enough room to accommodate family for more than a day sail. We used to have lots of room for visitors and I miss that.

8.) What did you do to make your dream a reality?

Lulu: Stephen has been reading about and planning this for years and has acted financially towards making this work for us. Once that was in order we just had to accept parting with all of our stuff and did all of the many things that that entails.

Stephen: We stayed out of debt as much as possible so we could save the money to buy our boat outright rather than finance it. Of course, this is why we ended up with a smaller boat, because it's what we could afford. Aside from that we both stuck with our jobs over the long haul so we could qualify for retirement and then cut out as many expenses as possible (sold our house, cars, no storage unit, etc.) so that our retirement income would be able to meet our expenses. I guess we basically burned our bridges so we didn't have much choice except to turn the dream into reality.

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

Stephen: Heavily-built for that safe, secure feeling. I would look for a larger boat, but not much larger. Maybe 32 to 34 feet, no larger. A pilothouse would really be nice a lot of the time. An actual u-shaped galley area. Simple electrical/plumbing/navigation/communication infrastructure. I like the simplicity, room, design and overall class of a Westsail 32. Since they don't come with pilot houses, I'd want a very strong removable canvas enclosure for the cockpit area. And, although not my first choices, I certainly wouldn't turn down a Fisher 34 or a Gulf 32 (though I'm partial to double-enders). For me, it's about safety, security, livability and aesthetics. How fast it sails or how high it points are secondary. That's why they make diesel engines. Oh yeah, and access to the engine without infringing on the living area. Kudos go, once again, to Westsail.

Lulu: Once again, Stephen is the one who has studied all of the choices and particulars. I feel like he did a great job. Siempre Sabado is small but very well equipped and comfortable for us. 

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

Lulu: What is the most difficult aspect of the cruising lifestyle? It's hard to get used to being such a rookie. In my former life I had become pretty good at most of the things I needed to do. As a cruiser I have a lot to learn and I'm not real good at some of the new things I'm learning to do, yet.

Stephen: If you had it to do over again, would you? In a heartbeat! So far, there's really nothing about this lifestyle that I don't like. Sure, there are uncomfortable (sometimes VERY uncomfortable) passages, but there are also really nice magical passages. I've liked pretty much everywhere we've been so far, at least for awhile. Now that we're finally in the warm weather we were seeking, every day is so sweet, even the days that all we do is go get groceries and mule them back to the boat. I feel healthier, I've lost weight, I'm more relaxed, and I have more fun, more often. Yes, we're still novices, mere beginners. Will I be singing a different tune in a year or two? Who knows? But I kinda doubt it.
Posted on Tuesday, January 25, 2011 by  and tagged   |  

Estrellita 5.10b at 2 months

Read this interview as originally published on The Giddyup Plan.
Carol & Livia cruise aboard their Wauquiez Pretorien 35, SV Estrellita 5.10b hailing from Victoria, BC, Canada. They are spending their first year of cruising in British Columbia and plan to head South this summer.

The snapshots idea is that periodically over time we answer the same 9 questions and in the comment section readers can each ask us their own 10th questions. Two people with only two months of experience cruising.

We answered these independently and resisted the urge to change our answers after reading each other's. It was fun to see how the answers were sometimes identical and sometimes very different.

What do you love? Feeling like an intrepid explorer.
What do you dislike? Sails flapping on a no wind day and inflating/deflating kayaks and dinghy.
What do you worry about? Major things breaking.
What are you looking forward to? The unknown, the unexpected stuff.
Favorite place recently was the Bunsby Islands - specifically Scow Bay. Very peaceful.
Least favorite place recently was Nuchatlitz Marine Park. Not a good place to go after the Bunsby's.
A lesson learned is that guidebooks are great and useful and I wouldn't go without one but they can stop you from exploring. We stayed overnight at a few places that the book warned against staying overnight (probably covering their ass) but the conditions were right and we were fine.
Best gear award goes to...our electric system. It's the combination that makes it perfect - the batteries with the inverter etc.
Worst gear award goes to...the Ronstan snatchblock. It rusted and cracked with barely any usage.

What do you love? What I will be doing on any given day is based on my own whimsy and on the state of mother nature. On the one hand, the weather dominates our daily life. On the other hand, my life is completely free to direct as I will.
What do you dislike? "Bing Bong Bang" (the boat in no wind and a good swell) and inflating and deflating the dinghy/kayak.
What do you worry about? Dropping out of the social grid. Leaving old friends. Making new friends that I will soon leave.
What are you looking forward to? In the near future, seeing my family and spending part of the winter docked in cities in Washington I know well but haven't visited by boat. In the far future, snorkeling in warm water.
Favorite place recently is a tie between the quiet swimming holes at Mary's Basin and the busy but delicious Hot Springs Cove.
Least favorite place recently was Port Hardy.
A lesson learned is that because we were always sailing in busy places (e.g., the Gulf Islands) I thought I wanted isolation but now I realize that what I really want is something more like 40% just us, 40% anchorages with other fun boaters/paddlers, 20% towns.
Best gear award goes to...our solar panels...and our SSB.
Worst gear award goes to...our expensive snatch block which we bought for our preventer set up and which rusted and cracked in less than a year.

((Anyone a fan of the 7/14/21/etc up series? Or that movie by the Russian (?) director (Title: Anna?) in which he asks his daughter the same questions every few years? These snapshots are inspired by both plus my general interest in growth and development. ))
Posted on Friday, January 21, 2011 by  and tagged   |  

Windtraveler at 3 months

Read this interview as originally published on Windtraveler.
Us, the very day we left Chicago!  Taken by our good friend, Les.
We are about three months into our journey.  I cannot even believe how far we have come!  We have come over 2,500 nautical miles, traveled through 11 states, endured all sorts of mishaps and adventures, met some incredible people and had the best time.  In a lot of ways it feels like we've been gone longer than three months - and in some ways it feels like we just left yesterday.

I got the idea for this post from Livia of s/v Estrellita who also happens to be the author of the super cool Interview With A Cruiser Project .  She granted us permission and encouraged us to use questions from their 'question bank'.  So with no further ado - here's our little version of he said/she said - cruising style - in ten questions.  Keep in mind we are only three months in - so these answers should be taken with the understanding that we are still "newbies".

What is the biggest lesson you have learned so far?
Brittany:  That your imagination is much worse than the reality. That, and the fact that we selected a FANTASTIC, dare I say, "kick ass" cruising boat.
Scott: As of yet, cruising doesn't offer as much "free time"... or "down time" as you'd expect.

What is your favorite part about cruising?
Brittany:  Living freely, traveling in your home, seeing new places, meeting new people.  There is nothing that compares to traveling to a place by boat.  Somehow it's just 'different'.  I love it.
Scott:  After hoisting the sails, the moment you turn off the engine... as well as the moment you turn off the engine after dropping anchor in a calm anchorage at sunset. [Editor note:  true dat!]

What is your least favorite part about cruising?
Brittany: The fact that everything (even tiny things like making a cup of tea) require 10X more effort than they do on land. But you just learn to live with it.  I hate doing dishes the most.  Dish washing is the current bane of my existence.  I have mastered dirtying as few dishes as possible and pretty much don't cook if it requires more than one pot.
Scott: All the motoring that's been necessary through all of the canals and ICW.  As we head out to the Caribbean after the new year, I'm really looking forward to having the canvas up more and letting the horses rest.

What is something potential cruisers worry about that they shouldn't?  And something they don't worry about that they should?
Brittany:  I would say people worry about the basics like, "how do you shower? how do you eat? what will I pack?" - all this is really minor stuff that requires nothing more than some adaptation and a little homework.  More people should worry about whether or not they are willing to do this 'adapting'.  An "endless vacation" this is not, but a bad day on the water still beats a bad day on land!
Scott: Brittany will tell you, I do not believe in worry.  My favorite Zen proverb is... If the problem has a solution, worrying is pointless, in the end the problem will be solved. If the problem has no solution, there is no reason to worry, because it can't be solved." That being said... stop worrying and just go! [Editor note:  Yes.  This is 100% true.  I am slowly getting there.]

What was the biggest mistake you have made?
Brittany:  We've made lots of little mistakes, but the biggest is probably when we went outside a channel marker and hit a rock.  That sucked.
Scott: Actually, that was my mistake... not "we."  The other was when I put out a fishing lure to troll for lunch and forgot that it was there.  Then we came in to get fuel and had to do a few circles to wait for a boat to leave the fuel dock and proceeded to wrap the fishing line all around the prop.  This was probably the 4th time I had to put on the wetsuit to dive under the boat.  The others being... retrieving my cell phone I dropped in the water at the dock in Michigan, checking the prop shaft for what might have been causing the noise that we were hearing in the transmission, and checking the keel for damage after I hit the rock.

What is the most important attribute for successful cruising?
Brittany: Open mind, no agenda, realistic expectations, ability and willingness to adapt.  Oh - and you should probably like sailing.
Scott: Not having inflated expectations.  With anything, when you expect to much, your chances of being disappointed are much higher.  We both looked forward to everything that cruising had to offer - including the ups and the downs.

What do you miss about living on land?
Brittany:  Not much!  Bikram yoga, unlimited water for showers/dishes, and access to free laundry.  That's about it (besides friends and family, of course!).
Scott: I've gotta admit, every time I pull out the credit card, I miss having an income.  Don't get me wrong, as much as I miss all of you at SweatVac, I don't miss sitting in front of a computer and phone all day.

How would you recommend someone prepare to cruise?
Brittany:  Read as much as you can in books and forums (and learn to take some advice with a grain of salt - otherwise you'll never leave) and do as much of the work on your boat that you can - you will learn, pun intended, a 'boat load'.  As first time boat owners and cruisers we didn't feel super 'prepared' when we left, per se - but we have learned that we were actually very prepared and know a lot more than we thought!  Also - SAIL!  Both of us raced for years and found this taught us a lot of the basics.  Though racing on a boat and owning a boat are HUGELY different.
Scott: Don't get attached to your "stuff."  Garbage bags and dumpsters... and craigslist... are your friends. Get rid of it!

When you are offshore, what keeps you awake at night?
Brittany: Gear failure.  Period.
Scott: That mysterious ticking noise.

Is cruising as good or better than you imagined?
Brittany:  Better.  I already have no idea how we're going to go back to "land life"!  Out here, away from the constraints of 'society', anything seems possible and that is a pretty incredible place to be.
Scott: As good and better and it get's better every day as we gain more experience and confidence with our abilities and our boat.
Posted on Thursday, January 20, 2011 by  and tagged   |  

Zero To Cruising at 5 months

You can read more about how Mike & Rebecca went from “zero” to “cruising” on their website.
ztc Mike and Rebecca Sweeney began cruising 5 months prior to this interview aboard Zero To Cruising, a PDQ 32 Altair Classic sailing catamaran hailing from Kingston, Ontario, Canada. They left Lake Ontario heading south via the Erie Canal and ICW and are currently in the Exumas.

What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?
This is a bit of a funny question because only just recently, after making our way into what we think was a very sketchy entrance channel (Bimini) and anchoring in a crazy cay with a ton of current, we had someone tell us the next day how we need to be careful with both of those places. I jokingly said that she needed to be a bit more timely with her info.

The real answer to the question though is nothing. Prior to heading out, we researched the hell out of what we were getting ourselves involved with and because we were posting on our blog about this process almost daily, we received a ton of useful info, both from newbies like us and others who had already been there/done that. If that wasn't enough, we were "adopted" by a cruising couple now in Grenada and via email correspondence with them, have received a virtual university degree on the cruising lifestyle. Now of course, much like a university degree, everything we learned before heading out is just theory. Now we're getting the practical experience to go with it, but all of this help has, in our eyes, prepared us well.

In your first year of cruising, what transitions did you find the most difficult?
Leaving behind careers that involved daily sports and exercise (we owned and operated a martial arts gym), the hardest transition for us has been to not have that same physical outlet while on our boat. Although an issue for both of us, this has been a source of almost daily stress for Rebecca who was, in our land-based life, used to working out 3-4 hours per day. Being the self-motivated person that she is, she has really been working at finding a variety of alternatives to fulfill this need, while having fun at the same time. In fact, she has only just started blogging about this process to share with those who are interested in the subject. You can read about it on her site.

What mistakes did you make in your first year of cruising?
A better question would be "what mistakes didn't we make?" For example, not more than one hour ago, after being cooped up on our boat for a day and a half, riding out a strong weather front blowing through here, we got a bit stir crazy and decided to take our dinghy to shore to go for a walk. You know when the weather guys say that there is a "small craft advisory" in effect and that small vessels should stay in port, they mean dinghies too! We got totally blasted out there and we weren't even smart enough to have our PFDs on! Fifteen minutes later, we were back on our boat, soaking wet. That is just the most recent example. There are hundreds of others, I'm sure. Fortunately, none have been catastrophic or resulted in big injuries and/or super-expensive repairs. I honestly think this is just the process everyone needs to go through. Like my university example above, reading about something is one thing. You really need to fall on your face sometimes to drive the point home.

What do you enjoy about cruising that you didn't expect to enjoy?
This was a hard one to answer. I might get myself in trouble by saying this but in some cases, when troubleshooting a problem, building or repairing something, when it all comes together, there is a real satisfaction to it. This is not to say that before it comes together, I don't do my share of bitching and complaining, but standing over the finished work with a cold beer is really enjoyable. Of course, if we were to skip the work part and go straight to the beer, we might find that just as enjoyable too. Who knows?

What do you dislike about cruising that surprised you?
Having lived aboard our boat for a year before heading out, we were pretty much dialed into that aspect of the lifestyle. So because of this, I was already very aware of one of my pet peeves of boat living, that being the mess that is created every time a project needs to be done or some item needs to be dug out of a locker. This is just what happens when you have every object that you own stored in small lockers, one on top of another.

Since heading out cruising, although Rebecca appears immune, I have found that I get a bit seasick in rough weather. It has not been so bad that I have thrown up while underway (yet) but it does limit me from reading or doing much work down below. I'm not too pleased with that of course.

What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you didn't find to be true?
This is no doubt due to the fact that we headed south very early in the season, quite a bit before most snowbirds would be on their way, but we had heard over and over how we would meet a ton of people while on the waterway. On the contrary, we met hardly anyone until after we made it into the Dismal Swamp portion of the ICW. Being very social people who enjoy hanging out with others, this was a bit disappointing for us. Now that the other cruisers have caught up to us though, that problem has disappeared.

What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you found particularly accurate?
Let's start with these:
1. Weather reports (wind and wave estimates) are never right. Double them!
2. The wind is always on the nose. Always!
3. Stuff always breaks. Always!
4. You will spend lots of money dealing with number 3 above. LOTS!
5. Cruisers in general are very helpful and generous. VERY!

Is there something you wish you had bought or installed before starting cruising?
No, not really. We opted to wait to acquire/install a few things until we made it to the United States because we believed (accurately) that it would be cheaper to do so. For example, we wanted to acquire a Honda 2000 generator and arranged to have it waiting for us as soon as we crossed the border into the US. We also planned to install additional solar panels and waited until we were in Florida to do so.

What piece(s) of gear would you leave on the dock next time? Why?   
The only thing we can thing of for this question is the PVC soft-bottomed dinghy and small outboard engine that we left Canada with. Although fine for coastal cruising in the lakes, etc, we decided that they wouldn't cut it in the Caribbean and we subsequently replaced both of them. We picked up a small used Hypalon RIB to replace the dinghy and days before leaving the US, purchased a new Yamaha 9.9 HP 2-stroke engine (that was our Christmas present to one another). The dinghy/outboard is a crucial piece of gear for cruisers. It is more than just your means of access to the shore (the family car). It is really a lifeline of sorts and having to rely upon a crappy or underpowered one is really a safety issue in our opinion.

As an adjunct to this question, what pieces of gear are we happy to have brought with us? At the top of the list is the upgraded ground tackle and windlass that we purchased. Our Rocna anchor and 100 feet of 5/16" chain allow us to anchor and sleep soundly virtually anywhere. We have never dragged (knock on wood) and the anchor sets instantly every time! Although we resisted installing an electric windlass, trying to keep our systems as simple as possible, we are now eternally grateful that we took the plunge and installed one (a Lewmar ProFish 1000). It makes deploying and retrieving that anchor and chain a non issue for us.

There are countless other things that make our boat work for us. The only way to really know what will work and what doesn't is to be out there on your boat, living and cruising on it.

What are your plans now? If they do not include cruising, tell us why.
To head south! Seriously, that has always been our answer. We barely know what we are going to do tomorrow so planning much beyond that doesn't work too well for us. Our longest term objective is that we plan to spend Hurricane season 2011 in Grenada. Where we go between here and there, we can't say. We do have some friends who will be heading south shortly from the US and it would be nice if they could catch up to us. For this reason, and the fact that we want to take the time to explore the areas we're sailing in as opposed to just rushing past them, we'll be taking our time moving on from here.

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

Where did you get the idea that you wanted to go cruising?

You may have heard the warnings about drinking alcohol while sitting in a hot tub/jacuzzi. This is why. After one too many glasses of wine in our hot tub one night, Rebecca and I decided that we were just going to do it. "Doing it" entailed selling everything that we owned including our house and business and just heading off cruising. A big stumbling block to this plan was that neither of us had ever had any real sailing experience. This is where the name Zero To Cruising actually came from, Zero meaning zero experience. On that same night in question, we decided that it would be fun to document this process and came up with that name and registered the URL for the website. The rest is pretty much history, or at the least, published on the web for anyone to read. We suggest doing so with some wine in a hot tub. Just don't drop the laptop in the water. :)

Newly Salted

The first interview will go live this Wednesday, January 19th, 2011. Please make yourself at home and learn about this site with the navigation buttons up top. Or more importantly suggest interviewees or volunteer to be interviewed.

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Posted on Thursday, January 13, 2011 by  and tagged   |