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.