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. :)