25 September 2017

10 Questions for Amarula

Eric (Captain - Australia) and Lynne (First Mate - England/Australia) began cruising in 2002 aboard Amarula, a 60' Crowther Catamaran hailing from Gibraltar that they build themselves.

They left Australia, cruising across the Indian Ocean to Tanzania. They stayed in Tanzania for 5 years doing charters and running a business. They visited countries along the African coast during that time. They left Tanzania for South Africa, eventually crossing the Atlantic to Brazil. They spent the next 4 years cruising up and down the Eastern Caribbean before sailing through Bonaire and Curacoa, and Columbia to Panama. After transiting the Panama Canal, they spent last season cruising across the Pacific to Fiji where they are currently.

They say: "We met in Dar es Salaam in 1993 where Eric was operating his prawn trawler (designed, built and owner operated) and Lynne went to teach at the International School of Tanganyika. Eric's dream had always been to build a yacht and sail around the world, to which Lynne responded "I'll be your crew!

We built our catamaran and launched her in July 2001 on the Clarence River, NSW, Australia. After a shake down cruise to Sydney for New Year & the fireworks, we set sail from Yamba, NSW in April 2002 around to Darwin, from where we began our circumnavigation in May 2002. We are still - very slowly - making our way around the world!"

You can learn more about their cruise on their website.

Having cruised both the Atlantic and the Pacific, how do they compare? 

We have cruised the Indian Ocean, the Atlantic and the Pacific. There is little comparison for me (Lynne), as the Indian Ocean was my first experience of an ocean crossing back in 2002. There were 5 of us onboard and we took 2 months from Darwin to Dar es Salaam, with a few short stops en route at Cocos Keeling, Chagos and Seychelles. We were on a mission to get back to Dar es Salaam, where we already had a few charter bookings lined up. But I LOVED being out on the open ocean, especially at night on my own in the wheelhouse or sitting out on deck enjoying the moon and the stars and complete serenity. We were fortunate with the weather! In fact, we motored miles north of our rhumbline looking for wind and at times just enjoyed floating at sea, swimming in the middle of the ocean thousands of miles away from anywhere.

We crossed the Atlantic from Walvis Bay, Namibia to Cabadelo, Brazil via a 6 day stopover in St. Helena in February/ March 2012. This time our only crew was our 2 Jack Russells, who did extremely well on their first ocean passage. We generally had reasonable winds and enjoyed a mostly downwind sail, thankfully avoiding the doldrums that a number of our fellow passage-makers 100 or so miles north of us lamented about daily on the morning radio net. We easily got into the groove of the passage and had no major dramas, but boy oh boy were the dogs happy when we finally made landfall in Brazil after 28 days at sea!

Meanwhile our Pacific crossing was easily the most challenging, perhaps because it is the most recent of our ocean crossings. We had an extra crew member, which especially helped with the night watches, but the first part of the sail towards the equator and the Galapagos was painfully slow. The grib files showed wind to the south of us and every time we started sailing towards it, it shifted further south. Remembering our Indian Ocean passage and the many hours of motoring, still failing to find the elusive wind, we spent some days just drifting and playing water frisbee with the dogs! As we struggled with either no wind or heavy squalls we were receiving emails from friends less than 100 miles south of us who were having a fantastic sail averaging 7 knots! Unfortunately, when we finally did get some wind the mainsheet block failed through crevice corrosion resulting in a ripped mainsail, then a few days later the block on our spinnaker snapped and our brand new spinnaker came tumbling down. This left us down to our 2 trusty headsails and we still had over 2000 miles to sail...... Add to this an almost complete lack of fish (4 in total in a 5 week passage!) and I can safely say we were all ready to set foot on land in the Marquesas!

Another thing we have noticed in the Pacific is that the weather forecasts have been invariably wrong and the winds have almost always been stronger than predicted, often from a completely different direction (see the answer below on danger)

Share a piece of cruising etiquette    

Maintain a good look out at all times and keep your radio on. Be ready to assist fellow cruisers and seafarers. We often came across fishermen as we cruised the Tanzania coastline who needed some kind of assistance, such as a tow due to broken outboard motors etc. On one occasion when we were heading to southern Tanzania for a bathymetric survey to study the reefs around Songo Songo island as part of the environmental impact study for the gas pipeline project, we stopped at Okuza island for a walk. We came across a huddled group of fishermen whose livelihood was catching and drying octopus. We soon discovered that they were stranded without water, as their supply boat hadn't shown up. As we had a watermaker onboard we offered to fill some jerry cans for them and immediately they came running over with at least 20x20 litre drums! We gave them over 200 litres of water and took one of them to the next island south where he was able to get further assistance. More recently, here in Fiji, a cruiser had run onto a reef and put out a Mayday call. We were about 5NM away at the time and changed course so we could assist.

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

Because we built our catamaran for chartering we were talked into installing a dishwasher and a bar fridge, neither of which we ever used, so they became storage areas and we eventually gave them away in Africa and built in some large storage drawers instead. When we had a charter and wanted cold drinks we kept them in a cooler box on deck with ice blocks which we rotated from our freezer. As we had been based for a number of years in Tanzania prior to building the boat, we built Amarula as a stand-alone operation to operate as a charter vessel.

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

Eric: Max. 45'. Priority of importance: 2 oversize anchors with minimum 100 metres chain and good anchor winch plus extra rode, robust auto helm, fish finder with portable hand-held depth sounder (Hondex PS-7), plenty of solar and wind to run large fridge/ freezer, good sail wardrobe (including headsail, staysail, mainsail, code zero/ spinnaker), enclosed cockpit/ wheelhouse for comfortable cruising in all weather, good stowage, Hard bottom dinghy with mimimum 9.8HP for river and reef exploration trips.

What type of watch schedule do you normally use while offshore? 

With just 2 of us we tend to do 3 - 4 hour watches usually starting around 1900 - 2300 (Lynne), 2300 - 0300 (Eric), 0300 - 0600 (Lynne), 0600 ~ (Eric). On the few occasions where we have had extra crew on long passages we do 3 hour watches.

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

On passage we have generally picked our weather windows well and been fortunate to have some excellent downwind runs. On a couple of occasions we have run into unpleasant squalls of 40+ knots or so. For example, despite all the forecasts showing light winds from the NW we hit 40 knot squalls from the SE when we were heading from the Marquesas to the Tuamotus in French Polynesia and had to heave to for a few hours - our first time ever. Back in 2002 we did a marine research charter to Aldabra and Cosmoledo islands in the Seychelles and we found ourselves sailing/ motoring head on into the first named cyclone to form above 10 degrees south and we took a battering. Unfortunately, we didn't have the luxury of being in a position to plan this passage, as this was a commercial charter that we had committed to. It also demonstrates the importance of timing your passages.

As for other kinds of dangers, when we were at anchor in Taganga Bay, Colombia, in November 2015, we were unfortunately boarded by armed pirates and robbed at gun & knife point. Meanwhile, we spent many years cruising up and down the coast of East Africa without any unpleasant incidents and in fact we had some of our most memorable experiences in that region.

How much does cruising cost?    

Again, this is a question that every cruiser would have a different answer for. Some people do it on an absolute shoe string budget never eating or drinking ashore at bars and restaurants, never taking tours or hiring cars or staying in marinas, others go all out and use cruising as a way to travel from country to country and base there, then experience just about everything that country has to offer including staying in marinas, going on shore based excursions etc. When we closed off our business in Tanzania and set off cruising we had a very healthy stock market portfolio and felt ready to take on the world and see and experience each new country to the max. In our first couple of years cruising during the GFC, we lost a huge portion of our portfolio and have been shoestring cruisers ever since! However we have had many incredible experiences and have met some fantastic people.

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

Go with the wind. Relax and enjoy, rather than try to rush to meet schedules and be prepared to change your plans. We also really enjoy exploring anchorages off the beaten track and especially meeting and getting to know local people.

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

There are so many reasons. Probably the most common being age/ health/ mobility issues, finances, time for a new challenge, end of a circumnavigation and grandchildren coming along! One thing we have noticed is that many cruisers go on to become land cruisers. Perhaps we will in the not too distant future...... But one idea that we are tossing around, now that we're almost done with cruising and much closer to home is to offer 'educational retreats' onboard for wannabe/ soon to be offshore cruisers - a kind of 'try before you buy' situation where people can come and test out the lifestyle, ask questions, learn the ropes so to speak - we'd love to hear from anyone who may be keen to try something like this and we can be contacted via our website.

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

Eric: Would you circumnavigate again? Yes!

Lynne: Would you like to continue living this lifestyle? Absolutely! 

18 September 2017

10 Questions for Blowin Bubbles

Kyle and Shelley Benger left Canada on Canada Day (July 1) 2014 aboard SV Blowin Bubbles a 45' Dufour CT12000 hailing from Hamilton, ON, Canada.

They left Lake Ontario via the Erie Canal and entered the Atlantic Ocean at New York City. They then sailed down the eastern USA to Cuba, and then the Caribbean. They traversed the Panama Canal in February 2016 and are currently in Fiji.

You can read more about their cruise on their blog and about the educational charity they run while they are cruising on this site.

Tell me your favorite thing and your least favorite thing about your boat

Kyle: The best - The sturdiness of it. I believe we would give up long before the boat would. And it is paid for!   The least - 30 year old boat so constantly something to fix.

Shelley: Pilothouse ketch design, can stay dry and helm from inside if needed and the sails are small enough for me to handle on my own. The least - is that the paint and engine are getting old - that means money output.

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

Kyle: A windvane but it was just too expensive and complicated given the design of our boat.

Shelley: We completely refit the boat for two years before leaving so all my wishes were granted. The only thing I can think of is the Toughbook computers we now use. We broke a couple laptops before realizing these were a way better option.

What do you dislike about cruising that surprised you?

Kyle: People anchoring too close. It is like the store parking lots at home, you purposely park way away and walk and come back and someone is right beside you.

Shelley: What I call "Grotty Yachties". Everyone warned about locals in certain places but they did not warn you that a lot of theft comes from sailors who "shop" at your boat.

Finish this sentence. "Generally when I am provisioning..."

Kyle: That is Shelley's job.

Shelley: I feel like I can find everything I need. And am always interested to try local foods.

Share a piece of cruising etiquette

Kyle: Be respectful with your dingy around other boats. They make wakes too. Someone in the boat you are making jump around might be cooking with hot oil or down working in the engine compartment uncomfortably already.

Shelley: Leave a long painter on your dingy at dingy docks and NEVER side tide to the dingy dock.

Both of us: Learn flag etiquette It is really rude to fly a giant pirate, state or country flag of your own above the flag of the host country you are in

In your experience how often do you think cruisers spend sailing vs. motoring, coastally vs. on passage?

Kyle and Shelley: We sail 90 % on passages. If we start going slower than 3 kn we start the engine. But we use those opportunities to make water and/or charge things. We are in the South Pacific and here people seem to wait for wind. Fuel is often hard to get. It we just want to move a hour or two we will use it as a water making run.

Where was your favorite place to visit and why?

Kyle: Palmerston Atoll in the Cook Islands because it was the first time I had felt welcomed by locals as one of their own, not as a tourist. They were the most giving caring souls and made me think that was what I left home for.

Shelley: Tuamotus Atolls in French Polynesia because they were my first real Pacific experience. I am a Newfoundland girl, east coast Canada. These atolls were the stuff dreams were made of and they were full of pearls!

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

Kyle:  Fatty Goodlanders books were the best for me. Many of the cruising sources were dated but he is still living this life. Unfortunately countries rules and things change constantly. Noonsite is a great source.

Shelley: Being "girlie" I read about provisioning and such. My best read was The Boat Galley Cookbook. I was very worried about getting enough supplies in remote places but I was reminded by others that people eat everywhere. And a watermaker is essential in the South Pacific.

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

Kyle and Shelley: We researched a lot, read, watched videos. Took weather courses and sailing courses. We sailed a 36 ft sloop on the great lakes for 10 years before we left. So we felt pretty prepared.

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

What kind of cruiser are you? 

We have found there are some very diverse groups of people out here. Some for a set period of time or purpose.  We have met:

  • wealthy retirees
  • single handlers 
  • families
  • younger 20-30 somethings - friends or couples
  • bucket list people on a time line of some kind
  • rally joiners
  • couples age 40+ 

We are full time cruisers with no house to return to and no set timeline. We are totally committed to this life!

Where is your time spent?

Over the past three years. We have spent 70% time moored or anchored. 10% of our time at sea and 20% of our time in a marina at dock. 

04 September 2017

10 Questions for Sunstone

Tom and Vicky Jackson cruised from 1997 until 2015 aboard Sunstone a 1965 McGruer built, S&S designed one-off - timber-built with a varnished hull - hailing from Nelson, New Zealand.

They describe their route as "too complicated to describe generally". It goes: UK, Spain, Canaries, Caribbean, New England, Nova Scotia, ICW, Bahamas, Panama, Galapagos, French Poly, Cooks, Niue, Tonga, Fiji, NZ, Aus, New Cal, Vanuatu, Aus, NZ, French Poly, Hawaii, Alaska, Canada, USA, Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Easter Is, Chile, Falklands, Argentina, Brazil, Argentina, S. Africa, Aus, NZ, Vanuatu, New Cal, NZ, Fiji, Wallis, Tuvalu, Kosrae, Pohnpei, Guam, Japan, Aleutians, Canada, Hawaii, Samoa, NZ, Marshall Is, Aleutians, Alaska, Canada, Hawaii, Tonga, NZ. Also lots of offshore racing among the cruising, including the Bermuda Race, Sydney-Hobart, Swiftsure, Round North Island and Round New Zealand.

They say: "We did lots (about 50,000 miles) of cruising as well as offshore racing in NW Europe before we actually stopped work and left to go long-term cruising, which was in 1997. Our last long cruise ended in 2015 and we are now shore-based, but we intend to continue cruising in the South Pacific."

You can learn more about their cruise on their website or by email.

Having cruised both the Atlantic and the Pacific, how do they compare?

We don't really feel this question has a useful answer at least not in terms of significant differences or contrasts. For us a more useful comparison is between temperate and tropical or semi-tropical cruising - or perhaps between wilderness cruising and cruising in more inhabited areas. Certainly the contrast between the latter two is sharp. Wilderness cruising, whether in the Aleutians, Patagonia or the Line Islands is demanding in terms of preparation, navigation, sailing/anchoring skills and, most of all, self-reliance. In temperate zones there is also the volatility of the weather. These are in contrast to cruising in more inhabited areas, where the availability of service and support is much greater and thus the demands on cruisers generally less.

Finish this sentence “One thing I’ve learned about navigating is…” 

'The eyes have it!' Whatever electronic means you have, eyes are the most important navigating instrument you have. If things look wrong they almost certainly are, so . . . 'If in doubt, turn about.' Go back the way you came until you have worked out the right and safe course. Oh, also 'Two navigators are better than one.'

What is something you think potential cruisers are afraid about that they shouldn't fear? 

Pirates. Pirates are the muggers of the sea. They can kill you or rob you just like muggers, but there are far fewer of them and they only operate in fairly well known areas. Avoid those areas and it is very unlikely you will ever see a pirate. You are far more likely to be mugged, injured or robbed ashore somewhere.

And what is something potential cruisers don't worry about that perhaps they should? 

Having poor quality sails and not knowing how to use them! Cruisers should race. Racing teaches you not only how to make your boat go quickly in a variety of conditions, it also teaches you about boat handling under sail in conditions you might actually avoid if cruising, namely light and heavy air and tight situations with other boats. These are also necessary skills for a cruiser. Too many cruisers spend a lot of money on devices to make living aboard more like living on land - and then they skimp on sails, buying second-hand or poor quality sails. In fact, many cruisers have little understanding of what constitutes a good, well-made sail which will stand up to tens of thousands of miles of use and still have a shape which will adequately drive the boat to windward when that is essential.

Many potential and novice cruising couples do not adequately consider what demands will be made and changes will occur in their relationship to each other. Before heading off on a cruise few couples have spent 24 hours a day, every day with each other in a constantly changing and potentially risk-filled environment. In shore-based life most of us can spread our anxieties, frustrations and tantrums across a range of colleagues and friends as well as our partner. That is not the case when crossing oceans in a small boat. Achieving a complementary balance and trust in your relationship is essential and at first it may be hard work. Many apparently stable long-term relationships founder and sink under the demands of the cruising life. However, many others thrive and grow on the development of new skills, the stronger need for trust and the shared sense of achievement in the face of novelty, risk and difficulties.

What is your most common sail combination on passage? 

This depends so much on the nature of the passage that there can be no single answer. When down-wind passage-making in trade wind conditions we normally use the mainsail held with a preventer and a 125% genoa held to windward by an over-length spinnaker pole. In stable, broad reaching conditions, we often also set our inner jib (non-overlapping, but bigger and further forward than a cutter staysail) to leeward on its Solent stay. However, when the wind is forward of the beam and over 15 knots (true, not apparent) we mostly use our inner jib with any reefs which might be necessary in the main. As we do a lot of cruising in temperate waters, we use the latter configuration a good deal. As we always stand our watches on deck, fully dressed for the weather, we are able to reef early when conditions require it. We generally reef or change head-sail single-handed unless conditions are very bad. 'Sunstone' is set up to make this easy. We very rarely use our genoa part-rolled, but rather change to our jib if conditions require it.

What is something about the cruising culture you like and what is something you dislike?

We are not really aware of any one 'cruising culture'. There are many different styles of and attitudes to cruising and the different styles diverge markedly. What we look for in other cruisers whom we like and respect are curiosity, openness, friendliness, honesty and, most of all, a desire, determination and ability to be self-reliant. Though we don't condemn them for it, we are puzzled by cruisers who actually don't much like sailing and have little interest in improving their ability to sail. These tend to be the same cruisers for whom cruising is just another form of travel. They reach New Zealand, park the boat and buy a car, rather than actually cruising the country.

Tell me your favorite thing and your least favorite thing about your boat.

'Sunstone' was our home for over 30 years, so picking out one thing we particularly like about her is almost impossible. High on the list is that she takes care of us. Some boats require constant, expert attention to perform well or even keep you safe. 'Sunstone' responds to such attention, but does not require it. In conditions when we are cold, wet, tired, hungry and even a little frightened, 'Sunstone' reassures and takes care of us. This is partly the nature of her design, whose compromises have made her just about perfect for the different kinds of sailing which we have done. These include serious racing and long-term cruising as well as living aboard, while working full time at 'suit jobs' in a temperate climate. 'Sunstone' is a very sound, strongly built yacht with a sea-kindly motion, even in storm conditions.

Unfortunately, one of the compromises which makes 'Sunstone's' design so good for living aboard, her accommodation arrangement below, requires an offset companion way; this makes it impossible to mount an effective dodger which would give protection in the cockpit. Cruising on 'Sunstone' requires several very good sets of foul-weather gear as well as a tolerance for being wet and cold!

What piece of gear seems to break the most often?

No gear on 'Sunstone' breaks often!! In the last 20 years we have cruised about 150,000 miles. During that time we have only had to wait in port once for repairs (engine gear box). There are three fundamental keys to avoiding breakages: buy the best you can afford; keep it simple; maintain it. Listening to other cruisers the items which most commonly keep them in port are: gen sets, autopilots, installed refrigeration and water-makers. 'Sunstone' has none of these. The closest we come is a small camper fridge which we can do without quite happily if we have to. Otherwise, the fundamentals of engine, rig and sails can be the cause of problems. All three can be kept going by regular inspection and maintenance. Our small Yanmar engine has done 10,000 hours in 19 years without a rebuild, despite being used as our primary power generator. How often do most cruisers go aloft to inspect their rigs or replace rigging wire? In the tropics, rigging wire should probably be replaced every seven or eight years. Rigs need inspection after any heavy blow, before any long passage and then after it. Sails need regular inspection and 'a stitch in time saving nine' or more likely 100! If a piece of gear seems prone to breakage or failure, there may well be something wrong with the way it is used or its suitability for purpose. If a piece of gear is inevitably subject to constant abuse, like the heads pump, carry a spare which is always ready as a replacement.

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

How to catch fish and how to stay warm sailing in the Bering Sea.

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

Having our faith in the fundamental goodness of human nature reinforced!

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

After living afloat for 35 years, we suppose that we expected to be asked (as we often are), how different it is to live ashore or how we've adapted to the change. We guess that the most fundamental answer to the latter question is that if you weren't adaptable before living afloat and cruising, that life is likely to make you adaptable. Moving ashore and buying our first house to live in after 41 years of marriage has just been another adventure - and we still feel at home when aboard 'Sunstone'.

The other bigger question is what made us start it all in the first place. Why would we choose to live first on a 31' boat and then 'Sunstone' while pursuing responsible jobs. At first the answer was easy. We couldn't afford both a boat and a house. We had to have a boat, so we didn't have a house. But there was more to it than that, because we did actually have our own version of a pre-nup: we both agreed that the only basis on which we would get married was if we lived on a boat. From the very first we agreed that if we really wanted something, we would pay the price. We wanted to go sailing as much as possible. If the price was living in cramped, damp, cold quarters with no appliances, TV, stereo, running water or shower, we would pay the price. We even decided to live that way ashore for the few years while we saved enough for our first boat. We learned to live without 'stuff'. Paying the price has got us the life we wanted. And in the circular way that all things so often work out, what we got, namely 'Sunstone', has shaped not only our sailing lives, but the whole nature of our lives together. 'Sunstone' has taught us a lot and helped us to learn about each other.

28 August 2017

10 Questions for Amandla

Captain Fabio Mucchi & First Mate Lisa Dorenfest are currently cruising aboard Amandla a Beneteau Oceanis Clipper 473 hailing from London, UK although Fabio is Italian and Lisa is American.

Fabio started cruising in 2001, Lisa in 2011, and they have been cruising together as a team since 2013.

Fabio cruised the Mediterranean on the first Amandla (a Beneteau Oceanis 381) from 2001-2003. He crossed the Atlantic in the current Amandla in 2005 and spent 6 years cruising the Caribbean, South, Central America, US East Coast, Bahamas. Lisa sailed in from The Netherlands across the Atlantic in 2011.

In February 2013, Lisa joined Fabio on Amandla in Isla Mujeres Mexico. From there, they sailed from Florida to Hawaii via Panama, Galapagos, and French Polynesia. From Hawaii they sailed to New Zealand, spending another season in the islands before arriving in Australia.They have since cruised from Australia to Thailand where they plan a refit in preparation for an Indian Ocean crossing in 2018.

You can learn more about their cruise on Lisa's blog or by reading Fabio's book.

They say: "We are both cancer survivors.

Lisa was diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer in the middle of her Yachtmaster program in England in 2011. She returned to the sea a week after undergoing a lumpectomy to complete her Yachtmaster Program and cross the Atlantic as Watch Lead. Her cancer returned while she was working in NYC in 2012 and she had a mastectomy prior to setting off across the Pacific in early 2013. She has been cancer free since August 2012. 

Fabio returned home to Italy after closing his boat for the season in Guatemala in 2011 and was diagnosed with throat cancer. He was treated from November 2011 through January 2012. After a lengthy recover, he returned to Amandla in November 2012 to prepare for a Pacific crossing that commenced in early 2013. His cancer metastasized in 2015 requiring a liver resection in New Zealand. He captained Amandla from New Zealand to Fiji 45 days after surgery. In late 2015, the cancer resurfaced in several lymph nodes, requiring four rounds of chemotherapy in Sydney. He has been cancer free since April 2016."

Finish this sentence “One thing I’ve learned about passage planning is…”

Lisa: “The only certainty is that our plans will change”.  As a career project manager, it was initially difficult for me to adjust to the fluidity of sailing plans. Their mercurial nature is teaching me to live in the moment and take things as they come.  The most important thing is to be prepared with contingencies when things don’t go according to plan (e.g. ‘what if the weather turns bad when we are scheduled to depart to meet guests in another port’? We now know the answer is ‘defer travel until weather permits’. Our guests can either come to us or wait until the weather allows us to get to them).

Fabio: Prepare your passage for the best weather time of the year. Do not cross during or just before or after the end of hurricane season. Early or late season hurricanes are a possibility. Check your spare parts list and add if necessary. Only you know the state of your boat and can guess what might break.

Having been in both the Atlantic and the Pacific (and Indian) oceans, how do they compare?

Lisa: The Pacific is big. One leg in the Pacific (Galapagos to the Gambier over 21 days) took longer than an entire Atlantic crossing.  The Pacific requires much more self-sufficiency: adequate provisions and replacements aren’t readily available. You need to come with deep stores and sufficient knowledge to troubleshoot issues as they arise with minimal assistance. The Pacific is called the Coconut Milk Run, but for us, it was more like a Milk Shake. The weather was far more predicable in the Atlantic due to the extent of sea traffic piloting its waters and providing feedback to weather services. The Pacific was far more likely to throw us surprises. When a grib file was showing ‘oooo’ winds in an area, we found that meant ‘watch out, we have no idea what is going on here, but it promises to be strong and swirling. Reef! ‘

Our experience in the Indian to date has generally been a windless one although we sailed more than expected in Indonesia (40%!!!). But we have only just begun this Ocean and understand there are many challenges ahead.

Fabio: Crossing the Atlantic East to West is relatively easy. The Pacific raises the bar. Aside from lengthy passages, difficult weather and less accurate forecasting, some areas like Tuamotus require you to learn new skills including entering narrow passes with strong tidal current and anchoring among coral heads. In Fiji we encountered unmarked reefs. Some other areas are not accurate on charts. The crossing from Tonga to NZ either way can be treacherous. It is a continuous learning process

What is the most important attribute for successful cruising? 

Lisa: You have to really want to be here. It is not always unicorns and rainbows: sometimes it can be a real nightmare. As the old adage goes ‘cruising means fixing boats in exotic places’. The list of repairs can seem endless. And given the tight quarters and lack of alone time, a year’s partnership at sea is equivalent to a 10 years partnership on-land. But even in my darkest moments, I always choose to remain in this life, to complete my dream of circumnavigating the world under sail. At its worst, it is better than sitting around wishing I was living my dream. And at its best, there is nothing comparable.

Fabio: Be always vigilant. Do not rely on your instruments only. Keep your eyes open. Do not take unnecessary risks, reef early. Don’t be afraid to change your plans, to change your route to turn back and abort if necessary.

Always be prepared for injuries on board. It may never happen (so far so good) but a good First Aid Course could save a life. Have a good pharmacy on board and learn basic techniques

What is something you think potential cruisers are afraid about that they shouldn't fear? And what is something potential cruisers don't worry about that perhaps they should?

Lisa: ‘The boat will never be perfect enough, my knowledge will never be deep enough, the time just never seems quite right’…but it is. Cruisers should be most worried about never leaving the dock.

Throw-off the bowlines… you’ll be glad you did.

Fabio: What she said.

What is something about the cruising culture you like and what is something you dislike?

Lisa: The best thing about the cruising culture is that it is generally supportive, friendly and welcoming. Everyone is willing to share information and pitch in to get another out of a bind. I’ve made some amazing friends out here. The worst thing about the cruising culture is that it can be just like any other. Cliques sometimes form, there are people with strong opinions about ‘what a cruiser should and shouldn’t be’, and in spite of the exposure to multiple cultures, a few sailors remain surprisingly prejudiced. It isn’t some magical wonderland where everyone is all the same and everyone gets along with everyone else ‘all the time’, feeling nothing but love. You will find all kinds out here.  I simply chose to deal with these normal life challenges in an anchorage rather than a cul-de-sac.

Fabio: in some areas of the Caribbean like Georgetown, Bahamas, hundreds of boat spend the full season without picking up the anchor. This is not sailing, it is like parking yourself in an RV campsite. Too much booze at parties too, it becomes the link for socializing.

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

Lisa: While at sea, I love our boat and wouldn’t change a thing (except for adding a washing machine). But at anchor, I do envy those roomy catamarans with all of their storage and entertainment. And what I would give for a crewed, 72-foot mono-hull with a walk-in engine room…maybe next time around.

Fabio : In part, it depends from your budget. I chose a 48ft for the added comfort. It is long enough for blue water passages but not too big to sail solo.  Electric winches, bow thruster, full batten main, lots of chain (we have 360ft) water-maker, SSB HF radio, solar panels and wind generator, AIS transponder, forward sonar, and plenty of navigation back up (4 computers, 2 iPads, 2 plotters) to sail safely paperless.

What is the next piece of gear you would add to your boat if it were free?

Lisa: A washing machine

Fabio: Satellite dome for Internet but it should come with a free unlimited connection too.

What type of watch schedule do you normally use while offshore?

Lisa: Captain 0600: 1200, First Mate 1200: 1800, Captain 1800-2100, sometimes 1800-2200, First Mate 2100 (or 2200): 0000, Captain 0000-0300, First Mate 0300-0600 ….my favorite watch, the only time I am up to see the sunrise.

Fabio: Like she said

Are you attracted more to sailing itself or cruising-as-travel and has that changed over time? 

Lisa: Initially, admittedly, it was more about the goal of circumnavigating the world under sail as quickly as possible and then getting back to building my career in New York City. The Captain managed to slow me down and build excitement about other sailing grounds (we are now strongly considering The Magellan Strait and beyond after Brazil rather than returning home).  I always had a desire to vagabond, but I thought I would do it in short spurts with long career stints in between. I’ve now been out here for four years and expect to have many years of travel under sail in front of me.

Fabio: I like a mix of both. I am more a slow cruiser. I enjoy living and getting to know places and people. But the first year with Lisa we sailed 11,000 nm in one season

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

Lisa: Do I need my own boat to go cruising? Nope. There are several sites with boats looking for individual crew or crew couples. I list many of them on my website on my ‘Sailing Links’ page. Even if your long-term goal is to sail on your own boat, crewing for others is a great way to get experience and build sea miles.

Fabio: Do I regret my choice to be a full time live aboard? Absolutely not. I have been doing it since December 2005 and I cannot imagine living on land for extended periods of time, at least for the time being.

21 August 2017

10 Questions for Tranquility Bay

Scott, Kimberly and their ship cat Allie have been cruising since 2005 aboard SV Tranquility Bay, a 38' aluminum Groupe Finot Reve d'Antilles hailing out of Detroit, MI, USA. They have spent the last twelve years sailing up and down the east coast of America and throughout the Caribbean.

They say: "From the glass towers of NYC to the steamy jungles of the Banana Republics, we've been pondering escapism and searching for a more connected and meaningful way of life.

You can learn more about their cruise at their website and their YouTube channel.

Tell me your favorite thing and your least favorite thing about your boat

We take it for granted that our boat is incredibly strong. It always brings us feelings of security when the going gets rough. Something that appeals to us more regularly, however, is it's uniqueness. A lot of people – especially in the States – don't know what to make of it. It may as well be a spaceship with its unpainted aluminum topsides and bubble. People are usually very surprised when they come inside and settle into its cozy wood interior.

Our least favorite thing about our boat is that it is often difficult to go unnoticed. Its rugged fishing boat-like appearance has always appealed to us because in our minds it has a simple look, and not a yachty one. When we arrived in Panama, however, where most of the indigenous population paddles dugout canoes, it was hard to ignore the frequent amazement of many of the locals. They pound on the side grinning and say, “Aluminio!” Then they chuckle about scrap prices and the equivalent amount of recycled cans that they'd have to collect to make as much money as they could get by cutting off a chunk of our hull. Sometimes they make us nervous.

What is the next piece of gear you would add to your boat if it were free?

We'd love to have a set of lithium batteries. They're so light weight and put out so much juice. It would be a huge boon to our cruising comfort and if we ever ended up shipwrecked, we'd be carrying our own extensive prescription for depression. However, considering that lithium is a limited resource and witnessing the roadblocks faced by the electric car industry, we don't have fuzzy feelings about any big changes coming soon. But we'd sell our soul for a set of those babies! (hello sponsors?)

In your experience, how often do you think cruisers spend sailing vs. motoring, coastally vs. on passage?

The percentage of motoring vs. actual sailing is hard to know, but what we certainly can say from our own experience is that there is a lot of impatience in the world. If you've just abandoned a thirty-year mortgage or walked away from an unfulfilling career and hopped aboard a sailboat, it can be hard to restrain your excitement. The wind isn't blowing, but you're anxious for the 'real' adventure to begin so you crank up the iron genny and head off, despite a forecast of glassy calm. Or in our own case, you start out making the mistake of jumping at the first stormy opportunity, puff out your chest and call yourselves 'real' sailors. Then you take a severe beating, and spend the next week shore-side looking for parts to replace everything you broke.

We see a lot of people out here trying to girdle the globe during one year sabbaticals. We also see lots of retirees deep into the final chapter of their lives – frequently complaining about there being “too much wind this year.” Of course people that have been out traveling longer tend to be tuned in closer to Mother Nature's frequencies, but really, the true percentages of sailing/motoring are all over the map. I don't think there is a science or study to accurately describe what percentage at any given time choose to motor or sail. Maybe chaos theory?

Spending days on end deafened by a throbbing engine, and enveloped in a cloud of soot isn't so magical. On the other hand, beating your brains back and forth and not making it into an anchorage before dark just to lay claim to some kind of sailing prowess certainly isn't smart either. Everybody wants to paint the perfect picture of their sail through paradise, but sometimes, you just have to eat it – with torn sails or a bruised ego. So … .. . 50/50???

What do you dislike about cruising that surprised you?

There is always a lot of talk about the cruising community. The number of people actually going someplace in their boats is probably equivalent to the population of a small town, so it seems like a fitting analogy. It's remarkable how often we cross paths with the same people flitting about on sailboats.

We've had friends on boats deliver generous loads of medical and school supplies to third world villages. We've met crazy wandering gypsies that have told us stories about parts of the globe that we've never heard of. We've also met folks on shore that have welcomed us with open arms thanks to the many ambassadors of good will that have traveled before us. And then, there are the Hamburger Cruisers.

There are a lot of Hamburger Cruisers out here. Most of them are pretty friendly. Don't get us wrong, many of them have been wonderful to us, but it often seems that their main priority is to eat hamburgers in every country they visit. On an extended progressive dinner party, Hamburger Cruisers travel great lengths, at great expense and discomfort, seemingly, only to find their next patty. Sometimes, however, when there are no burgers to be found – things can get ugly.

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

Slow down and open yourself up to new experiences beyond sampling some local food and taking a tour. Ask yourself why you've signed up for this adventure. We often meet new people trying out life on a sailboat that think they're subscribing to some kind of special 'lifestyle' that they've caught a glimpse of on YouTube, but living and traveling on a boat isn't easy. It takes awhile just to get comfortable with your floating home and develop an understanding for how things work.

We've lost count of the number of times we've met cruisers committed to crazy accelerated plans – things like two year circumnavigations. They often have scarcely enough time to even say hello, much less keep their boat together before rushing off to the next spot. From what we've seen, it's a horrible way to see the world. What is the sense of traveling thousands of miles at great expense and a snails pace, only to do a waterfall tour and head off to the next place?

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

Probably the most common reason we find people bailing out early is that they've discovered traveling by sailboat was much more difficult and uncomfortable than they had imagined. It never occurred to them what it might feel like to get beat up for days on end. It continuously amazes us how many people – young and old – we watch head out for the first time after lengthy preparation, only to call it quits after they've had their first rough experience. Old age, and difficulties coping with the simple drudgery of operating a boat and living on it is another reason. Sometimes, the missus just wants to be with her grandchildren.

Where was your favorite place to visit and why?

It's hard to pin down one place, but we do have fond memories of our time in Venezuela. We entered the country shortly after their president called ours the devil. Despite some positive reports we heard before departing Grenada, we had reservations. More than one couple tried to convince us that “Hugo Chaves will confiscate your boat.” While we thought this was foolish, we did debate flying a Canadian flag to save face. Later, we thought that was foolish as well.

The Venezuelans were some of the friendliest people we've met in our travels, and the diverse scenery there was otherworldly. There was a serious crime problem everywhere we went, but thanks to a howling black market currency exchange, we remained somewhat blind to the dangers. Trading a personal check for a backpack full of money was unbelievably exciting. It was like living in the old Wild West.

Over the coarse of a year, we rode a towering wave of economic collapse. Fuel was thirty cents a gallon – delivered. To our surprise, in addition to discovering that Venezuela was indeed a democracy, we learned that the island of Margarita was full of top notch shopping centers where we loaded up with goods at pennies on the black market dollar. We filled shopping cart after shopping cart full of quality liquors, exotic brands of chocolate and giant wheels of cheese. Lomito, Spanish for tenderloin, cost less than ground chuck, so we ate it like hamburger.

We had a great time in Venezuela, and we've never regretted taking advantage of the economic situation there. We were even given free health care as visitors. What's most interesting, however, are people's reactions to our stories about this amazing place. We tell stories of many of our friends that still live there, and of all of the starving Venezuelans – still being crushed by the world oil economy. But the most striking response we ever get back at home is, “gas only cost thirty cents a gallon?!?!”

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

Venezuela seems to no longer be an option for cruisers. It is now the world's largest remaining oil reserve – and an economic war zone.

Cruiser rant: What is something that drives you crazy?

People that tell us, “it must be nice to live like you do.” They say it as if they themselves have somehow been cursed. It drives us crazy how people complain about their hectic lives in America. They often hear only what they want to from our stories. We fish. We swim in paradise. We drink cocktails at every sunset.

After meeting so many happy families that live in palm thatched huts with dirt floors – people that swim in the oceans, eat fresh food out of the jungle, and breathe the fresh air – it's really hard to listen attentively to some our friends or relatives complaining incessantly about the horrible complications of their material worlds.

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

So I hear you guys have started a YouTube channel, what do you hope to achieve?

We'd like to share what we've learned in the last twelve years of our sailing experience and inspire others to follow their dreams. Currently we are completely overhauling/reconstructing our boat to outfit it for travel to colder climates. It has always been our ambition to travel to the edge of the icepack to see with our own eyes how the world is being changed. We'd like to take anyone else interested in the conversation about the future along for the ride in hopes of increasing awareness of the current situation. Come along for the ride at Sailing Tranquility Bay

14 August 2017

10 Questions for Bella Vita

Brett & Stacey Hoopes have been cruising since 2012 aboard SV Bella Vita, a 1995 Hylas 45.5, hailing from Seattle, WA, USA.

From Seattle, they sailed down the west coast to Mexico, then across the Pacific (French Polynesia, w, both Samoas, Tonga, NZ, Fiji) then Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Australia, Indonesia and are currently in Malaysia.

You can learn about their cruise on their blog.

They say: "I worked in the boating industry for 10 years (Marketing Manager for Fisheries Supply) and Brett worked as a Sonographer at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance before we left.  While there, Brett met and cared for many vibrant people who passed away from cancer before their time – many of who had big plans and dreams for when they retired….that they never got to do.  This strongly reinforced our decision to go cruising while we were still young enough to really enjoy it instead of waiting until we retired.  Life is short and you never know what will happen."

Tell me your favorite thing and your least favorite thing about your boat.

Bella Vita is an amazing boat – the perfect size (IOHO) and strong enough to withstand big seas.  We’ve always felt like she could handle WAY more than we can, so probably my (Stacey’s) favorite thing is how safe I feel aboard her at sea.  Brett loves how well-thought out and laid out she is.  My least favorite thing is that it doesn’t have a washing machine aboard (hope to rectify that some day!) and Brett’s is that we can’t access the anchor locker from the deck.

What is the next piece of gear you would add to your boat if it were free?

Brett:  High quality insulation around our fridge.  This has been a MAJOR issue ever since we got to warmer climates.

Stacey: A washing machine!

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

Living in the USA, there is a lot of press devoted to how dangerous many parts of the globe are and how we should be concerned about traveling there – especially in Mexico.  We’ve been out now for almost 5 years and NOT ONCE have we ever felt we were in danger (other than from Mother Nature!).  We’ve been amazed by the kindness and giving nature of the majority of people we’ve met along the way.  They’ve made us feel welcome in pretty much every country we’ve visited.

What is something you think potential cruisers are afraid about that they shouldn't fear? And what is something potential cruisers don't worry about that perhaps they should?

Again – people shouldn’t fear that these places will be dangerous or that people are out to steal from them.  That’s not to say you should leave everything open and invite people to take advantage of you – but you shouldn’t waste time on the fear of the unknown when it comes to foreign lands.  What should people worry about?  THE WEATHER!  Do everything you can to learn about understanding weather forecasts and how to interpret them to aid in your routing.  The ability to know when to sit tight and when to GO is one of the most important parts of cruising successfully.  Brett adds that you should NEVER have a timeline – it will get you into trouble every single time.

Where was your favorite place to visit and why?

Suwarrow – hands down.  You can only get there by boat, and there are only the 2 park rangers that live there – so the area is completely untouched by tourism.  It was amazingly beautiful, an absolute paradise.  While some cruisers complain because you are only allowed to anchor in one area, which is open to winds and filled with coral bomies – we found that it was a little slice of heaven.  Beautiful, clear water filled with marine life, gorgeous huge manta rays, sharks, fish of all kinds and birds galore.  We spent the full 2 weeks allowed there and only wish we could have spent more time.  A close 2nd was the Tuamotos – specifically south Fakarava – which to this day had the BEST snorkeling/diving we have every experienced.

What is something about the cruising culture you like and what is something you dislike?

What we like:  The cruising culture is amazing.  Cruisers are always willing to be there for each other – to lend a hand to help fix something, to rally around a boat in dire circumstances, or to just share a beer after a hard days work.  A perfect example – while we were in Tonga our fridge stopped working and we needed new brushes.  We asked for recommendations from local cruisers on the daily net – and after the net we were contacted by a boat we didn’t know (at the time) named Iolea.  Paul and Kate just happened to also own a Hylas, and wondered did we happen to have a Grunert refrigeration system like theirs?  It turns out they had a spare set of brushes and were happy to loan them to us until we could get new ones delivered (which of course we immediately gave to them).  These two wonderful cruisers resolved our mini-crisis in a matter of hours – so fantastic!  We also love that cruisers have no qualms about visiting another boat and starting a conversation with cruisers they’ve never met….and within minutes they are likely invited aboard for a tour or a refreshment just because you’re sharing an anchorage.  How many people at home have no idea what the names of their neighbors are even though they’ve lived next to them for years?  I love the closeness and community of cruising – you really do make friends for LIFE!

What we dislike:  Watching some cruisers absolutely loose their sh!t with locals over something stupid because they expect the efficiencies of their home in a foreign land.  There is nothing more mortifying than watching a fellow cruiser (especially when they are from your home country) behave badly with the locals.  We are all ambassadors out here and should never forget to treat locals with the respect they deserve, even when things are not going to our liking.  We are guests in THEIR country and should act accordingly.

What type of watch schedule do you normally use while offshore?

During the day we don’t really have a standard schedule – whoever wants to sleep can nap as needed.  At 7pm we institute a 3/4/4/3 schedule, with me (Stacey) sleeping first.  If nothing is happening in the morning, I’ll let Brett sleep until he wakes up naturally.  If one of us hasn’t slept well (up during their offwatch time for sail changes, etc.) we make a concerted effort to get that person the rest they need during the day.  It’s important that we are BOTH functioning as well as possible, so we’ve found this works great for us – but every couple we’ve met is different.  During rough weather we often shorten up the duration as 4 hours on can be exhausting in really bad weather.  When you first start out it’s important to experiment and find out what works best for you and your partner.

Are you attracted more to sailing itself or cruising-as-travel and has that changed over time?

While we both love to sail – we definitely are more attracted to cruising for the travel.  I’ve always loved to travel, but am not fond of flying and hate living out of a suitcase – so the idea of traveling with my home was extremely appealing.  We have loved the comfort of having our floating home when everything around us is constantly changing and unknown – for me, having that little bit that is familiar is really important when you are traveling full time.  These days I sometimes worry that we’ve become true sea gypsies and will never be content to stay in one place for a long time ever again.  I guess time will tell, but as long as we can make the money last we will continue this life for as long as we possible!

Finish this sentence “One thing I’ve learned about navigating is…”

Never trust your charts.  Always keep an active watch near land and assume your charts can be as much as a ¼ mile off.  While our charts (Navionics on our RayMarine system) have been exceptionally accurate in most places, there have been exceptions and it’s imperative to use dead reckoning and all the information you have at hand in conjunction with what the charts are telling you.  We also augment our charts with a program called Ovitalmap on our iPad that allows you to download Google Earth images for offline use.  It has saved our bacon more than once and is brilliant when you are cruising in areas where there are no charts at all.

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

How has cruising changed you?

When we first left, we were completely caught up with the rush, rush, rush of city living.  Time just continually flies by and before you know it another year has clicked by and nothing has really changed.  But when you cruise, one of the best parts is living a slower life that is less about acquiring things, and more about acquiring experiences.  It brings home the fact that the people you meet and the experiences you have with them is what life is really about.  Life is nothing without love and learning – about confronting your own personal fears and moving past them, while constantly challenging your personal “safety zones”.  Cruising has made us more patient and less judgmental – more understanding of adversity and how it can change people for the worse or for the better.

I think it took us a good 6 months to really start slowing down and accepting the slower pace of our new life.  Having time back – to be completely in control of our own time and how we use it has been a wonderful gift.  Being able to see the world on a small budget is amazing – something I never even knew was possible until we started cruising.  Now that we’ve slowed down and seen so many different places, experienced so many different cultures, we’ve really begun to understand how similar we all really are at our core.  We’ve seen some amazing things and completely different cultures – but at the end of the day the people we’ve met all have the same basic needs and (for the most part) the same values.  They show pride in their country, love for their families, frustration with their governments, they want the ability to feed and raise their families in a safe environment, and they experience all the same feelings and frustrations we’ve experienced while living in the United States.  What used to seem so amazingly different is actually almost exactly the same, no matter what the culture or religion dictates.  If we  could just get people who haven’t traveled to understand that, what an amazing world we would live in.