We Just Kept Going: an Oral History of the Cruising Life
What makes cruisers tick? Longtime voyagers and liveaboards weigh in on what motivated them and what they've learned along the way
"It all began when I was 12 years old and spent two summers taking sailing lessons at Cedar Point Yacht Club on Long Island Sound," wrote three-time circumnavigator Scott Kuhner.
"It wasn't the racing tactics that excited me, no. It was the ability to use just the wind, to sail beyond the horizon to see what was there.
"One very hot and lethargic day in July 1957, my best friend and I were sitting under a shade tree on his front lawn. Doug said to me, 'What do you want to do, Scott? ' Out of the blue I replied, 'Sail to the South Pacific. ' In that instant, the dream was born and never left me."
What makes a cruising sailor tick? On the occasion of Cruising World
's 30th anniversary, we contacted more than a dozen sailors, many of whom have been corresponding with us since the days of our editorial infancy, and asked them to comment on their lives under sail. What follows is a patchwork quilt stitching together decades' worth of motivations and solutions and lessons sometimes practical, sometimes soulful. Genesis Ida Little and Michael Walsh:
We began cruising in June 1972 and continued to cruise for at least half of every year, in various boats, until 1997. Having no idea what cruising was all about when we started cruising, we headed for England because a sail had been made there for the boat. We ran into the aftermath of Hurricane Agnes en route to Bermuda. This made our crew so reluctant to continue that we diverted to Puerto Rico on his request. On arrival in San Juan, he promptly flew back to Minnesota, leaving us to manage the old, leaky, 40-foot ketch by ourselves. After cruising the West Indies to South America we sailed north to the Bahamas where we shipwrecked (see "Castling the King," June 2004). A year later we returned to the Bahamas to cruise for the next 25 years. With all that clear shallow water, protected seas, miles and miles of uninhabited shoreline, balmy climate, fish and lobster infested reefs, and some of the kindest people on earth, these islands are ideal cruising grounds for us. Lin and Larry Pardey:
We've been out cruising since 1968, except for three and a half years when we stopped to build our new boat, Taleisin. First we sailed around the world, eastabout, for 11 years and 47 countries. Then westabout by way of the great southern capes with detours to Norway and Maine, with many points in between. At first we did it just to feel free, to see Mexico, and be free of 9-to-5 work for a while. We had enough money for six months off. But we found we could work along the way, so we just kept going. Reese Palley:
I didn't commence my circumnavigation until I was more than halfway through life's passage. Because I was already an old man in a young man's world, I developed an early resentment and disdain for racing. In my mind, and in the sailing mags of the time, sailing was all about young, over-pected deck apes (sacrificial lambs?) prancing about and swooping up all available nubiles.
It was, therefore, with a sense high delight that I ran across a curious fellow named Murray Davis who endeared himself to me since he agreed with all of my personal prejudices. I had already decided that the sailing life was more a matter of spirit and patience than of muscle and speed, and the appearance of Cruising World suddenly justified my general contrariness and confirmed my persona as a sailor. I had found a venue. Beth A. Leonard:
Our first trip from 1992 to 1995 was an Atlantic circle and then a "tropical milk run," a westabout circumnavigation via the Panama Canal, Torres Straits, and South Africa. When we left corporate life and went sailing, we had been living a very extreme, intense life as international management consultants working with top management of Fortune 500 companies. We worked 70-hour weeks, stayed in five-star hotels, ate in world-class restaurants, and jetted around the United States and Europe. But we were drifting away from friends and family and even from each other, and losing touch with things we had valued. We wanted a life as completely opposite to all that as we could find, but we recognized that we were too goal-oriented and driven to drift around from place to place without some sort of a specific challenge. Circumnavigating gave us a clear goal and a clear end date. We both thought we'd be finished with sailing after that and go back to the "real world" in some different capacity.
Instead, we got hooked on the vividness and intensity of the cruising life and found we no longer fit when we tried to go back to suburban America. We missed the highs and the lows of life on a boat, the close-knit sailing community that was always there when we needed it, and the joy of learning about new cultures and meeting new peoples. The things about ourselves we had come to most like and respect during three years of cruising--like our self-sufficiency and independence on the boat, the small amount of resources we used when cruising, how we worked as a team and how we thought about the world--seemed the hardest to hold on to ashore. Within a few months we decided we wanted to sail away again, but this time we wanted to explore areas like those we had most enjoyed on our circumnavigation --not the tropics, but New Zealand, South Africa, the Azores. We were drawn in particular to the Chilean channels, which we had heard about from a few people we had met who had cruised there. Sailing in an area where glaciers calve right into the sea, a remote and rugged area where humans have barely left their mark, amidst all sorts of wildlife, was very appealing to us.
That meant we wanted a boat designed for the high latitudes, and it took us four years to build that boat. But it also meant we needed to build the skills to sail there, skills we didn't acquire during our circumnavigation. So we spent the first two years after we left aboard the new boat in 1999 sailing the North Atlantic and learning to deal with big tides, strong currents, cold weather, ice navigation, and gale-force winds before heading down the length of the Atlantic for the Beagle Channel. Our second trip has been a high latitude tour from above the Arctic Circle to below Cape Horn
including large stretches of the Southern Ocean. Dave Martin:
Jaja and I have been cruising together since 1988. When we met I was three months into a solo circumnavigation aboard my Cal 25, Direction. I wasn't looking for a "crewmate," nor was Jaja looking for a boyfriend. The best things in life are discovered when you aren't looking for them. More about children later.
Jaja had been traveling from country to country for three years, teaching sailing for a major hotel. Although she knew all about small boats like Hobie Cats, Laser, and 470s, Jaja had never been on a cruising boat. The first time she saw 25-foot Direction , she was amazed. "Wow!" she exclaimed. "It's so roomy inside! There are beds, a sink, a toilet, and a stove
. This is great!" Needless to say, I was careful not to let her go aboard larger boats until we were married. Anyway, what began as a winter cruise in Virgin Islands in 1988 evolved into a voyage around the world where we've raised our three kids and made going places a preferred lifestyle. Thies Matzen:
It started the moment my 3-year-old eyes met the 99-year-old eyes of my great-grandfather??and never forgot them. He was a South Seas captain and later harbormaster of Apia, Samoa, for nearly 30 years, both sides of 1900. He had been in charge of boats that had sailed far. So had my grandfathers, as professionals and as amateurs. One of them doubled the Horn
, first under sail, then later under steam.
Apart from my early cruises in dinghies
and a self-built clinker double-ender on the Baltic, which is a sea, I started to cross oceans in 1978. In pre-Satnav times, a good hand on the sextant was always in demand, which helped me en route to my forebears' home, Samoa.
I have lived and cruised aboard Wanderer III
since 1981. Kicki Ericson:
I met Thies in June 1989 while doing historic-preservation architecture on St. Croix, U.S.V.I. I had never realized people lived on sailboats; I had never sailed. In June 1990, I moved aboard Wanderer III with whatever would fit into the 15- by 18- by 24-inch locker Thies emptied for me. I took to the lifestyle like a fish to water, hampered only by seasickness. Annie Hill
: I first set foot on a sailing boat in 1973, when my boyfriend showed me the catamaran that he was building, and my first sail was just after she was launched. Stormalong had no engine, and we sailed out of a narrow river in England's Morecambe Bay, with 35-foot tides and 5-knot tidal streams. The destination was another river where we'd laid a mooring, and because of the time of the tides, part of the passage was at night. My second trip was a 110-mile passage, again overnight. The next year we sailed across the Atlantic to the West Indies. Apart from a couple years, I've lived on boats ever since. Mimi and Dan Dyer:
We started cruising on our honeymoon??a Maine coast bareboat charter. Our third day out, we anchored off North Haven in a blow, following which a summer resident rowed out, asked where we were from and did we need anything. Mimi was down below, new at cruising, lamenting a bad hair day. Dan replied: "I'm Dan Dyer, we're from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and my wife needs a bath." Many bad hair days later, we did a six-year circumnavigation, from 1973-79. We hope to cruise until we drop. Cruisin' is livin'!
We sailed from Detroit to Japan, then continued westabout and back to the East Coast. Dan had been in Japan courtesy of the U.S. military and had fallen in love with the country, promised himself that he would return one day on his own boat. Joe Minick:
The cruising I have done over the last 42 years would never have been attempted or even possible with out my sailing and lifetime partner, my wife Lee. Her role is little different from that of countless other cruising ladies that make up the many cruising couples that we have met along the way, but no less vital. Wives and sailing partners are fully half and sometimes even more of the cruising equation, and I cannot relate my own experiences without constantly referring to "we" and "us" along the way.
While our passage through the halls of cruising under sail hasn't been anything like as adventuresome as that of many folks who have made a name for themselves in the cruising fraternity, it seems to be more typical of the average cruising couple we meet along the way in all kinds of out-of-the-way places. We both began our sailing experience in the early 1960s getting bashed about in Mercurys and Comets while living in Honolulu. Cruising didn't really start until a few years later when we moved to the Annapolis and started cruising as a family of four aboard a Tartan 27 named Leah. While confined to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, we learned many of the skills we would need along the way in years to come. When a move to San Francisco became a necessity, we purchased an Ericson 41 named Altum Mare that became the family cruiser for the next 18 years. Although limited by the constraints of family and career, we expanded our horizons to coastal cruising and truly broadened our horizons and skills as we experienced the wonders of the West coast: big winds and waves, plus fog, cold water, and lots of rock. For several years we made six-week excursions to the southern coast and the Channel Islands, then spent days on end tacking west against a two-knot current and the prevailing westerlies to claw our way back to San Francisco. Once again, a move to Annapolis took us and Altum Mare to the East coast where we continued coastal cruising ranging from Maine to the Bahamas, but time constraints still confined us to along-shore passagemaking.
As retirement approached, the opportunity to really "go cruising" arrived, and we purchased Southern Cross, our Mason 43, and spent three years refitting her for extended cruising. During this time we sold the house and moved aboard, continuing our coastal trips now covering even larger distances as we worked out the kinks along the way. Within a month of retirement, we set out across the Atlantic and now almost three years later don't foresee any end to our cruising experience for many years to come. Alvah Simon:
I began cruising in 1976 onboard a local fishing sloop in Belize. I have lived aboard and cruised with fortunately few interruptions for the past 28 years.
With a change of boats, I did a westabout circumnavigation that lasted 13 years, always seeking remote areas and intact indigenous cultures. This included the Caribbean, Central America, Oceania, South East Asia, the Indian Ocean, Southern Africa, South America, Cape Horn
, and the closing of the loop in Key West. In pursuit of this interest in native people and raw adventure, we changed boats again and spent several years planning and executing a High Arctic expedition. We have since cruised the Caribbean, South Pacific, and are now in New Zealand planning a probe up the Kamchatka peninsula of Siberia. Exodus Scott Kuhner:
After graduating from college and becoming gainfully employed, I took one of my first paychecks and bought a Sunfish to sail on weekends. Two years later I became engaged to Kitty, and three days after the I-dos, I gave Kitty four books written by Eric and Susan Hiscock: Cruising Under Sail, Voyaging Under Sail , Around the World in Wander III, and Beyond the West Horizon. After spending two summers cruising from Connecticut to Martha's Vineyard on our 23-foot O'Day Tempest, and after reading the Hiscocks' books, Kitty bought into my idea of someday sailing to the south Pacific. But we would need a bigger boat.
That fall of 1970, we found what we thought was the perfect boat for our adventure. There was a pretty little Ketch abandoned on a mooring in City Island. We made an offer of $10,000 to the owner and got a call two days later confirming that we were to become the proud owners of Bebinka, a 30-foot Allied Seawind Ketch. We knew she was sea worthy because Alan Eddy had already completed a circumnavigation on the sister ship, Apogee, which was the first fiberglass boat to sail around the world. We spent the next year preparing our new boat for a trip to the South Pacific. We installed a new diesel engine, new stainless-steel water tanks, new sails, a Hassler self-steering gear, and enough charts
to sail from New York to Sydney, Australia. We also took celestial navigation lessons at the Hayden Planetarium.
We left Long Island Sound in October 1971 and went down the inland waterway as far a Cape Fear. The 12 days it took us to sail from cape Fear to St. Thomas was the first time either Kitty or I had made a major offshore passage or used a sextant in earnest. For a few days the wind blew hard and the seas were big; but Bebinka proved to be as seaworthy as we had hoped. Every day we worked out our position using the sextant and plotted our position. On the twelfth day , after plotting our position on the chart, I told Kitty that we should see St. Thomas in about two hours. An hour and a half later St. Thomas appeared on the horizon. That was the first time that I knew, I knew where we were. It was one of the biggest thrills of my life. Lin and Larry Pardey:
Our first boat was the 24-foot-4-inch Seraffyn; our second boat was the 29-foot-9-inch Taleisin. We chose both because they were designed to carry a good payload yet be fast in light winds. They each have a wonderful motion at sea and are designed to heave to very well. They're also really fun to sail; there's no need for an engine; and we really like the look and feel of each boat, the ability to pack on lots and lots of light air canvas. We might have liked more ballast on Seraffyn, but we would definitely choose the same boats again. Beth A. Leonard and Evans Starzinger:
We did the tropical circumnavigation aboard our first boat, Silk
, a Shannon 37 (double headsail ketch) which we picked based on the write up in Ferenc Mate's book The World's Best Sailboats
. Our second boat is a 47-foot custom aluminum Van de Stadt Samoa sloop which was designed to be much more of an "expedition boat"--strong enough to deal with rocks, ice and trawler docks, able to handle the cold weather and strong upwind conditions found in the higher latitudes and with sufficient interior space and stowage for an open-ended voyage of a year or more to remote areas. Silk
was a great sea boat, easily handled in all conditions and almost impossible to get into trouble with but we had persistent reliability issues with the centerboard. Hawk
is incredibly strong and sails almost as well as a flat out racing boat, but keeping paint
looking nice on the aluminum coach roof is a continuing challenge. Ida Little and Michael Walsh:
We chose our first boat, a wooden 40-foot English Channel racer converted to cruiser, because it was affordable (cheap) and big enough to take us comfortably to sea for an indefinite length of time. We soon learned that a 12-ton boat with a 6-foot draft didn't let us safely get close enough to most shorelines.
Because we had learned from Sheldrake
that deep draft cruising didn't suit us and that we really didn't like anchoring out, our next boats were a Hobie Cat and sailing canoe. With these small boats we cruised through the Bahamas, camping ashore each night. This worked so beautifully that we continued for years.
After years of shore camps, we thought about getting a shoal draft boat that would be more comfortable and more seaworthy for the crossings between the island groups. We could not find the boat we wanted in 1979. So we built our own "canoe cruiser," Dugong
, from plans that Phil Bolger drew up for us.
On our shakedown cruise with Dugong
we happened to meet up with Julius Wilensky who was working on a cruising guide to the Keys. He convinced us to try the Keys instead of the Bahamas. We not only tried it but continued cruising the Keys and the islets west off Key West for four years.
While cruising in the Keys we began to think about a boat capable of crossing to the Bahamas. We met Beachcomber
and her builder, Warren Bailey, in the Key West Yacht Club. He was having a hard time finding someone as eccentric as himself who would want such an unconventional boat. She was perfect for us. At 36 feet with 18 inches of draft, we considered her a bigger version of our Dugong
Her flat bottom and retractable prop shaft, centerboard, and rudder and made her ideal for the thin water cruising we loved. Though she could move along fine, she couldn't sail to weather nor push into steep seas as well as a heavy, deep keeled boat. We took this as a sign that whenever possible, we should do our best to broad reach, on gentle seas. This suited us pretty well. Dave and Jaja Martin:
My choice to rebuild a Cal 25 and sail it around the world was financially motivated: It was the only boat I could afford. I wanted to cross oceans and I wasn't too particular what kind of boat got me out there. Going was all that mattered, and the sooner the better. I was 22. Youth has a lot to do with being able to cope aboard a small boat. Thies Matzen:
I am a wooden boat builder by trade, so it has to be wooden. I know and like wood, the voyages inspiring me to cruise were done on wooden boats. Wooden boats are pleasing in all three stages of their life: one likes to gather around them when built, they charm in their active life, even as wrecks they remain pleasing. Accordingly, more so than boats of other materials, in each stage they blend well into our flow of being.
Our yacht Wanderer III
can be called the 'mother of all cruising yachts' and had completed three circumnavigations when I bought her. She was an idol I had wanted to build, but never thought of buying. In a way, meeting her at the right place at the right time, I was lucky that she chose me.
Her simpleness is proven. She has done 270,000 miles in five decades and one is hard pressed to come up with another cruising yacht as pelagic as her. She is well built with a high displacement-to-length ratio. Therefore, she doesn't shine in light conditions, but she stands up well to much wind.
We never keep her in flash looks, but under a good coat of paint
. Thus we worry little about possible rough treatment by, for example, visiting canoes. I'd rather be comfortable with wooden clogs than to have to unnaturally tip toe for the sake of shininess.
Harmony matters more than a shiny and polished boat. If a boat is beautiful, you can dream with it, somebody will care for it, somebody will take over caring.
During my first years with Wanderer
the North Atlantic Islands, Scotland, Northern Norway was the cruising ground. Since 1987 we began sailing circles on all other oceans. Though Wanderer
has done it often, to me it has never been important to sail around the world, but to sail around in
Of importance, though, was to get back to my Samoan family under my own wings.
Similarly, to sail around Cape Horn
, for example, had never been an aim and didn't mean much to me. Records are without meaning. The biggest, highest, fastest are not criteria by which I measure my life. But when somebody who had been at the Horn eight times said that both the Horn and the Wollaston Group are of tremendeous beauty and that we must see them, that was a criteria that appealed to us. And we went.
30 feet of length with only 8 feet 6 inches of beam makes for a very small home, a size which nonetheless suits us well. Logistically its just at the limit of allowing us to visit our destinations for the length of time we wish. That's part of the challenge and makes for tight calculations.
She could do with a bowsprit and more sail area; with the transom less submerged or more carrying capacity. Yet considering her size very little could be improved for what she does with us. The characteristic I value highly is her standing power in high winds. She'll hold her ground under sail. She hoves to well. Her drift is minimal, something of underrated importance for a small, underpowered boat .
As small as Wanderer
is we have, like marine mammals which molt, to lose our skin every now and then to remind us of the essentials. And that's not limiting, but healthy. Kicki Ericson:
The boat came with the man??an excellent package deal.
The best about Wanderer III
is that she provides for our needs so efficiently, without excess. I do, however, sometimes dream about having a decent-size double bunk Annie Hill:
Most of my sailing has been aboard the 34-foot, plywood, junk-rigged Badger
that I built with my former husband, Pete. We chose her for a variety of reasons, low-cost being paramount among them. She proved to be a marvelous boat, far better than such a simple vessel should have been! She gave us so much in comfort and confidence that we ended up sailing her both to the Arctic and the Antarctic. She left my life when Pete wanted to build another boat. Because I parted so reluctantly with Badger
, I suspect it's impossible for me to be dispassionate about her. Her best features were undoubtedly the rig
and deck layout that made it possible to do everything from the protection of a small circular hatch
, sheltered by a revolving 'pram hood'. I don't like deck work and I loved being able to sail the boat singlehanded when I was on watch. The accommodation was all that one could have hoped for and the ease and cheapness of maintenance meant that we could live on a very low income and do a lot of sailing. Badger
's drawbacks were that she tended to hunt around at anchor
, due to the big foremast and sail, and the lack of forefoot. Her windward performance was nothing to boast about and at times I wished for better, but it was a very small price to pay for the virtues of the rig
. In all honesty, I think those are the only criticisms I could make!
My present boat is a 35-foot gaff cutter--a Wylo II designed by Nick Skeates. She was built in Australia by Trevor Robertson, who invited me to join his ship a couple of years ago. Iron Bark
is handsome and husky and her steel hull is very reassuring. The rig
is powerful and in the right conditions she will make over 7 knots for hour after hour, comfortably and without fuss, but I find the rig
daunting and don't have what it takes to sail her singlehanded. However, Trevor is happy to do the deck work and as she's a forgiving vessel, we often carry the same sails for long periods. Dan and Mimi Dyer: Rabbit
is a Hood-designed Black Watch 37--seaworthy, fast and pretty. Her traditional good looks made us new friends wherever we went, but all that brightwork made for high maintenance. (We're still at it, with no regrets, in her 36th year!) Joe Minick:
Along the way, we chose boats that met the needs of our budget and a family of four. When it came to Southern Cross
, we were looking for a long distance cruiser, built heavily enough to take what may come our way and with enough volume to carry tankage for long trips plus all the supplies, spares and equipment we might pack aboard along the way. She is well down on her lines
now but carries her load well and with the exception of some speed lost to windward when the seaway is large, retains virtually all the performance exhibited in her lighter days. Many things feed into the equation when selecting a cruising boat but for us, after structural integrity, we needed something that two people could handle with relative ease in all kinds of conditions. The Mason 43 has fulfilled all of our requirements for shorthanded cruising. We can heave to on just about any combination of sails and have ridden out some minor gales and a Force 8 hove to comfortably. While not the fastest thing on the ocean with her full keel and attached rudder, she points well, is seakindly and comfortable while giving us many a 160- to 180-mile day. I have long favored a cruising rig
that uses a large main and a fore triangle divided into two sails areas. The double headsail rig
on Southern Cross
is quite similar to that we were familiar with on Altum Mare
and has always served us well. The large main drives well in conditions that would require at least a reaching spinnaker
with a high aspect rig
. We do make use of an asymmetrical spinnaker
in light air off shore but rarely carry it into night as this becomes a bit much for one person to handle in the dark. We have the usual complaints centered around the lack of storage space for "more stuff" but when you realize that we carry a sewing machine, a dehumidifier and have two air-conditioners, a watermaker, 150 gallons of diesel and another of water plus a 1,000 amp-hours of batteries below decks you soon realize that we, like everyone cruising, will never have all the storage we would like. Alvah Simon:
I started on board a 26-foot local Belizean sloop (Zenie P.
) that had a mangrove mast, bamboo boom, and cotton sails. We would sink the boat to the gunwales to clean it and rid it of cockroaches. It was so simple that you could maintain it with a paintbrush and a machete. This ground level, third world entry helped shape a pragmatic view towards yachting mostly immune to the pressures of prestige and polish. I then purchased a plywood, 31-foot Maurice Griffith Golden Hind.(Zenie P. II
). It was in dreadful condition, which was perfect as it forced me to develop a hands-on familiarity with every detail of the boat. This translated directly into autonomy and independence. That leaky little sloop was my home, heart, and soul for 14 powerful years. I cried like a baby the day I sold it. But sell it I had to, for I realized that to increase the challenges of cruising I would have to increase the latitudes. Diana and I bought a more suitable 36' steel cutter typical of French designs--hard chines, flush deck, simple and strong. That boat was and still is perfect for our needs, for we remain in the "small is beautiful" camp. The Roger Henry
provides us with ample room and comfort, passagemaking prowess, and yet is nimble enough to manhandle up rivers, over reefs, and into the tickles and rattles of remote waterways.
A notable feature of each of these boats is that they were perfect for their specific purpose at the time. One to prepare for the dream, the second to experience the dream, and the third to expand upon the dream. We have grown with our boats in the sense that we have never felt intimidated or overwhelmed by them, physically or financially. My litmus test has always been. "If I have to swim ashore from the wreckage of this boat, will I be able to recover and carry on without crippling debt or regret?"
The best feature of the Roger Henry
is that in spite of being only 35 feet 8 inches long, it has two aft cabins. This allows us to occasionally share the experience with friends or family. Also, it gives Diana a private space to retreat to, and a door to slam when a point requires emphasis. Revelation Scott Kuhner:
From the Virgin Islands, we sailed to the San Blas islands off the coast of Panama and in four weeks only saw one other sailboat. Transiting the Panama Canal cost us $12 based on our cargo holding capacity. We spent six weeks in the Galápagos without seeing another boat except for friends on a 35 foot home built boat with whom we were buddy boating.
We made the 3086 mile passage to the Marquesas in only 23 days. Almost the whole time we sailed with twin jibs poled out to either side. Bebinka
was easy to sail and very comfortable. On the passage from Bora-Bora to Rarotonga, we hit a severe gale and were hove to for three days. Never once were we worried whether or not the boat would take it; however, there were a few times when we wondered how much more we could take.
By the time we got to Sydney Australia, we realized that it would be easier and quicker to go home if we just kept going west until we closed the loop. Crossing the Indian Ocean from Cocos Keeling to Maurtius the wind blew between 35 and 55 knots for 16 of the 17 days it took us to make the passage. The seas averaged 14 to 20 feet. All we had up was a storm trysail and a poled out storm jib. Thank God the wind was always aft of the beam. Even though we only had a 24 foot water line we averaged 148 miles per day.
The worst weather we had to endure was in July 1974 when we were midway between Cape Hatteras and Bermuda. We were late in the season and got hit by an early hurricane. At first we hove to and finally laid ahull. Our wind speed indicator showed 85 knots at the peak. At 0200, we fell off a wave and got rolled. The boat held together except for loosing the main hatch
, the grab rails, the leeward stanchions were flattened against the cabin top and the boom was badly bent. When we righted the water down below was up to the top of the settees. Fortunately, we had the most efficient bilge pump
in the world--a frightened woman with a bucket. Lin and Larry Pardey:
Best, every new landfall. Winning races in various ports (often against modern race boats in light wind areas. Some of our inland excursions--including seven months in the Kalahari desert and a motorcycle tour of Europe. And of course, seeing Cape Horn to starboard as we headed into the Pacific.
Worst, being weather bound in various harbors. Unseasonable cyclone only 90 miles from the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. Beth A. Leonard and Evans Starzinger:
Passing under the Cape of Good Hope at sunset with the red cliffs of the cape painted red and gold and sea lions playing in our bow wave was one of the best moments of our time cruising. Another was completing the first circumnavigation . After sailing west for three years, we knew
the world was round when we found ourselves back where we had started. Still another was sailing along the Arctic Circle of Iceland's northwest corner on midsummer's eve in 2001 and watching the sun touch the horizon and then rise again. The year of cruising in Chile was spectacular and also raised our sailing and seamanship skills to a new level. Completing the 9,000 mile nonstop Southern Ocean passage from Canal Beagle to Fremantle in Australia was memorable because it was the first time we were not following in the footsteps of our more experienced friends.
Our worst moments were the two times (once during each voyage) when we had serious relationship conflicts. Ida Little and Michael Walsh:
We had left the coast of Venezuela at dusk to sail to the mostly uninhabited islands of Los Roques. During the night the wind had come up and the seas were a mess. At dawn we arrived at the islands exhausted and confused by the myriad of islets and shoals. As we debated whether to proceed into the reef studded archipelago, a power boat appeared. Two men beckoned us to follow. We were guided through a narrow channel into a remote and fully protected pool just big enough for our boat and within swimming distance of a beautiful beach. The men left us two cold beers, a block of ice, and bid us a good day. We stayed for two weeks in that magical place of wilderness, solitude, sea and sand. And then one day a sailboat like our own sailed in with more lost souls. We guided them in to a protected bay where they anchored. During our week together they taught us how to spear the lobsters that were crawling around under the boat.
If we may call our arrival at this bay in Los Roques and our encounter with spear fishermen a "moment," then this was one of our greatest moments. Though we did not realize it at the time, this place and experience showed us what we were searching for in a cruising style.
Another great moment occurred soon after we began cruising Beachcomber
in the Bahamas. Though we had routinely beached our previous small boats, Beachcomber
was a 36-footer weighing in at nearly five tons. So our first time putting her aground on the tide was both frightening and exciting. A cold front was bearing down on us. Our anchorage at an uninhabited island in the Bahamas was exposed to the northwest and the holding was poor. Within minutes we decided to run Beachcomber
into a shallow creek that dried at low tide. We hauled anchor
, poled into the mangrove creek, dropped anchor
in 2 feet of water, and sat back to watch and enjoy the drama unfold. In that moment we could foresee the joys we would experience wherever we cruised in this boat.
On our first big sea passage, from Norfolk (where we first met Lin and Larry) to Bermuda, we were assured by the Coast Guard that the weather outlook was good. When our rudder fell apart two days out, in seas like glass, we rigged an oar for steerage and turned back for Norfolk. We limped into a marina late on the second night of our return trip, tied up at a dock, and were hammered by a completely unexpected Hurricane Agnes. We thought losing the rudder was pretty bad but when we headed back out to sea a week later, we ran in to gale force winds that had us hove to for a day, and running before it two more days. This was made worse by having no sun by which to sight a position fix. On the eighth night we motored into St. George's Harbour, Bermuda, and quickly rowed ashore to walk upon terra firma. The journey had been an apprehensively long "worst moment" of horrible weather that some boats didn't survive.
Another bad moment occurred off the coast of South America.
Though we had been warned not to approach the Guajira area of Colombia, we arrived on that coast late in the day and yearned for a night's sleep at anchor
. We paid for that nice sleep. In the morning three men approached us in a small wooden dinghy
. Michael invited them aboard and began chatting with them in Spanish. Two of the men were dressed in rags and very thin. The third man, oddly enough, was dressed all in white and moved gracefully.
Very soon one of the men dashed below and began looking around. He found our rifle above a bulkhead and pulled it down. We asked him to put it away. With that, one of the other men pulled a pistol out of his jacket and yelled "Plata! Plata!,"
meaning gold or money. We were trapped below, with the pistol aimed at us from the companionway.
We debated resistance then decided on diplomacy. Michael addressed the man in white, saying, okay, here's my wallet. The Colombian opened the wallet, looked inside and was surprised to find so little. Michael told him it was all we have. The man in white reached into his own pocket and pulled out a wallet, which appeared to hold more money than ours. For a wild moment we thought he might give us some money. He put his money away, looked a little put out, and said he'd take our rifle and our radio
and our watch. Michael said we needed our radio
for navigation (to get the time signals). The man in white sighed and said okay, he would trade us the radio
for the rifle. We agreed. And they left.
Worst moments definitely capture the drama.
Shipwrecking on Great Inagua is another worst moment. We'd been struggling with a cold front for days, nearly shipwrecked on uninhabited Little Inagua, and finally drifted onto a reef during the night and couldn't get off. The whole night of pounding up and down, watching the boat break up and all our worldly possessions slosh around in sea water, not knowing if we'd be able to get ourselves safely to shore or to anywhere for help, made for another long, worst moment. Dave and Jaja Martin:
The beautiful thing about cruising is the never-ending opportunity to be spontaneous. Every day affords another chance to do something unplanned. Like having kids. The best part is you control the routines. You design the itinerary. If you don't like the neighborhood all you have to do is pick up the anchor and go somewhere else. Cross an ocean. Change continents. Sweat on the equator or bundle up in the high latitudes.
After our seven-year tropical circumnavigation on Direction
we wanted a new challenge. We moved ashore, got jobs, and bought a car. The thrill of suburban life lasted 6 months. Too predictable. Time to move on. Our spirit needed more of a charge than balancing a check book.
We sold Direction
and bought 33-foot foot Driver
. Our plan was to sail to Iceland. For this we wanted a steel boat--something that was impervious to ice and a little more resilient to floating debris. Fiberglass can be strong, but steel is stronger: especially it's point loading characteristics. It is also less prone to leaking because everything is welded in place instead of bolted on . A 33-foot steel boat tends to be heavier than its fiberglass counter part, but at sea that extra displacement gives a boat a smoother ride over the waves. Maintenance of a steel boat is not as bad as many people think. You just have to keep on top of it. Let it maintenance slide, however, and you will pay a high price. Driver
was the strongest boat in our price range/departure range. I mention "departure range" because knowing when you want to go is as important as where. "Someday" never comes. When you set a strict departure date your life gets folded around going. You're committed. Having a strict departure date is a rudder that will help steer a project to completion. Everything you do perpetuates the day of casting off. Wanting everything to be "right" is not only expensive but also time consuming.
Our decision to sail to the Arctic on Driver
, and to try and reach 80 degrees north latitude, evolved over a couple years. At first, our goal was to sail to Iceland, to go somewhere off the beaten track. We figured if we could make it to Iceland our thirst for adventure would be sated forever. Once there, however, we became captivated by hearty locals and the diverse landscape, so we made the last minute decision to winter-over aboard the boat. The following summer we sailed to the Arctic islands of Lofoten, Norway, and spent another winter living aboard. The summer after that (2000) we sailed to Spitsbergen.
Of course it was cold in these places but cold becomes part of the periphery. After a while we didn't even notice that it was not warm. The warmth of the people, the awe inspiring scenery, and the aura of the higher latitudes nulled the effects of less-than-tropical-conditions. Had it been warm, the people living there would not be who they were. Had it been warm every anchorage would have had other boats in it or condos on the shoreline. We were tired of sailing in the tropics where, in general, the locals had seen us as a source of income, not as a source for friendship.
"Lack of space" on a boat is similar to "lack of warmth" in a place. After a while it becomes relative. It's all a mental game that hinges
on how badly you want to cruise.
Cruising with children is not something we originally set out to do. We never said "Hey! lets raise our family on a 25-foot boat, sail around the world, then buy a 33-footer and sail to the arctic! Babies just came our way so we accepted it and carried on. Sailing with babies is challenging. However, what it boiled down to is this: "how badly do we want to continue, and what sacrifices are we willing to endure to make our cruising plans work?" Given half a chance, the human spirit is remarkably adaptable.
It is due to Jaja's undying positive attitude that we've made it all these years sailing with kids. Behind every good boat is a good woman.
The real reason we thrived in Iceland and Norway is due to our children. Instead of home schooling we put them into the local schools systems. The primary motive was to give them a daily change of environment, a better chance to make friends, and the opportunity to become bilingual. But it had another advantage; it put us in touch with other families. Jaja and I attended school functions which gave the locals a chance to see that, although we lived on a boat, we were a family like them. We became friends with the other parents. Our social life and the kid's social life thrived. We were accepted into the communities as equals. Thies Matzen:
Enhanced by three days which we had just spent navigating the thick fogs of the Antarctic Convergence, our arrival in Grytviken, South Georgia, will forever stand out for me. Tacking into that bay with all that sunshine beaming over majestic ,icecapped mountains, just for us, tacking up towards the rusty remains of the whalers' base, penguins splashing, a happiness so bouyant, the tenseness of three days so released. It can't be beaten.
But there have been many other landfalls that, after weary, navigationally difficult passages, have released in me similar intense feelings of joy and satisfaction. Electronic navigation systems
fill the cruising basket with certainty, yet empty it of that, to me, essential magic so difficult to touch ashore.
Then too, 14 days of drifting in the heart of the Pacific, pushed by a current but no wind, stillness spread aboard and over the ocean, no worries, no needs. And to find ourselves perfectly content with it is a gift cruising can provide. Kicki Ericson:
There is no doubt that South Georgia immediately springs to mind as the most outstanding cruising experience. It was a privilege to live inside South Georgia's Garden of Eden: extreme beauty, surrounding a wealth of animals who killed, ate and mated, but never hated.
Other highlights were being taught a native dance on Tabuaeran, Kiribati in order to perform at the Easter competition. I was the first white woman to dance a batere
(based on the flight of the frigate bird) on Tabuaeran. Years later I performed again on Canton and Abaiang Islands, Kiribati.
Or having 20 Malagasy descend upon us, unasked, to help raise our anchor, which had become entangled with a monstrously huge tire. Annie Hill:
It's always wonderful to sail into an anchorage and see an old and loved friend there--especially when it's unexpected. One shining recollection is my first sight of Iceland, with the sun sparkling off the glaciers--they were so pure and unsullied that the sight was breathtaking. Sailing alongside a young humpback whale that was rolling along, slapping his tail and waving his flippers is unforgettable. Finding the 'perfect' harbor, that was uncharted and possibly previously unvisited; watching albatross soaring around the boat; dropping anchor in Barbados after our first Atlantic crossing; having birds land on deck, rest and fly off safely towards land; sailing Badger
for the first time; the continuing magic of new landfalls --there are so many 'best' moments. The worst include seeing my boat on the beach; the gut-gnawing fear when failure to tack meant disaster; horrifying times at anchor in hurricane-force winds; the combination of a gale, fog and drifting ice. Dan and Mimi Dyer:
Best moment: Japan appearing out of the fog, after a 10-day sail from Guam; worst moment: chart shows us directly over a 2-foot spot--which way to go? Worst moment: Pacific fleet weather reports two new typhoons headed for the Bonin Islands; we're in the Bonins! (They tracked west, we turned tail north.) Best and worst: We sailed into Admiralty Bay, Bequia, crossing our outbound track after six years, and were disappointed to see no familiar boats in the anchorage. Dan remarked wistfully that it reminded him of the Peggy Lee song "Is That All There Is?" We dropped the hook, and less than an hour later in sailed our best friends, with the kids waving crayoned signs, "Welcome Rabbit
, around the world!" Joe Minick:
To date, our single best moment has been watching the rocky coast of Ireland emerge less than a mile away in light rain and fog after spending the prior 24 hours hove to in a gale at the end of our Atlantic crossing. Generally speaking our best moments center around those days when we reach on endlessly in 20 knots or so, basking in the sun and warmth of the cockpit with little else required at the moment. New landfalls and destinations are also part of our best memories along with dozens of new friends and acquaintances made along the way. Worst moments are more difficult in that there haven't been any really outstanding ones. We have embarrassed ourselves in marinas, ridden out bad weather alone, and dealt with failures as they occur but I guess the worst is still to ahead if some disaster should befall us. The hardest times during a passage have always centered around a failure or situation that keeps us from resting adequately. Fatigue mounts up quickly and the ability to deal with difficult situations decreases dramatically. Alvah Simon:
Some of the best moments of our years cruising were the sweet smell of frangipani wafting off the Marquesas after 42 days at sea--Deep in the Chilean canals, lying dead still on the foredeck as an Andean condor spirals down to investigate --Nursing sick and injured children back to health in the remote areas of the Solomon Islands.
Worst moments of our cruising years: missing my father's funeral and realizing this is the heavy price we pay for our freedoms; burying friends, shot or drowned, in far outposts of a dangerous world. Wisdom Lin and Larry Pardey:
Go small, go simple, but go now. Beth A. Leonard and Evans Starzinger:
If we have a cruising philosophy, it has something to do with sailing elegantly??constantly challenging ourselves to learn more, to try more, to adapt things on the boat so we become better sailors and make the boat able to sail as well as possible while keeping it as simple as possible. Another has to do with embracing change??accepting new challenges and enjoying the emotional highs and lows, rather than striving for the consistent moderate satisfaction as we seem to do when living ashore. Ida Little and Michael Walsh:
We want to get on a boat, sail away to remote shores and stay there to play and to live. The seas and shores we most appreciate are the rare unregulated and unpopulated frontiers left on earth. We love life in the open air, focused on land and sea and life under the sea. We seek associations with people who live simply (as most Bahamians do) and with the free spirited community of cruisers.
Whether we're cruising full time, part time or day sailing, it's all the same. Dave Martin:
I think that the entire "cruising process" has become too overanalyzed. It seems the message nowadays is that everything has to be "right" or your life will be in grave danger: The right rain gear, the right sails, the right hull material, the right safety equipment, the right varnish
, the right cockpit cushions. Having the "right stuff" used to mean you had uncanny instincts. Now it seems to mean you won't be inconvenience or take any undo risks. Do all of life's endeavors have to involve comfort, convenience, and lack of risk? Anything worth doing has a certain element of danger. That's what makes it appealing. Couching my anxieties with a boat load of fancy gear might mollify my conscience, but it doesn't really change the circumstances. A boat is a boat. A storm is a storm. I would rather embrace "danger", than trick myself into believing I'm safe by buying a false sense of security at the local chandlery.
Developing sound seamanship skills are the one thing money can't buy.
For Jaja and me, cruising is all about "making do." Get a boat, go to a place, and just deal with it. That's what seamanship is. Dealing with all manner of situations. It's amazing what you can adapt to??and enjoy??if you just stop worrying about
: a) the way others are currently doing it and, b) always being comfortable and, c) being fearful of taking undo risks.
30 years ago, "cruising" was almost a grassroots movement--a way to perpetuate the spirit of the seafaring men and women who came before us. Now cruising is an industry that's hit the mainstream with help from disposable incomes and GPS
. My advice to anyone who wants to go cruising but thinks they can't afford it: Get a cheap boat--any boat--and take time off and live on it. Jaja have found that we think differently when we get away from land. While cruising we become different people who make different choices. The fewer material items we have, the less we find that need them. The trick is to extract yourself from the shoreside shuffle and give your psyche a chance to slow down. Living ashore with all its comforts and perks is a drug that you have to quit cold turkey. If the dream is richer than the coffers, I think that anyone can find fulfillment living a simple life on a simple boat--and like it! Jaja Martin:
When we talk to other couples with kids, the conversation often gets to the: "Where did the time go?" question. I have never thought of life that way while living aboard. Every year is so full of adventure, excitement, risk, change, and new friends, that it is lived to its fullest. The cruising lifestyle can be hard work but the payoff is huge. I don't know if cruising has changed my "life philosophies", but I know it has taught me to usually choose the harder path. That is the one which will be rewarding--and the most fun. We have chosen to live shoreside for a few years, to get our kids through high school--but all I can think about is how cool it would be to sail around Cape Horn. Do you know anything about the school system in the Falklands? Thies Matzen:
I have been all my life with boats. Virtually all my adult life on Wanderer
. She is our only home. And since early on there is a line of thought (call it philosophy) behind my wish to live much of my life upon and with the ocean, by my own means, unassuming. This includes a disregard for all things economic, and accepts a value system in which kindness, openness, curiosity, wisdom, and time feature highly.
This translates well into a style of life aboard a boat, a cruising life. But such a concept finds infinite interpretations. What is "much time," "aloneness," "shoe-string cruising," "adventure," what are "authentic cultures"?
We've spent long periods on the sideline of a busy world: among remote atoll communities, in pristine natural environments, on the ocean. This costs little but time and earns us a wealth of insight, understanding and friends. That, to me, is cruising.
Don't we all, on an ocean passage, like to explore some hidden parts of ourselves, move in free air, be the captain of our life, more so than just to be in the sun and have a little fun? Why sail when all we do is answer the challenge of sailing with technology? I trust my senses and common sense to find my own answers by keeping as close to the water as I can.
We prepare ourselves well for the passages on the sea, but not for what awaits us ashore. We don't overburden ourselves with a pre-knowledge of where we are heading. This leaves space for wonder, for our own imagining, for the discoveries to freely unfold. We are not interested in knowing who and what may await us upon arrival.
A simple, small boat like Wanderer
, once structurally sound, demands little. Though well built of a thousand parts, at sea, in the Southern Ocean, she is still a fragile composition. Being fragile you wander through the world respectfully. If you feel fragile yourself, maybe you can sense the fragility of the other systems around you.
Precariously fragile and in need of sensitive care is the most precious item so often offered to us: trust. Trust is the humanest form of generosity and we have found it free flowing, particularly in societies which materialistically own little. On the personal, the human scale we find a different world than the one we are made to believe we live in.
As long as this exchange of trust remains, as long the sea is allowed to invite us, we'll be out there
Even after 23 years of continuous living and sailing Wanderer, it's a fulfilling way of being in the world. I wouldn't know a better one. Annie Hill:
I believe that almost anyone can go cruising if they want to do it enough. The most important thing is not to lose sight of the objective: you have to concentrate on getting your life organized. You need to remind yourself that it's possible to cruise with minimal equipment on small and simple boats. While it's no doubt pleasant to be able to afford a large comfortable and lavishly equipped boat, why wait when all you really need is a sound hull and rig, some charts
and some food? Cruising in a way of life and not a competition: you don't need to cross oceans and you don't need to rack up the miles. There's nothing to prove--the idea is to enjoy a satisfying and fulfilling way of life, with you and your boat doing what suits you best. Dan and Mimi Dyer:
Carpe diem! Go!
Always hug the windward side of a pass.
"How bad can it be out there?" is not a valid cruising question.
Safety, comfort and fun are the beginning, middle and end of cruising! Joe Minick:
Be conservative and be prepared. Pressing the limits of weather in a season, or narrow rocky inlets in the fog don't fall into category of our kind of cruising if it can possibly be avoided. Inspect and maintain the boat and research cruising areas carefully To us, the boat represents everything we own in the world and a lifestyle we love. We work hard to protect it by keeping ourselves and the boat as prepared as possible. Avoid unreasonable risks. There are plenty of the everyday kind to deal with as it is.
It should be said that we owe a tremendous amount to the cruising community that we have learned so much from along the way. Cruisers are always more than willing to help and many are quietly going about the oceans of the world with little notice taken or expected. Alvah Simon:
The evolution of sailing craft was a purposeful process centered on transportation and exploration. Even in its modern manifestations, I approach "cruising" through this concept of "working sail." In that light I view cruising as a means not an end, and my boat as a tool, not a toy. Upon our boats and out on those oceans we are given a unique opportunity to develop ourselves physically, psychologically, and spiritually. Our heightened connection to the sun, moon, stars, tides, winds, and waves help us to not only establish our position, but also our place in this wide and wonderful world.
Elaine Lembo is CW
's managing editor. Tim Murphy is CW
's executive editor.