Thursday, 20 November 2014

Time keeps on slippin'

I had an epiphany of sorts yesterday:  I’m not getting any younger.  This idea flashed through my head as I was falling off a ladder in my attempt to haul a heavy suitcase filled with summer clothes up to the attic.  Crumpled on the floor gasping for breath, another thought ran through my head:  I’m not getting stronger or more flexible as time passes, either.

With a prescription for painkillers with codeine and orders to rest for 48 hours (what?!  But I have sails to wash !) I’ve had time to reflect on my little accident and how it could have been avoided.  It was 50% bad luck (the ladder broke…) but also 50% bad judgement.  The luck I can’t do anything about, but the judgement needs some adjusting.  I knew, but failed to accept, that the suitcase was both too large and too heavy for me.  Patrick was away at the fateful moment and I was too impatient to wait.

Being a woman sailor, I’m always trying to prove to myself that I can physically handle anything alone on the boat.  There are always ways to manage sails and manoeuvres alone, even if you’re petite (I’m 5ft 4, 125 lbs / 1m63, 56 kg).  These manoeuvres may not be very elegant or fast, but in a pinch, I know I can handle almost anything alone.  But there’s the rub:  I need to learn when such bravado is necessary and be humble enough to ask for help when it’s not.

I can’t stand the image of myself as a frail little wisp of a woman, waiting patiently for my husband to come to my rescue, but after much reflection (and codeine), I've decided it’s a better image than the one where I’m black and blue and out-of-action for days or weeks.  Humble pie for Thanksgiving, me thinks.      

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Hibernation Time

We took Spray back to her home port this week to tuck her in for a long winter’s nap.  The cruise reminded us of why we don’t sail after October: squalls-a-go-go and waking up in a cold, wet boat with condensation raindrops dripping on our foreheads. 

Spray is waiting for the travel-lift to be repaired and then will be lifted out until… someone buys her !  We don’t hold out much hope for a winter sale, so we will start winterizing her next week (motor care, sails off, etc.).  In the meantime, I now have a garage full of boat stuff waiting to be sorted, washed, dried, and put away.  While I’m going to miss being on my boat over the next few months, it will feel good to take a break and see another side of life for awhile.  And looking at the degrading weather patterns, I don’t think I’ll be missing much great sailing anytime soon.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Full-time skippering

I’m often asked what I do for a living.  No one is willing to let me be retired at 45 so I have to come up with another job description.  Usually I tell them I’m the skipper of our sailboat. Since we only sail for 6 months of the year, that only buys me 6 months of time in their eyes.  What do I do the rest of the time?

My next 6 months look like this:

1.  Selling our old boat:  Managing adds on the web; responding to inquiries, showing the boat to prospective buyers, etc.

2.  Offloading the boat for winter:  sails, cushions, lines, blocks and tackles, boom break, cleaning products, spare parts, tarps, kitchen equipment, small electronics, foul weather gear, etc.

3.  Winterinzing the boat: pulling Spray out of the water, cleaning the bottom and preparing the motor for a long winter’s nap. (Note: our boat is 40 minutes from home, so trips back and forth also take up a lot of time…)

4.  Washing and drying sails, lines, and foul weather gear and storing everything in the basement, the attic, and any available floor space in the corners of rooms.

5.  Contacting the boat dealer and sailmakers to calculate the size and price of a Code D headsail for Mareda, and getting price estimates for a 3rd reef point in the mainsail (which also involves studying how to rig the boom for a 3rd reef.)

6.  Looking for a good used dinghy and outboard motor for Mareda.

7.  Reviewing new insurance policies and guarantees.

8.  Studying the specs of the new electronics on Mareda:  what electronic charts are delivered with the B&G Zeus Multifunction GPS?  Can we use the same charts on a PC with a chartplotter program?

9.  Do we really need the wifi module that will allow us to control the GPS from inside the boat?  If so, what tablet would be best  – Apple or Android? 

10.  Mareda’s sound system is entirely radio or MP3 based.  Need to convert favourite CDs to MP3 format.

11.  Buy new folding bikes!  But which ones are best for storage, exposure to salt water, comfortable for long outings, etc.?

12.  Buy new galley equipment: plates, glasses, utensils, bowls, etc.

13. Planning next year’s adventures !  This one takes months but is the most fun. Since we will have a 2 year all-inclusive guarantee, we want to stay near France at least for the first year and shakedown everything that is susceptible to wear and tear.  Since we have never skippered a swing keel boat, we will take advantage of the exceptional sailing zone for swing or lifting keel boats presented by Brittany, the Scilly Islands, the south coast of England, and the Channel Islands.  Planning involves, inter alia, deciding exactly where to go, when to go, what to see and do once there, routing taking into account nautical or meteorological conditions (e.g., is it best to sail East to West or West to East ?), studying mooring and beaching techniques with a swing keel, listing special equipment needs (aft anchor for beaching?), making sure we have all the electronic and paper charts we need, buying new nautical guides for areas where we have not sailed before.

14.  Vacation time !  Yes, scoff if you will, even retirees need a vacation from time to time.  For us, this involves visiting family (Florida, Paris) and heading someplace warm and sunny for several weeks.  It also means doing all those home repairs that have been building up in a home that is abandoned for 6 months of the year.  Hey … that’s another thing to add to our to-do list:  investigate pros and cons of renting out the house for the summer.

Now I don’t expect any “poor you” messages to come flowing in.  I simply hope I’ve convinced you that I’m far from bored when we’re not on the boat, and that our cruising life requires near full-time engagement.  We take it slowly when we can, doing a few jobs each day, and mix it all in with some of our other favourite pastimes (running, biking, reading) and hanging out with friends…where, admittedly, we almost always talk about boats !  It’s a beautiful life, 12 months per year.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Boat Show Blues

After 5 days at France’s largest used-boat show, we can now paint a portrait of today’s used-boat buyer.  Here are some of the gems from prospective buyers who visited Spray this week:

1.  “I absolutely love this boat, but my wife insists on having a lateral galley.”  (She doesn’t plan on cooking at sea, does she?)

2.  “Only 2 cabins?!  Where am I supposed to put the grandkids?”  (We have a few suggestions…)

3.  “Great boat, but I really want a lifting keel.”  (So why are you visiting a Dehler?)

4.  “I want 2 cabins but I want them both to be aft cabins.” (Not going to ask why. Good luck with that one.)

5.  “No hot water?!  Honey, did you hear that?  They said no hot water…”  (No shower, either, toots.)

6.  “Ah…wheel steering.  For a 34 foot boat, tiller steering is best.”  (We later met a Dehler 34 owner who had tiller steering and he said it was a beast.  He finally installed a powerful auto-pilot directly on the rudder sector to take over when things got too stiff.)

7.  “We really like the boat but we have to check with our 8 buddies who will be co-owners.  We’ll get back to you.”  (I won’t hold my breath, okay?)

8.  “Oh, a mahogany interior!  Can’t stand mahogany.  I prefer clean white plastic.”  (I have to say, this one was my favourite of the week…)

9.  A speed-dating visitor with a clipboard: “Mind if I just poke around?” (He came, he saw, he scribbled a few notes, he left.)

10.  After what I thought was a rather promising 10-minute visit:  “Would you mind terribly if I use your toilet?”  (…and he didn’t know how to work a marine toilet).

We DID have three serious visitors, but they all had to sell their boats first.  We aren’t holding our breath for any of these guys, either.

I found the whole process depressing, not because we didn’t sell the boat but because the vast majority of visitors were looking for a floating camping car for family coastal cruising.  It's no wonder we had such difficulty finding a new boat that wasn't a floating caming car.  Very few visitors appreciated the robust and ergonomic features of a Dehler that make it such a pleasure at sea.  I also found the local nautical culture quite parochial.  Most did not know what a Dehler was. (If it’s not a Beneteau, Jeanneau, Dufour, or Bavaria, it must be Polish or something…too risky).  When we told them the name of the boat was Spray, no one made the connection with Joshua Slocum, and few had heard of Slocum once we explained it to them.  They said, “Spray?  You mean, like a deodorant?”  Sigh…

One of the organizers of the boat show told us that 60% of the boats sold are based on the choice of Madame, where Madame is not a sailor.  Men are convinced that if they can just provide enough interior comforts their wives will consent to go sailing with them.  I’ve got news for them.  Their wives will go sailing with them for one season, after which they will re-affirm what they suspected all along: they don’t like sailing, no matter what.  We are members of two sailing associations filled almost exclusively with abandoned husbands who are saddled with floating camping cars, when what they really wanted was a smaller boat with a more performance.  If both partners are sailors, the decisions should be made together.  If only one partner is a sailor, why-oh-why should the advice of the non-sailor win out? 

And so it's back onto the hard for Spray, waiting for, I suspect, a divorced man under 6 feet tall looking for a robust performance cruiser to whisk her away for new adventures. 

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Thoroughly Modern Mareda

We bought a new boat !!!!!

At the end of April 2015, we will sail away in Mareda (Ma-RAY-da), a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 379 with 2 cabins and a swing keel.  Over the last month, we have visited other Category A swing keels, but none matched our interests as well as the SO 379.  (Note: all photos below are catalogue photos.  Mareda's hull hasn't even been constructed yet.)

Now, we could regale you with a list of our criteria and cruising plans, discuss the technical aspects and relative merits of various boats we considered in an attempt to convince you that we made the right choice, but that would be boring and fruitless.  We know that boat buying is not a rational exercise anyway, so we’ve decided to adopt Benjamin Disraeli’s philosophy: Never complain, Never explain.  (This application of philosophy is a one-time only thing, mind you, since there would be little to blog about without explaining and complaining…).

But we will point to others who can explain it better than we can.  For Cruising World Magazine, Alvah Simon said, “It’s the rare boat I test that I would personally want to own and operate. But for me the 379 hits its marks perfectly regarding safety, size, style, speed, accommodation and equipment.”  Having followed The Roger Henry File (Simon’s CW blog of his world cruising adventures), this review carried a lot of weight with me. 

Bill Springer for Sail Magazine had this to say: “Plenty of boats call themselves good-looking and rewarding to sail. Many boats are also designed to be comfortable at sea and in port. But after testing the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 379 in a healthy sailing breeze, I can honestly say it comes closer to achieving these goals than most. It was a blast to sail. It was easy to sail. It was comfortable to sail, and its accommodations are both spacious and stylish.”

We live two hours away from the Jeanneau shipyard where these boats are built.  In the seduction phase of our relationship with the dealer, we were given a private tour of the facilities.  We saw every step of the production, from hand-laid fibreglass to the new injection methods (no photos !) to create lighter, stronger, and more rigid deck and bulkhead mouldings.  My favourite part was the assembly line room, where a dozen hulls were lined up along a conveyor belt.  A naked hull arrives at the beginning and a fully finished hull leaves from the other end, to be sent to the tank room where the water tests begin.  In between, the hulls are fitted out with electric cables and plumbing, the motor and reservoirs, the bulkheads and furniture.  It was like walking through Santa’s workshop !  Granted, most of the interior reminds me of IKEA furniture, but the final result feels quite solid.

And what of our dear little Spray, you ask?  You won’t believe this, but we turned away yet another tall man who wanted to visit the boat yesterday.  That’s FIVE in a row over 6 feet tall.  Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot ?!  But yesterday we got a call from an interested buyer who, he assures us, is only 5 feet 8 inches tall and we’ll show him Spray on Friday.  We are also planning to take her to the Crouesty boat show at the end of the month and will do our best to find her a good home.  The dealer offered to buy her as a trade-in, but we didn’t like his price and Patrick is sure we can do better ourselves.  Fingers crossed !

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Return to Winter Haven

Like the first frost of the year, Patrick’s winter beard has set in, signalling that it’s time to settle back into life on land after nearly 6 months of boat life:  yard work, appointments with doctors and dentists, reconnecting with friends, travel arrangements to visit family, renewing our library card.  We’ve been so busy with preparing Spray for the used boat show at the end of the month that I haven’t had time to get the back-home blues yet.

But that doesn’t mean my mind hasn’t been wandering wistfully back to our adventures from this summer.  We wonder about the whereabouts of friends we made along the way (sailing friends who don’t blog…how frustrating !) – did Tony find a good place to winter-over in Spain?  Did Ulf and Pia make it to the Canaries?  So much envy …making it to exotic shores, wintering over.  When will it be our turn? 

Back to reality here in our own little winter haven, I found a “note to self” from this summer listing informational tidbits, useful items, and helpful hints from new friends for our next cruise:

1.  Spanish mosquitoes are impervious to Deep Woods Off.  Use plug-in bug repellent in port, citronella candles and mosquito netting at anchor.

2.  To save on cooking gas when in port, use an electric cooker / frying pan (good for baking and more economical than using the ship’s oven).

3.  Wine corks have countless uses for fix-it jobs on a boat. 

4.  We need a real power drill on-board, not just a cordless one. 

5.  Heaving-to in 4-5 meters of swell is a perilous process.  (It may be okay once you are hove-to, but getting into the hove-to position with large swell is tricky.)  Ed and Sue Kelly on Angel Louise have convinced us that a Jordan Series Drogue is the way to go. 

6.  Remember to charge the battery of your backup computer from time to time so that it’s ready when you need it.  (We have a 12V power cord for both computers, but still…).

7.  Useful things to have on board that we didn’t really think of before: 

  • A sewing kit.  I almost never use one at home but boats are rough on clothes.  I ended up sewing on buttons with sail twine a few times this summer…
  • A small vacuum cleaner or handy-vac
  • Hurricane-strength clothes pins
  • Small no-skid rugs (tired of tracking sand into the bed !)
  • Cockpit cushions
  • Indoor shoes / slippers
  • A folding trolley for hauling heavy stuff like jerry cans
  • Big plastic containers or sacs to protect clothes from humidity
  • Umbrellas.  Somehow, we thought we wouldn’t need umbrellas because we have foul weather gear…but walking around town in foul weather gear is no fun, is it?
  • A bike helmet.  Not necessarily for biking, but also for diving under the boat when there is swell.

I suppose there is a positive side to down-time from sailing.  Pulling together all this stuff will take time !

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Last Sail 2014

We started our end-of-the-year sail around southern Brittany in shorts and ended it in full foul weather gear as we bobbed in and out of three successive gales and torrential rain.  It was clearly time to head home and declare the sailing season over. 

We did have some beautiful days of sailing but mostly we sailed to various appointments to visit boats and to show Spray to perspective buyers.  We visited an Ovni 36 that was in a pathetic state, followed by a pristine Feeling 39 that had an enormous saloon but teeny weeny cabins.  At the same time, it was so wide (4.02 meters or 13.2 feet) that there was no visibility from the helm except through the dodger panels and no way of steering while sitting on the cockpit benches or gunwales. In the meantime, we learned that the Sun Odyssey 379 that we visited earlier is, indeed, Category A (stability rated for “all oceans”) and not Category B as we previously thought.  The boat is only rated Category B if it has in-mast furling, since that puts a lot of weight high up and raises the center of gravity.  That’s not something we wanted anyway, so we’re going to go back and look at that great little boat again next week.

Two statues facing each other on either side of the entrance to the old port of Haliguen.
Much to our dismay and increasing bewilderment, Spray continues attracting tall men.  The last 4 out of 5 visitors have not been able to stand up fully in the saloon.  We have decided to start the guided visit from inside the boat from now on.  We will probably take Spray to the largest used boat show in France in 3 weeks (Le Mille Sabords in southern Brittany) in hopes of selling her before winter sets in.  It sounds so odd to talk of selling her – she’s such a great boat and we’ve invested so much time (and money) in her.  But our sailing plans have altered and she’s not the right boat for us in the long term.  They say that the two happiest days in a boat owner’s life are 1) the day he buys the boat and 2) the day he sells it.  I’m not sure this will be the case for us.  We’ve grown quite attached to her and she’s taught us a lot. It sounds schmaltzy but I really hope we can find her a good home.   

Scenes from river cruising along the Vilaine (where we hid out from the gales).

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Rationality is Over-rated

As much as we like to think of ourselves as devil-may-care adventurers, we are, in fact, little old ladies trapped in the bodies of young retirees.  We only pretend to live adventurously.  This fact was thrust upon us today as we pondered the purchase of our next boat.

There are innumerable articles and blogs about how to choose the right boat.  The only one I’ve ever thought was spot-on was one with the headline:  “Choosing a boat is rarely a rational process.”  That’s really all you need to know. 

We’ve managed to fall in love, somewhat irrationally, with a boat that has the following attributes:

The Sun Odyssey 379 DI

Sails well in light winds (important for the Mediterranean, and frankly, any other sailing area where you prefer ticking off the miles in light winds rather than heavy winds), weighing-in at just under 7 tonnes for 37 feet.

Is SMALLER than we were looking for, but the intelligent design of the interior space make it perfect (even luxurious) for us.

Has a swing keel.  Pros and cons abound, but for us, this will open up many possibilities for exploring (more important to us than pure sailing, truth-be-told), including the canals of Europe and the innumerable shallow areas around the English, French, and Spanish coastlines.  As an added bonus, the architect (the architect of the famous French OVNI line) has designed a swing keel that only looses 3% of its windward performance. 

Has dual helms and dual rudders.  Redundancy means safety.  Dual helms also provide good visibility. 

In its 2 cabin version, has enormous living and storage space (reviewers refer to this storage space as “the shed”).

Has numerous options for ease-of-handling, including all lines (mainsail and headsail) led back to the helmsman.

Won the Cruising World Boat of the Year Award (category Mid-size Cruiser) in 2012.  Reviews were sparkling.

So what’s not to love?  Very little, except…

The boat is listed as a Category B boat.*  Here in Europe, that rating means that the boat has been designed to handle conditions with winds up to and including Beaufort Force 8 and waves up to and including 4 meters.  Who would want to sail in conditions that exceed this, you ask?  Unfortunately, you don’t always have the choice, as we found out this summer.  Category B also indicates that you should not navigate more than 200 nautical miles from a safe haven.  Crossing the Bay of Biscay from southern Brittany to La Coruna, for example, is just at the limits.  Still, all of Europe IS accessible with this boat, but the Atlantic Islands (Azores, Canaries, Cape Verdes) exceed the recommended limits. 

Like the little old ladies that we are, we have always approached our sailing projects in a very cautious, step-wise process: 

Step1: buy a boat and cruise between England/Ireland and Spain to see if we really like the sailing life and want to go further.  Check. 

Step 2: buy a bigger boat for longer cruising and head down to the Med for several years.  In progress. 

Step 3:  assess aspirations and capabilities for a trans-Atlantic voyage or more.  We’ll see about that one later. 

What I’m resisting is the idea that we should buy a different boat for each step.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  We have some visits lined up to look at a couple of other boats that are resolutely category A (all oceans).  While they are much less comfortable for living aboard than the flashy new one, they are robust enough to do anything and go anywhere. 

And with that, we’ll stop trying to rationalize an irrational process and … go sailing !  We’re off tonight to drift around southern Brittany until the cold wet grey weather sets in.

* But wait !  The dealer just called me back with the good news:  the swing keel is CATEGORY A except if it has in-mast furling, which is not something we want.  This little gem can handle all the sailing we want to throw at it (considering we will not be rounding Cape Horn or attempting the Northwest passage) and we'll never have to buy another boat to expand the range of our cruising. YooHoo !

Sunday, 21 September 2014

The Way We Rolled

We sailed into our home port of Arzal last night after 3 action-packed months across the Biscay Bay in Spain.  I tried to stir up some positive emotions about being back home but couldn’t come up with anything more profound than pleasure over the prospects of a flush toilet and a private shower. 

Patrick missed his kitchen and blow torch.  Duck for lunch !
To combat the back-home blues (read: escape from the mountain of laundry, yard work, and house work), I worked up some statistics on how we did things (“the way we rolled”).  As I explained to Patrick to justify my down-time from yard work, this information helps us define our cruising style, which is important when considering the purchase of a new boat.

Number of days = 92

Number of at-sea days = 34

Average port stop, days = 2.7

Longest port stop, days = 12  (stuck by weather at our turn-around point, Camarinas)

Total Miles = 1518

Longest Distances = 216 Miles / 45 hours (4.8 M/hr)  Ile d’Yeu to Bilbao167 Miles / 34 hours (4.9 M/hr)  Bilbao – Medoc

Longest Motoring = 91 Miles in 17 hours (with ~ 1 hour pause to cut fishing net from propeller) from Santander to Gijon.

Average Distances = 45 Miles / sea day.  If I remove the two Biscay crossings, this becomes 37 Miles / sea day.

Speed at which we crack and launch the motor = 3.5 knots (unless we have a time-sensitive destination)
So what does this tell us?  

We spend more time visiting than sailing.  We knew this already, but it’s interesting to quantify it.  I actually thought the average port stop days would be higher, since it seemed like we spent a lot of time exploring, including two overnight excursions, one to Santiago de Compostella and one to the Picos de Europa.  It also seemed like we were pinned down by bad weather frequently, but sailing on average every 3rd or 4th day isn’t so bad for a couple of laid-back drifters such as ourselves. 

The Chateau of the Dukes of of our favorite local anchorages.

Ile d'Yeu by scooter.

South side of Ile d'Yeu

When we do sail, we make a full day of it.  Our average distance of 37 miles / sea day at our average cruising speed of 4.5 knots means we sail about 8 hours / day when we head out.  We actually quite liked the longer treks, mostly planned on days when the weather was favourable.  I had anticipated that we would take smaller hops and stay less time at each place, but the way we actually travelled was more relaxed.

A beautiful late-summer sail home.

A good motor is important.  I didn’t count up the number of hours spent motoring, but it more than we had anticipated.  Our Yanmar 18 HP was a trooper and never gave us problems.  (The decoupling of the propeller shaft coupler was not the motor’s fault).  The diesel consummation is very low - around 1 liter per hour at 2000 rpms and the oil level didn’t budge.  Unfortunately, there’s only so much oomph you can get out of 18HP and we can only get about 4.5 knots out of 2000 rpms on smooth seas.

We were in marinas more often than on moorings.  I didn’t work up the stats on this, either, but we weren’t at anchor very often.  The north coast of Spain doesn’t have very many good anchoring spots or harbours.  Once we got around the edge of Galicia into the rias, we had more mooring opportunities.  Four useful facts arose from mooring or not mooring: 

1) We hated having to inflate the dinghy, hoist it over the side, and attach the motor (if necessary) to go ashore, only to have to hoist it back on board, rinse it, dry it, deflate it, and restore it afterwards.  It’s so much work that we often just stayed on board rather than exploring, which is too bad. 

2) We don’t produce enough electricity with our wind generator alone for more than 2 days of autonomy, and the damn thing vibrates and resonates in the aft cabin, making it sound like you’re rounding Cape Horn anytime the wind exceeds 15 knots.

3)  Our water reserves (90 Litres / 24 gallons) are good for about 4-5 days for the two of us (about 3 gallons / day / person), and we don’t even drink the water from the reservoir. 

4)  We often wished we had a lifting or swing keel.  That would have allowed us to get into more harbours, some shallower areas and/or avoid a few more grey hairs from close encounters with the bottom during big tides.  It would also allow us to get closer to shore and maybe avoid having to use the motor on the dinghy.  We knew that a lifting keel would be useful in Brittany and the Channel Islands, but it’s also true around northern Spain and Galicia.  I’m beginning to think this is true just about anywhere there is a coast line.

The yard work beckons… sigh.

A little weeding, anyone ?

Friday, 12 September 2014

The Leibster Award

We’ve been tagged for the Leibster Award, a sort of “chain letter” for sailing blogs.  It represents a very nice recognition by your sail-blogging peers and is a great way to learn of other blogs out there.  Thank you, thank you, thank you The Cynical Sailor and His Salty Sidekick for the nomination!

The game consists of answering the following getting-to-know-you questions and then tagging other blogs. 

Introduce us to your crew. Who are they and what role do they play in your operation?
We are a hillbilly (Maria, from Kentucky, USA) and a frog (Patrick, from Brittany, France) who dropped everything to go sailing.

The hillbilly is an oceanographer who spent most of her career coordinating international research programs before deciding to marry the frog and take early retirement.  The frog is a computer geek who was able to take full retirement at 55 (which is also pretty dang early these days, n’est-ce pas?).

On board our Dehler 34, Spray, Maria is the navigator, sail trimmer, diver, blogger, photographer, and chief worrywart.  Patrick is the primary helmsman, mechanic, electrician, plumber, head cook, and chief “don’t worry, be happy” guy.

What sort of boat do you have and would you recommend it for other adventurers hoping to live aboard? What do you like the least about your choice? 
This is a tricky question.  In the short amount of time we’ve been cruising on our own, we’ve learned that it’s not about the boat.  Lots of cruisers are out there doing amazing things on boats that don’t tick the boxes for a live-aboard, blue-water cruising boat.  But it all boils down to personal preference, sailing project, comfort level, and bank account size.

We have a Dehler 34, 1992 designed by Van de Stadt.  She is a beautiful “classic plastic” yacht, fast and robust (category A), capable of going anywhere.  We fell in love with her immediately, even though she was a bit larger than we wanted for our first boat.  Her previous owners took her out for a trans-Atlantic cruise from France to the Caribbean and back, and we knew she would be capable of handling a couple of cruising neophytes as they took their first wobbly steps in the world of long-distance cruising.

And now that Spray has shown us how much we love this lifestyle, we are hoping to sell her to move up to something a bit larger and more comfortable for longer cruising.  (Sounds terribly ungrateful, doesn’t it?)  Spray’s diesel reservoir is approximately 60 litres (16 gallons) and the water tank only holds 90 litres (24 gallons).  Sure, you can have jerrycans tied everywhere, and in some circumstances, it’s better to be able to shift around the weight where you need it.  The motor is only 18 HP for 4 tonnes and, coupled with a 2-blade folding prop, we are constantly reminded that we are on a sail boat.  Again, others do more with less, but we’re looking for something a bit more geared towards “retirement cruising” for a live-aboard boat.

What are your sailing plans, if you have any, for the future? 
Like moths to the flame (e.g., like every other sailor living in northern Europe) we dream of sailing down into the Med for a few years.  After that, we’ll see what our motivation and confidence levels look like.  Maybe the Atlantic islands (Canaries, Cape Verdes, Azores), maybe a tour of the Baltic, maybe a trans-Atlantic? 

How do you support your lifestyle while sailing and cruising?
During the last 15 years we worked, we lived very modestly, which allowed us to both take early retirement. We rented a small apartment and put more than half of our salaries into savings every month.  Up until the age of 40, everything I owned could fit into my car (a Volkswagon Polo, no less!).  No house, no stuff, no kids, no problem!  Now we live on Patrick’s pension and my investments, and we bought a small duplex to call home during the winter months when sailing just doesn’t have the same appeal.  We still live fairly frugally because that’s just the way we roll. 

What's the best experience you've had while living aboard? 
We only live aboard about 4-6 months out of the year.  This lifestyle has been dubbed commuter cruising by David and Jan at Commuter Cruiser and it describes our situation perfectly. 

It’s difficult to choose a single best experience.  Of course, there are those moments of pure grace when the sun is shining, the seas are smooth, the wind is just right, and dolphins come over to play with you.  We also love the constant change of scenery, discovering new places and making new friends along the way.  The solidarity in the sailing community warms our hearts and reminds us of how good people can be.  Live-aboard traveling allows you to explore the world while carrying your own little “chez toi” with you.   

Name the most challenging experience you have had while living aboard and what did you do to overcome it?
Why is it that naming the best experiences are difficult while the worst experiences are sooo easy to single out? 

The weather continues to be our biggest bugaboo.  Two particularly bad incidents (one along the north coast of Brittany and one along the north coast of Spain) were called “freak” situations because they were short-lived phenomena that weren’t easy to predict.  But the fact that there can be 50 knots of wind and 5-6 meters of swell out there …what? HIDING !?… makes us very uneasy. 

Learning to cope with our own fears and anxieties has been a major undertaking these last few years.  It’s a process of learning to distinguish between fears that are healthy well-founded ones and those that are simply parasitic.  Experience is the best teacher, and we’ve learned a few things to help us avoid bad situations, real and imagined.  At least we now know how to better cope with bad weather when it does strike, which goes a long way to eliminating fears.  Best of all, we’ve learned (only just recently, I might add) that the joys of this lifestyle outweigh the scary bits.  

Is living aboard and sailing an alternative way of life for you, an escape from the system, or is it just a temporary adventure?
Living and sailing around Europe where the weather is not amenable to year-round cruising, we have become “commuter cruisers” who live aboard 4-6 months of the year.  In the beginning, we tried winter cruising and, while there were some magical moments, it was mostly just wet, cold and gray.  When huddled in the saloon while a squall blew over, we would said to ourselves “it’s still better than sitting at home”, and that sentiment carried us through until the day we realized that we had more options than just sailing or sitting at home.  So now when the weather gets nasty, we pull the boat out of the water and go do other things (land cruising, we call it) until the sun comes out again.  

Even with only living aboard part of the year, our lifestyle is definitely an escape from the traditional retirement gig.  It’s a logical response to the question of what to do when you retire early and don’t care much for home and garden.  Traveling is a passion for both of us, and sailing is a great way to move around for 6 months of the year. There are other ways to travel (faster, cheaper, more comfortable to boot) but Patrick is a foody (did I mention he’s French?) and wouldn’t be able to tolerate a mode of travel that wouldn’t let us to have our own kitchen and to eat well !

We’re just getting started in this cruising life, but we’re hooked and hope to have many more years ahead of us.  Here in Europe, we’re also blessed with an almost continent-wide network of canals, so when we’re too old to sea cruise, we’ll move aboard a houseboat and cruise Europe’s inner seas!

Any big mistakes you have learned from that others may learn from too?
The first winter we owned Spray, she broke away from her mooring buoy during two back-to-back gales on New Year’s Eve and was the subject of a rather spectacular rescue by the local maritime rescue service, involving 2 boats and a diver.  We were enjoying the New Year’s festivities at home with friends when it happened.

Most of the damage was to our egos and our confidence levels, but we still had to pull the boat out of the water for an inspection and do some touch-up work on the hull.  Most of the work fell to Patrick since I jetted off to sunny Florida to visit my family for 2 weeks.  Patrick attacked the work relentlessly, scraping, sanding, and grinding in the cold grey wet windy Brittany winter.  He didn’t ask for advice or help, and had to muddle though as best he could. 

By the time I got home, he was in a pitiful state.  He had come down with a bronchial infection from inhaling too much dust (probably the anti-fouling...very bad) and being exposed to the cold wind for hours every day, and was physically and emotionally exhausted.  His confidence was severely shaken, his self-esteem at rock-bottom, and he said he didn’t have what it takes to manage a boat.  He fell into a depression that lasted several months.  We agreed to sell the boat and move on to other things. 

I didn’t blog about it at the time because it was too personal and too painful, but with time we can better understand why it happened. If the sea teaches you anything, it’s humility.  We’ve always been humble in the face of mother nature, but accepting our own weakness and need for help is another thing entirely.  We have to accept that we weren’t born with a natural instinct for managing a boat.  It’s something that has to be learned, preferably with good mentors rather than from the school-of-hard-knocks.  Fortunately, we are now members of 2 sailing associations where help is generously and cheerfully available.  We’ve learned to appreciate this more and more and it’s made all the difference. 

What advice would you give to those that may be interested in following in your footsteps and living aboard and/or cruising?
The only advice we would dare to give is: Learn to sail first.  There are many stories about people with no experience who buy a boat, cast off the lines, and go on to great adventures, but the reason those stories are in the sailing magazines is because they are the exception rather than the rule, and, in our opinion, a bit foolhardy.  Get good sail training through a school or association.  Crewing for others is a great way to learn and to get to know different boats.  Almost every port we’ve ever been in has a message board at the port office where there are notices of skippers looking for crew.  Sail enough to learn not just how to handle the sails but also everything else that goes into cruising: navigation techniques and strategies (including how to navigate without the aid of electronic gadgets... on account of you just never know...), understanding / interpreting weather forecasts, basic on-board safety, how to use the VHF (in France, you need a permit requiring a test), sailing in bad weather conditions, coping with sea sickness (your own or your crew’s), how to manage eating, sleeping, basic boat and motor maintenance, how to recover someone who has fallen overboard, etc. 

And an important piece of advice related to the previous question:  Surround yourself with fellow sailors who can offer help and advice when needed.

What motivates you to blog and what tips can you offer fellow bloggers?
I started blogging as a way to inform my non-sailing family where I was and what I was doing.  They were understandably worried when Patrick and I decided to buy our own boat and head off “alone together” instead of crewing for others.  Having them share in our little adventure helps to demystify the unknown and reduce the anxiety (some of it, anyway).  It’s also been great fun for us to keep a scrapbook of our cruising life and to see for ourselves how we’ve evolved in ways we didn’t expect. 

The only real tip I can offer is to name your blog something other than the name of your boat if you aren’t sure you will be sailing on that boat for years to come.  We really should make better use of other social media or blog directories to draw attention to our blog, but since we hope to buy a new boat soon - a boat that will not be named Spray – we’ve hesitated to “advertise” more widely.  

The other piece of advice I am giving myself is to stress the importance of good photos.  I’m hoping that Santa Claus will bring me a new camera this year and I am looking around locally for a class on digital photography.  I’m just a point-and-shoot person and can definitely see the difference between what I produce and what other blogs put out there. 

Our Nominations
I’m not sure how long this award chain has been circulating, but I suspect that our nominations will overlap with others.  But hey… that just means that lots of us out here really like their blogs, so I hope they’ll forgive the double nominations. 

Like The Cynical Sailor and his Salty Sidekick who nominated us, we follow quite a few blogs (although we’ve fallen behind in the last 4 months we’ve been at sea).  Besides The Cynical Sailor and The Red Thread, here are a few of our favorites du jour:

Just a Little Further - subtitle “it’s not just travel… it’s our lifestyle.”  We love the name of the blog and the philosophy behind it… slow steady progress that has allowed Marcie and David to sail around the world.  The blog has excellent writing (both Marcie and David write for various sailing magazines) and is updated frequently with useful and entertaining information.

Commuter Cruiser - This great site is a mix of practical information and a cruising blog of David and Jan’s adventures in the part-time live-aboard lifestyle.  We also love their sailing philosophy: “as long as it’s fun.”    

The Retirement Projet - Tim and Deb took up cruising as an early retirement project.  As we are following in their footsteps, we’ve had great fun following their adventures with their first boat and first long-distance cruises.

To participate in the Leibster Award, you should:

Refer back to the blog that you nominated you.
Answer questions posed by the nominator (same ones as above).
Nominate other blogs you believe are worthwhile.