The following pages chronicle the journey of the sailing vessel Pelagic and her crew. We are a family of 5; Michael, Amy, Zander, Porter and Anakena, taking our 42' Hallberg Rassy as far as we can comfortably go in three years. We left Oregon in September 2014, participated in the 2014 Baja Haha, continued on through the Panama Canal, into the Caribbean, up the coast of the US to Maritime Canada and from there crossed the Atlantic. After an arrival in Ireland we toured Scotland, then sailed down to France, Portugal and on to Morocco. In January of 2016 we slowed down considerably and enrolled the kids in a local Spanish school in Sanlucar de Guadiana for a few months. In the spring of 2016 we crossed the Atlantic towards the Caribbean. We are now in the Pacific, officially on our way home, albeit via a very circuitous path. We are currently in French Polynesia and looking at weather windows to Hawaii before finally making landfall back in the Pacific Northwest.

Currently our exact location is not available. Our spot coverage will pick us back up in Hawaii towards the end of May, 2017.

Our favorite sailing quote:

"If anythings gonna happen, it's gonna happen out there boss!" Captain Ron

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Tips on jump starting your cruising dreams.

Porter the photographer.  Headed to a dock potluck.

How do you make the cruising dream become a reality?   I don't claim to be an expert in anything, but we have been out here for two years now and we may be able to pass along a few sage words of advice for anyone that wants to join us in this vagabond lifestyle. The big question is how do we afford this lifestyle?  No, we aren’t trust fund kids, no we didn’t win the lotto, nor did we ever have a huge income.  Cruising is doable by anyone with some imagination.  Yes, you do have to plan it out for quite some time, yes, you generally have to give up some luxuries and yes, if you visited us on our boat you’d know we aren’t vacationing on the QEII. 

  1. Have a plan.  I’m sure there are some people that quit their jobs, buy a boat and head out in a short time frame, but for most of us, this is a life we have been planning for many years.  For the retirees, maybe most of their working lives.  We had a 10 year goal, and probably about 6 or 7 years of serious planning.  It’s not just squirreling away money for that amount of time, every major decision we made for 6 or 7 years we first asked ourselves how will this affect our chances to go cruising?  Is this a house we can easily sell or rent?  Do we have an exit plan with this job?  Will the kids be good ages to cruise?  Will this pet still be alive 7 years from now (we failed this one and had to re-home our dog, but we found the best foster home ever, so we lucked out there).
  2. Start Saving.  The independently wealthy can skip this step, but for us we needed to create a budget for cruising and start actively saving.  We started eliminating big purchases.  We both drove old cars and swanky vacays were out of the question.  We love traveling but our last big trip happened 7 years before we set sail.  In the interim we certainly didn’t sit at home the whole time, but our vacations were timeshares offered by family members, visiting relatives and camping trips.  Mike has always been able to work away from home, so we have been lucky to still manage extended work/vacations in Maine.   When we were only a few years out, we started cutting out smaller things out of our budget.  We watched our weekend away, our meals out and our discretionary spending.  In the last year on land we started selling anything we could that didn’t have sentimental value.  We had an awkward dinner party when our dinning room table sold faster than we planned and we had company eating Indian style on the floor.  We purged everything we could, everything we didn’t want to store or we couldn’t buy back.   Since we were only going to be gone for 2-3 years the tricky part was not getting rid of everything, but enough to lighten the storage load.  We were able to build a 300 square foot storage room in our basement and we left what we didn’t want to part with down there.  
  3. Buy a boat.  This is sort of the deal breaker, you do have to come up with money somewhere for this one.  There are several options out there.  1.  The boat loan is common if you aren’t cruising as a lifestyle.  2. Sell the house and buy the boat.  Great if you are sailing away and cruising will be a life style. 3. Buy a fixer upper and put sweat equity into it. We opted to buy an older boat, fully depreciated, and try to pay it off.  While a boat certainly doesn't appreciate like a house, our old boat will probably be worth the same amount in 5 years as it did when we bought it. Here again we didn’t practice what we preached.  While Mike loved the idea of an old boat, he didn’t really like the “old” features an old boat has.  In the end, we probably replaced almost everything on the boat including replacing our teak deck with fiberglass, replacing our fuel tank, replacing almost all of our electronics, almost all of our standing rigging, some of our sails and adding some cruising equipment (new water maker, self steering vane, and new liferaft).  I think the rule of thumb is buy your boat and then add %25 to cruise it out.   We’ve all heard those references to a boat being a hole in the water in which to throw money.  This isn’t always true for a cruising boat.  For one thing, most cruisers do many of their own repairs.  You can’t take off and cross an ocean without not being handy and able to do most of your own repairs.  Another rule of thumb is that you will spend about 10% of the cost of your boat annually to keep up with the maintenance. Many of us do so much prep work before we leave the dock, we often don’t have any major repairs to do for the first couple years of cruising. We’ve spent about 10K in the first 18 months of cruising.  Less then the 10%, but certainly not chump change (2K new prop, 2K new autopilot, 3K haul-outs and painting, 3K whisker pole, spinnaker bag, new stern anchor and a few misc smaller repairs). Lastly, this is home.  No mortgage to pay, no rent or hotel bills.  Yes, we have annual maintenance, but hey, we had some big maintenance bills with our house on land. 
  4. What do I do with the house?  Generally this is one of the first things you deal with.  We had always planned to buy a house we could unload easily.  Again we broke our own rule.  We fell in love with a high maintenance house.  We didn’t go into it blind. We knew it would be a pain, but serendipitously (pure plain dumb luck) we sold our old home at the market high (2007)and bought 2 years later at the low (2009), and we felt like we could have a renter pay our mortgage and come out even.  That is always the risk, but in our case we liked having the income and we were able to buy the boat without selling the house.  Again, we have so far lucked out with great renters.  
  5. Ditch the job.  No, we can’t retire, oh wouldn’t that be lovely!  Instead we’ve decided we’d rather work a little longer and take the time off now, while we are physically able and while our kids still want to hang out with us.  We all know there are no guarantees in life, who knows if Mike and I will still be kicking around in our golden years.  Ten days before we left the dock in Portland, Mike had neck surgery to remove cancerous thyroid tissue that had resurfaced.  Life is short, work will always be there!  You may also have to make other sacrifices on the work front.  Maybe a job with an exit plan is a better move than a big corporate ladder move.  We’ve worked for ourselves for the last handful of years and it was convenient for many reasons, but the biggest was because it gave us an exit out when we wanted and hopefully an entry back in when we return.  I can’t say I had the most soul satisfying position the last 5 years or so, I worked for an ogre of a supervisor (my husband), but we figured if we could work together, we could probably hang out together on a 42 foot boat for several years!

OK, now we’ve discussed how to exit from a shore based life; how to buy the boat, deal with the home and save.  The big expense is definitely the boat, but obviously it cost something once you leave the dock.  This is again where you have such a spread in budgets.  There are families that spend less, and certainly those that spend more and my guess is that we are somewhere in the middle.  Some of the variables to cruising are:

  1. Where do you want to cruise? Mexico is cheap if you stay out of marinas (reasonable even in most of the marinas), in contrast in the Med there are few places to anchor and marinas and moorage is expensive.  
  2. How often do you want to stay on the hook and how often do you want to be in a marina.  This again is dependent on the type of cruiser you are.  If you want to go the South Pacific, be prepared to be self sufficient and stay on anchor.  If you want to cruise the Med. you may not have many choices but to be in marinas. 
  3. Do you intend to push your boat and how serious are you about safety gear?  This isn’t meant to imply some people are more careless, but if you are not voyaging far, you can get away with not only a cheaper boat (coastal vs blue water), but less bells and whistles on the boat (forget the windvane, watermaker, reduntant systems, etc).  If I was going to hang out in the Caribbean or coastal Mexico for years at a time I would have a different priority in boats and with a probable cost savings I could cruise longer. In our case we decided we wanted a boat that we could go anywhere in.  We wanted to be able to go to Anatarctica if we got the urge (or Iceland, the Shetlands, South Georgia, the Falklands, Patagonia, high latitude sailing calls to us, but that is another blog post).  Mike is also Mr. Fixit.  Although we have an older boat, there isn’t much on the boat that is original.  We’ve replaced almost everything. Some sailors don’t fix something until it breaks, Mike fixes things when he first detects wear.  That can get expensive, on the other hand we are crossing oceans and when I’m in the middle of an ocean I’m happy he had the foresight to do so much preventive maintenance.  
  4. How much inland travel to you want to do?  This is often our biggest budget buster.  Sailing brings you to so many out of the way places, but it would be a shame to miss the inland sights when you have come so far from home.  That said, if you had a smaller budget, you could stay on the boat all the time and save money.
  5. Lastly, what is your normal expenditure pattern?  Do you want to go out to eat often, do you prefer taxi’s over local buses, do you buy your food in local markets or at the import markets and do you take your cocktails in the cockpit or in the watering holes.  

Generally speaking, cruising can be pretty economical if you want it to be.  Your boat is your transportation and your accommodation, which is often the most expensive part of traveling.  Unlike traditional traveling, with a galley on board you can shop locally and limit your restaurant costs.  Imagine getting rid of most of your land based expenditures.  Ditch the water, garbage, gas and electrical bills.  Get rid of the cable, cell phone and internet bill.  You no longer have house insurance and taxes, you no longer have car insurance and maintenance.  You do have boat insurance, but it is significantly less. Even health insurance is significantly less traveling abroad.  Obamacare has shaken things up a little in that department; but many people go without insurance entirely, some stick with accident and evacuation insurance and others go with traditional insurance (high deductibles keep the costs down a little). In most countries a hospital visit is still reasonable. Sure, we do buy things along the way, but our misc. expenses don’t add up to near what they do on land.  When I add up the money we spend at home on kids sports, kids activities, friends birthday presents, ski trips, clothing bills, entertainment costs and eating out it is 10 times what we spend in that same category now.

You generally don't take your family sailing on a whim, it is a lifestyle you have chosen early on.  The question is not usually can you cruise, it is usually how will you make it happen.  With everything accounted for, we spend about 25-35% of what we spend on land.  With our investments and the money we get from rent every month we break about even.  We run into quite a few people that have figured out a way to either work from the boat, or work occasionally from the boat.  It is amazing how creative people can be.

For us, the question wasn't so much, how can we afford this, but rather how can we afford not to do this.

Visiting Cartagena, November 16 scheduled post

We spent a week in Cartagena. The undisputed most celebrated city on the Caribbean coast of the South American continent. The old town of Cartagena was like a living museum. The balcony lined streets were all covered with colorful Bougenvillae (have I mentioned I love Bougenvillae?), the street vendors were dressed in vibrant traditional dress, carrying their wares on their heads. The streets were clean, there were boutique hotels, cafes and souvenir shops in all the historic buildings. The whole of old town is a UNESCO site and money is obviously funneled there to protect it. It is almost too perfectly preserved. It doesn't seem real. After you tour the Palace of the Inquisition you can shop next door for Colombian Emeralds, taste some coffee from Juan Valdez, buy a souvenir Pablo Escabar T- shirt (he is literally revered here in Colombia by many) and window shop for some swanky designer shoes. We did find a few neat old barber shops and some hole in the wall places to eat, but as a whole the old town seemed a little too polished for our liking. When the cruise ships were in town, it even felt a little Disneyesque. On our very last day we were there for, what the locals were telling us was "Independence Day". The official Independence is celebrated in July but apparently this was a similar local celebration. We were lucky enough to witness a parade that rivaled those of Carnival (or so the tourist office said) and true to the claim the costumes were amazing! We watched fire breathers on stilts (take a swig of gasoline, blow on a torch and viola), we We watched colorful floats pass by and flamboyant dancers all from our lofty perch on the ramparts. In the evening we wandered around with the crowds and got in the middle of shaving cream fights (a traditional activity the kids embraced with a gusto), sampled more street food (skewers of unknown meats) and took some (possibly blurry) photos of the elaborate costumes. Every costume was more impressive than the last and as I was trying to get it all in the frame of a camera I was hardly taking time to focus. I don't usually like taking pictures of people while we travel (unless we've really developed a relationship with them). It seems like an invasion of privacy to snap away and I know some cultures are afraid of it. Although I love seeing the traditional colors and dress and wish I could preserve those images, I hesitate to put them in the frame of a lens. Normally I would rather enjoy the experience and leave the camera at home. Hence, there are websites with far better pictures than ours and many more with photos of traditional people that are sadly absent in our photos. As the parade passed, I was free to take as many photos as I wanted of people and locals, and I even got some people to pose for me. It was a fabulous experience. Photos to follow on the next scheduled post.

While old town was slightly sterile, on the edges of the old town you could find the locals and the local merchants, the street food and the every day hustle and bustle. At night everyone was in the streets or in the squares. It was very reminiscent of old town Havana for us, only less run down. The music was loud, the kids were running around everywhere, street food was fantastic and it was a fun place to wander and people watch. This was the part of Cartagena we really enjoyed.

We visited all the requisite sites the city had to offer; the Castillo do San Felipe de Barajas, the largest fort the Spanish empire every built in one of the Spanish colonies, we explored a few museums, walked the ramparts and meandered around the municipal markets. The markets do not cater to the tourist and they are very real. The smells are real too and its an assault on the senses, but fun to explore. The produce is fantastic, but it is often crawling with cockroaches so we were extremely selective with our purchases.

I'm not sure Cartagena is best by boat. We were anchored in a very rolly, dirty bay the whole time, but the marina wasn't much better. At night there was a strong smell of diesel on the water and you could see the refinery blazing in the distance. We couldn't swim and the boat was stifling hot (although we did have a handful of showers and some overcast days to cool things down a little). The anchorage was very rolly as big power boats sped around at top speeds completely oblivious to the small dinghy's moving around at a snails pace. Walking around town was fun, but the kids were interested in the museums, the forts and urban exploring for just so long. For my birthday we rented a AB&B condo in one of the high rises for two days to get a break from the boat. We sat by the pool, luxuriated in the cool air conditioning and enjoyed the convenient wifi. We had a fantastic view of the Caribbean Ocean from 24 floors up on our balcony and yet I'm not sure anyone ever went out. We see plenty of ocean on a regular basis, our jonse was for wifi, TV and AC!

Our next stop is the San Blas Islands. The San Blas Islands, an autonomous area of Panama, are inhabited by Kuna Indians. The Kunas are known for having preserved their indigenous culture when many other tribes of the Americas could not. My memories of the area from 15 years ago are not fond ones. I was sick as a dog in the midst of pregnancy and could not get away from the islands fast enough (or the boat for that matter). In fact, I flew out of a small island with a grass runway after only two weeks in the San Blas. No issue with small planes, I've flown in many small planes in Alaska in my lifetime. At this particular runway there was a plan crashed into the side of the administrative building and even that sight didn't deter me from getting away. Death by airplane seemed a small price to pay for getting off our rolly boat. I'm sure the island will be far more enjoyable this time around. We expect to have almost a month to travel through the 120 mile stretch of Archipelago islands.