Cruising FAQs

When we made the decision to sell our house and cars, give up our jobs and go cruising, many of our friends were astounded.  Most did a good job of keeping their “You must be crazy” thoughts to themselves, but the questions we’re often asked show the misconceptions most people have about the cruising lifestyle. Following are some of the more frequent questions we’re asked...

What’s this “cruising dream” all about, anyway? Well, how about a typical day... We woke up when the sun drifted into the aft cabin (not to the sound of a raucous alarm clock!). After leisurely getting dressed and ready for the day, Ty got the coffee going, then filled the cabin with the smell of bacon and eggs. We enjoyed breakfast in the cockpit, enjoying the view of the Halifax skyline across the harbor. By 0800 we were underway, heading south for the first time since May. The Nova Scotia fog closed in around us, but we sailed on, confident in our radar and GPS. The waves off the coast were steep and close together, making for a rolly ride. Fog, we could handle. Wind and waves, we could handle. But together they weren’t making the trip a lot of fun. Wait a minute! We’re cruising! We have no schedule! Who needs this? So we checked the chart and altered course into a protected cove. Terence Bay turned out to be an idyllic anchorage, with a quaint fishing village on one side and unspoiled, rocky shoreline on the other. When we were sure the anchor was set well we hopped in the dinghy and went exploring. Within minutes Ty had filled a mesh bag with mussels from among the rocks. After dropping our “catch” off at the boat we headed for the village. A chat with a friendly local woman revealed that just down the road was a great hiking trail leading to a lighthouse. Hiking along the coast we came upon a memorial to the victims of the wreck of the SS Atlantic in the late 1800s. Having just found our way past the site of the wreck minutes earlier in the thick fog, we were thankful for our modern day navigation tools. Back aboard the boat Ty read a book while Suzanne painted a seaside scene. Later, those mussels made for a delectable feast dipped in melted garlic butter and accompanied by an oaky chardonnay! We enjoyed a gorgeous sunset, then went below for more reading and a game of cards. The Canadian summer temperatures are just cool enough to make snuggling under the covers a delight as we drifted off to sleep, our floating home rocking ever so gently beneath us... It’s a rough life!

How can you give up a big house to live on a small boat?

Liberty isn’t exactly small. Her 46’ length, 13’6” beam and center cockpit design makes her quite roomy below, for a sailboat. As for giving up our house, think about it... most people spend all their time at home in the same basic places: in bed, in the bathroom, at the kitchen sink, counter or table, and in “their chair.”  How often do folks use that formal living and dining room?  Well, here on Liberty we have a large master cabin with king-sized bed, a comfortable head (bathroom), a galley big enough for both of us to work in at the same time, and a cozy salon (living & dining room).

WHY would you give up a big house to live on a small boat?

Let’s see... there’s no yard to mow (in fact, the whole world is our back yard!)... we can clean the whole interior in half an hour... we’ve always wanted waterfront property... but seriously, it’s all about ambiance and attitude. Living aboard is living simply, giving up the need for material things (there’s only so much room to put things), being ON the water and around boats -- what more could you ask for?  The cruising lifestyle allows us to travel to exciting places and take our home with us!

Have you been anchoring out or staying at marinas most of the time? We much prefer to anchor out.  We love the solitude, the choice of spots, and it’s free! We rarely stay at marinas, but have swung on a few mooring balls when there was no choice (we found this to be the case in quite a few spots in New England, where they’ve filled up all available anchoring space with for-rent moorings). One of our favorite anchorages ever was Louse Harbor, northeast of Halifax. It has a very narrow entrance with rocks and ledges aplenty to catch the inattentive navigator, but once you’re inside, anchored in 35 feet of clear, cold water, surrounded on all sides by forest and granite cliffs, you have a ringside seat for bald eagles diving for fish within 100 feet of your boat! Who would choose a marina when there are National Geographic moments like that waiting for you?

What do you do with your trash?  What, you mean all those empty wine bottles? (Just kidding!) Trash disposal has not been a problem. We dump garbage when we stop at fuel piers, or take it with us when we dinghy ashore.

Fuel piers?  Aren’t you a sailboat?  Alas, we are at the mercy of the wind. Even when the wind DOES blow, half the time it’s right on the nose, coming from the exact direction we want to go (and sailboats don’t sail into the wind, but rather, at an angle to it).  We raise the sails whenever the winds hold steady over 8 knots, otherwise, we use the engine. We’re much more fuel-efficient than most powerboats however (but much slower, too!). Liberty only burns one gallon of diesel per HOUR!

You two used to run or work out every day. How are you dealing with that now that you’re on a 46 foot sailboat? Fitness is a priority for both of us, so we’re determined not to let the “good life” get the best of us.  We’ve taken the dinghy ashore most places we’ve anchored out and enjoyed running in new places. This has turned out to be a great way to see more than most tourists do by simply walking. For days when we don’t get off the boat, we have a set of dumbells (pairs of 10, 15, 20, and 25 pounders). We do sit-ups, push-ups, and lift weights while we’re underway.  Working out as you watch the scenery go by is far more interesting than being in a smelly gym!   Of course, this is only possible when we’re not heeled over!) Suzanne has been enjoying Pilates DVDs lately for toning and slimming. For a good upper-body workout, we go out in our kayak.

Who’s driving while you’re working out?  We take turns! We’ve settled into a routine where each of us takes the helm for about two hours while underway for day sails.  Any time we go offshore and have to sail all night, we stand 3-4 hour watches.

Have you found fellow cruisers to be as friendly as you’d heard? Absolutely!  There’s an instant bond among those who are out here doing the same thing.  We spent our first 5 months cruising to Maine, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland. We would go days without seeing other boats, let alone cruisers. Once we got back to the Chesapeake Bay and started heading south, we started seeing lots more folks doing the same thing we are. It’s really fun to see the same boats over and over or hear their names on the radio. It’s a real community.

What’s your favorite piece of cruising equipment? After making our Atlantic crossing, we both agree it’s our W-H Autopilot. We had an unreliable system for our first 3 years on Liberty. The W-H steered flawlessly for 16 days straight on the Bermuda to Azores leg, no matter what the sea conditions and no matter if we were sailing of motoring.

 As for other favorites, Suzanne has three.  No, four! No... five! 

  • The radar.  It’s indispensable for safety and peace of mind.  Also, having it right at the helm is critical.  We can’t understand why many boats put the radar screen at the navigation station below decks! 
  • The Relief Band anti-seasickness device.  Worn like a watch on the underside of the wrist, this great gadget sends a battery-powered tingle through your fingers every four seconds.  This interrupts the signal between your brain and your stomach that makes you queasy when the boat is rolling.  It has five strength levels and really works! The best thing is: no drowsiness, and it’s the only seasickness remedy that works within minutes, even if you’re already queasy.
  • The cockpit enclosure.  A boat that headed offshore with us to Block Island called us wusses when we put up the enclosure after it started getting cold and wet, but he wasn’t laughing by morning! We put it up when it rains, or put up bits and pieces to block the wind when it’s too cool.
  • The mast pulpits. These custom-made bars at the base of the mast provide great peace of mind when one of us is working with the main sail. They’re great for bracing against or just as a secure hand-hold when moving about the foredeck.
  • Sailmail! After being totally incommunicado with family the first few weeks in the Bahamas, Suzanne had a meltdown. Cruising is fabulous, but not if it means being cut off from loved ones. So, we splurged on a Pactor III modem -- a fantastic investment. Now we can send and receive email any time, any place, using our HF (Single Sideband) radio. It’s made all the difference in the world. Pocketmail is fine while we’re in the US, but foreign phones are too unreliable and expensive for email.

Ty’s favorites are:

  • The extremely reliable Perkins 4-236 engine! While we are sailors, and sail whenever we can, it seems that on coastal hops the wind is “on the nose” more often than not. A reliable engine cuts down the concerns about arriving in port before the next storm, and certainly allows you to get to your anchorage in spite of opposing tidal currents.
  • The electric anchor windlass (made by Ideal), big 66 lb. Bruce anchor, and lots of chain. (see FAQ below). The Bruce has been exceptional; it always sets quickly and holds well; we also have a 45 CQR  35 Danforth, and 23 Forttress, but each has only been used once in a year and a half of cruising.
  • The Apex 10 Lite rigid inflatable dinghy, Mercury outboard and Vetus davits. The Apex RIB has performed magnificently with only a 5 hp 2 stroke Mercury outboard. It planes with both of us aboard, and still does very well with three, but would need a 10-15 hp if we regularly carried four. Having a single fiberglass hull, it is easy to lift onto the foredeck when we’re going to sea, and while coastal and inport, hangs nicely from our aluminum davits. We never leave it in the water for more than a couple of hours to prevent marine growth on the bottom. The outboard has been very reliable; no problems whatsoever, and very economical on fuel.
  • Navigation software and electronic charts: when paired with normal plotting on paper charts using   DR, visual or radar fixes, or GPS, electronic charts and nav software give you both a backup to your normal navigation mode as well as great passage and route planning capabilities. Instant set and drift calculations tell you when you’ve found that ebb current you’ve been expecting, and the detail in some electronic charts is better than all but the largest scale paper charts. Just be careful to ensure that when you go to out of the way destinations, the chart datum matches your GPS... the cruising guides to some areas we’ve planned to visit warn of up to a half mile error between the chart and GPS... not too worrysome when you’re making a daylight transit in good visibility, but when the fog socks you in, watch out!

What kind of dinghy do you have? As mentioned above, we have a great APEX RIB (Rigid Hull Inflatable).  It’s the A10 Lite model.  The ten foot length was recommended for cruisers who use the dinghy for hauling groceries and other supplies to the boat. The lite version only weighs 88 pounds which relieves the strain on our davits and on us. It fits very nicely on the foredeck, lashed down when making offshore passages. We power it with a Mercury 5hp two-stroke outboard that is more than adequate for getting the two of us ashore quite speedily. It’s powerful enough to get the dinghy to plane with the two of us aboard, and light enough to easily lift aboard when stowing the dinghy.

Please describe your anchor and ground tackle? Our primary anchor is a 66 lb. Bruce, attached to 150 feet of 5/16” high test chain and 250 feet of 5/8” 3 strand nylon anchor rode. Our secondary anchor is a 45 lb. CQR plow anchor, attached to 45 feet of 5/16” HT chain and 200’ of 5/8” 3 strand nylon. Our stern/kedge anchor is a Fortress FX-23 with 15’ of chain and 200 feet of 5/8” nylon. The Bruce is one size larger than the recommended size for our boat, but gives us an extra measure of security when anchoring in exposed or deep anchorages, which have been the case here in Nova Scotia. We have been using a stainless steel snubber plate with two snubber lines attached to the bow cleats, but during a thunderstorm, the plate actually bent! We shifted to two chain hooks for about 6 months until we bought a new plate.

How reliable have your systems been? So far, knock on wood, our systems have held up quite well. The one major equipment problems have been with the generator, one mechanical, one electrical; at 260 hours the stainless steel discharge manifold developed a leak, and of course it was at the back of the genset (and thus out of sight), right over the starter, which then grounded out. Both had to be replaced, with parts shipped by air into Marsh Harbour, where we were pierside because the refrigeration had to be connected to 110 AC power. A second major problem developed at 410 hours- the generator diodes blew, and the cost of pressing a new diode assembly on the generator shaft approached the cost of a new electrical end ($550), so we decided to replace the whole Markon generator assembly. Fortunately, we were back in the States, so shipping wasn’t the big deal it was in the Bahamas. Of note, both of these failures came early in the generator’s life, and no one had predicted problems like that so soon. Minor issues have included replacing the engine alternator belt (twice in 1750 hours), burned out light bulbs and fuses, etc. Daily and weekly maintenance keeps up with oil changes, cleaning sea strainers, inspecting fuel filters, checking rigging, etc. The Perkins 4-236 diesel engine has been great, ticking like a clock and keeping fuel consumption down to a very reasonable 1.1 gals per hour at 6.5 knots. All of the electronics have done well. Interestingly, it’s the NON-BOAT electronics that haven’t been so reliable. Our desk-top computer and both laptops (one is strictly dedicated to navigation, the other is for this web site and Internet access/email ashore) have had to be repaired professionally. None of these problems seemed to be related to the marine environment/salt -- just bad luck.

How are the two of you getting along, living on a boat together 24 hours a day? In all honesty? Excellent! Neither of us has a strong need for our own “space,” and we enjoy being together. If we need some personal time, we go for a run alone. This kind of togetherness, however, does require extra attention to the 4 C’s: communication, cooperation, consideration and compromise. What the cruising magazines and books say is true -- if you have a strong relationship to begin with and both of you are equally committed to “the dream,” the togetherness isn’t a problem.

How do you communicate with folks back home? Do you have email at sea? We do now! This has been a progression, from using AOL ashore, to purchasing a pocketmail composer (see above), to getting HF email (see the list of Suzanne’s favorite things above). Pocketmail was fine, until we got to the Bahamas, where phones are few and far between. When we did find a phone, it rarely worked, and if it did, it cost anywhere from $3-$14 to check email! The frustration level kept building until we bit the bullet and invested in a Pactor III modem and signed up for “sailmail.” Now we send and receive email over our single sideband radio. The messages go from the radio, through the modem, to our laptop computer. We’re allotted 10 minutes of airtime a day. Since we compose and read email offline, 10 minutes is plenty. Having the ability to communicate with family and friends while sitting in a remote anchorage or underway at sea has greatly improved Suzanne’s morale. Ty, however, fondly remembers “the good old days” in the Navy when a ship went to sea and “you didn’t have any darn email onboard!” But wait! Isn’t that Ty we see frowning these days when we check email and our inbox is empty? :-)

Do you have bicycles onboard? We used to.  We bought two used mountain bikes from a rental shop in Bar Harbor at the end of the season. We were able to stow them on the lower berth in the midships passageway. When it came time for the Atlantic crossing, we needed to free up the berth for crew, so we left the bikes ashore with Ty’s daughter.

Do you have a watermaker? Yes, in August 2004 we installed a PUR/Katadyn 160E 12 volt system. We chose the 160E for its reasonable cost, 12 volt power, modular design, 6.7 gph output and relatively simple installation. I recommend shopping around, because Defender beat everyone else’s price by about $500, and it came with an extended cruising kit! It only took about 6-7 hours to install. Two recommendations: first, the installation instructions call for a 15 amp breaker, which we initially used; but the specs note that the draw is 16-21 amps, and will be higher for the first 10-20 hours. The 15 amp breaker tripped continuously, so we moved up to a 25 amp breaker, and so far it’s doing fine. Second, the plumbing kit didn’t come with enough hose, hose clamps, or fittings, so plan on getting extras. We located the pump and membrane assemblies under a settee, and the prefilter in a hanging locker for easy access. It’s not too   noisy, output is right at 6.7 gph, and the water tastes great! It was great to have while crossing the Atlantic. We ran it any time we ran the engine or generator. Our crew of four had showers every other day and never worried about running out of water.

What preparations did you make for crossing the Atlantic? We lined up some very able crew members, bought the cruising guides and courtesy flags for all the countries we hope to visit, hauled the boat to inspect the hull, had the main and jib sent to a sail maker to repair and reinforce them, had the liferaft inspected, put anti-sliding chocks on the toilet seat and put a lock on the head door! We have a new W-H autopilot, two new primary winches, new sheets, and a new whisker pole and mast track. We’ll be buying a transformer soon to handle the 250V electrical systems in Europe. Oh yes, and we reviewed all the books we have on ocean voyaging and heavy weather sailing. Knowledge and experience are at the top of the list for things to take along.

What’s the best thing about cruising? Boy, that’s a tough one. It’s hard to narrow it down to just one thing, so we won’t even try. Here are the top things that come to mind:

  • Other cruisers - a tight-knit community of like-minded, adventuresome, fun-loving people who will go out of their way to help you if you need it
  • The freedom  to go where you want, when you want, at your own pace
  • Not working (in an office, anyway)!
  • Living on the water
  • Being around boats all the time
  • Traveling to new places and all the wonderful experiences that go along with it
  • Having your home with you when you travel to all those new places!
  • Sailing!
  • You’re outdoors most of the time

What’s the down side?

  • Cruising is “fixing your boat in exotic places” (From Beth Leonard’s “The Voyagers Handbook”)
  • Sometimes your nice neat home becomes a rocking, rolling roller coaster
  • Sailing can get old. You need to get off the boat once in a while and do something different.
  • Being away from family
  • It’s easy to spend more than you have - but that’s true on land, isn’t it?
  • Lack of steady friends -- cruising friends are great, but they come and go.

As you can see, the positives far outweigh the negatives!