Friday, July 25, 2014

Shakedown Cruise Review: Relationships On Board

Background - When we decided to become full-time cruisers, rather than buy our "forever" boat and set off around the world, we took a different approach and moved aboard our "for now" boat in New Zealand for the 2013/14 season. We used it as an opportunity to do a shakedown cruise to discover what works and what doesn't for us in terms of the cruising lifestyle before we buy our next boat. This is the seventh in a series of posts on how it all went. 

Once upon a time, I wrote a post about relationships at sea. I tried to anticipate the types of challenges that might come up if we moved aboard a 26' sailboat together. I'm pretty sure 20 plus years of marriage doesn't really prepare you for something like this. But it sure did help. Here are a few of the things I learned about relationships on board during our time cruising in New Zealand.

1. Being the skipper can be stressful (and unfair).

Maybe we need to trade in pink and blue roles for violet ones?
I didn't fully realize how stressful living on a boat was for Scott at times until we moved back on land and he slept soundly through the night without worrying about our floating home. Because he was the skipper of our boat, he took responsibility for our safety, getting the boat from point A to point B and making sure the boat is in good working order. He was basically responsible the engine and everything "up above" and I took care of everything "down below" (like cooking, laundry, cleaning etc). 

Given the fact that Scott is much more experienced than I am when it comes to sailing, the division of  labor made sense at the time. But in reality, it just wasn't fair to Scott to have him be the sole skipper of our boat. I didn't feel like I was pulling my weight in terms of our relationship and my contribution onboard and he always felt like he always had to be on duty. On our next boat, we'll have to find a way to be co-skippers to balance things out a bit better.

2.  Sometimes when you're grumpy with each other, it's just the weather.

It's hard to sleep soundly when you're worried about dragging anchor.
Yes, there were times when we got grumpy with each other. Every couple has those moments (if they say they don't, they're probably lying). We did notice that we got grumpier with each other living on our boat, then we normally do on land. After talking about it, we realized that it wasn't each other that was making us grumpy, it was things outside of our control. Like not being able to sleep because of an annoying swell slamming your boat from side to side. Or being stuck in an anchorage or marina for days and days because of an ex-cyclone. Or staying up all night worried you're going to drag anchor in the middle of a gale. 

When you're sleep deprived and frustrated because things aren't going the way you want them to, sometimes you take it out on your partner. The trick we learned is to realize that it isn't us, it is the weather. And in the end, the weather always gets better and so do our attitudes.

3.  We really do learn differently. 
Math was never my strongest subject in school, but algebra seems like a breeze now compared to some of the stuff I've had to learn when it comes to sailing.
Scott knows more about sailing then I do, so he ended up trying to teach me things and help me practice new skills. The operative word here is "try". I wasn't always the best student and he wasn't always the best teacher - for each other, that is. I'm probably an amazing student for some teachers and Scott is probably an amazing teach for some students, but we have very different learning styles. He learns by watching people, listening to them explain how to do something and asking questions. The he tries it out (often nailing it the first time) and asks for feedback from people as to how he did. I have a more "internal" learning style - I like to read about something, understand the theory behind it, think about it, think about it some more and then maybe try it out in the real world by myself. 

You can imagine how this works when Scott tries to teach me something, like tying a knot. He shows me how to do it while explaining it, then expects me to try it out right then and there. Generally, I just stare at him blankly and then go down below to read about knot tying and think about it while eating a snack.

4.  We both like to travel and explore, but sometimes at different paces.

Where should we travel to next on our boat?
We already knew that we both like to travel and explore - we're both restless vagabonds at heart - and our time cruising in New Zealand affirmed this. However, we do operate at slightly different paces. Scott is a big fan of what he calls "guerrilla tourism". He likes to see as many places as he can and do as many things as he can when he visits someplace. He is a full-on type of traveler. I also like to see and do a lot, but I do require more rest stops and snacks than Scott does. 

So no surprise that when it came to cruising, sometimes I wanted to hang out in a particular anchorage for more than one day and just read a book in the cockpit. Fortunately, we've learned through the years to find the right balance between Scott's full-on mode and my slightly lazier mode.

5.  It's important to have fun together (and be silly). 

If you can get your husband to let you take a picture of him with a box on his head in honor of Boxing Day, then you know you have a keeper.

We wouldn't be married for this long if we didn't have fun together. Otherwise, what's the point? Living on a boat and cruising together can be stressful, so if you can't have fun together and do silly stuff, I don't think you're going to last very long. Overall, we had lots and lots of fun together cruising in New Zealand so we're hoping to get our next boat soon so we can continue our adventures on the water.

What lessons have you learned living with your partner 24/7 on your boat?

All images via The Graphics Fairy, except for the photo of Scott with a box on his head.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Go West, Go East Or Somewhere In The Middle?

One of the problems with the States is that it is humongous! Not only are the portion sizes literally super-sized (42 ounces of soda pop and a 12 ounce hamburger are perfectly normal here), but the country itself is immense. At 3.71 million square miles, it dwarfs most other countries in terms of size. And many American states are bigger than other countries - for example, France (211,000 square miles) is smaller than the state of Texas (269,000 square miles). {Don't feel bad France - you have pain au chocolat and that more than makes up for your lack of size!}

So when we said to ourselves, "Let's head back to the States to look for our next sailboat!", we really didn't think through the practicalities of buying a boat in a country where driving from one coast to the other can take you days and days and cost you a small fortune in gas. We've also heard so many stories about people flying out to see a boat that they've fallen in love with online, only to find out that it wasn't meant to be after the survey and sea trial. Nothing worse than racking up flight and hotel costs only to be disappointed and have to start all over again.

We're thinking that it might make sense to pick a particular region of the States, base ourselves out of there for a while and look for our perfect next boat. But where to go? The West Coast, the East Coast, the Great Lakes or someplace else? There are just too many choices and pros/cons of different regions. As if there weren't enough things to think about when it comes to boat buying, now we have to think about where to buy our boat! Here are some random thoughts we have about each area - what do you think? What other things should we consider?

The Pacific Northwest

Our families live in the Pacific Northwest, so that's where we'll start our boat buying adventures from. One of the advantages of buying out here is that there is less UV damage to boats. Of course, that is also one of the disadvantages - the sun doesn't always shine here. I imagine there is less of a selection of boats available in the Pacific Northwest than in the more populated East Coast. But, if we buy out here, than we would have the beautiful San Juan Islands on our doorstep and we could head up to Alaska! Ever since I read James Michener's Alaska, I've wanted to sail up there. 

Of course, if we decide to head up to Alaska, we'll probably need to think about getting some sort of polar bear defense system. I'm thinking about rigging up a series of catapults which would hurl pink marshmallows and distract the polar bears away from our boat. By the way, the marshmallows really need to be pink so that they show up on the snow and ice. Of course, I imagine boats for sale in the Pacific Northwest probably already come with polar bear defense systems (and heaters) as standard equipment.

The East Coast

When we first started to think about buying our next boat in the States, we always assumed we would pick one up on East Coast and take it down through the ICW (the inter-coastal waterway which runs along the East Coast) to Florida and then down to the Bahamas and Caribbean. Depending upon whose blog you read, going down the ICW either sounds like a nightmare or the best time ever. Personally, I think it would be fun to explore all of the little seaside towns and historic sites along the way and an interesting way to get to the Bahamas and Caribbean. That area always seems like such a mecca for cruisers with its warm waters, frolicking dolphins, drinks which are enticingly called "painkillers" and of course the famous swimming pigs. 

I do worry about two potential downsides of sailing in the Caribbean - bikinis and overcrowding. The bikinis are self-explanatory from my perspective (think middle-aged woman who eats too much chocolate). It seems like all the pictures I see of people cruising in the Caribbean are fit young people and the girls seem to have an endless supply of bikinis. Of course, maybe middle-aged people who eat too much chocolate just don't post pictures of themselves wearing their one-piece suits and tankinis? 

Regardless of what type of bathing suit they're wearing, I do worry that there are a lot of people in the Caribbean and that the anchorages get crowded. I like my peace and solitude, which is one of the reasons I loved sailing in New Zealand, and I'm not sure I want to be surrounded by lots of other boats. Hopefully, I have it wrong and there are plenty of quiet anchorages and not so many bikinis.

The Great Lakes

If we can't decide what coast to go to, we could always head to the Great Lakes and look for a boat there. You have the advantage of picking yourself up a boat which has only been in fresh water and if you buy at the right time of the year, you might be able to get yourself a bargain. If we buy in the Great Lakes, then we would have two exciting options to get ourselves over to the East Coast - either through the Erie Canal or via the St. Lawrence Seaway through Canada. 

I grew up in Cleveland and had to take Ohio History, which was possibly the most boring class I ever took. Only a few things stuck with me - there are 88 counties in Ohio and the Erie Canal was an important trade route between the eastern seaboard and the American interior. If we traveled through the Erie Canal, I would feel like there had been some value in my Ohio History class, plus going through locks sounds pretty neat too. But, if we go through the St. Lawrence Seaway, then we could see the home of Anne of Green Gables on Prince Edwards Island! {Scott's eyes glaze over every time I mention this, he may be voting for the Erie Canal route.}

Or Someplace Else?

Or we could start our boat buying someplace else - like Texas. It never occurred to me that people sailed boats in Texas. Clearly, I didn't pay too much attention in geography class. When you think about it, it makes sense - there is this little thing called the Gulf of Mexico on the southern border of Texas. I don't know much about Texas, but I do like cowboy boots and the people seem to be really friendly and there is this cute little town called Kemah which I would love to visit. 

Or do we buy a boat in San Diego and then sail down to Mexico? Clearly, there are too many choices and I am starting to feel overwhelmed. Help us figure out what to do. It's either that or I think I'm going to ask my nieces to make us a fortuneteller so that we can let fate decide. You know those folded up paper things that you made in school which told you which boys liked you and what you were going to be when you grew up. Mine is going to say things like "Go to Kemah - your boat is waiting for you there!", "Fresh water boats are the best!" or my favorite, "You will win the lottery and can buy a boat in every port!".

Friday, July 18, 2014

Shakedown Cruise Review: Wish List For Our Next Boat (Pt 4/4)

Background - When we decided to become full-time cruisers, rather than buy our "forever" boat and set off around the world, we took a different approach and moved aboard our "for now" boat in New Zealand for the 2013/14 season. We used it as an opportunity to do a shakedown cruise to discover what works and what doesn't for us in terms of the cruising lifestyle before we buy our next boat. This is the sixth in a series of posts on how it all went.

In the last few posts on our wish list for our next boat, we shared the things we want that make life easier, what kind of setup we want down below and what systems we need. In this post, we talk about what we want in terms of the boat itself (some of which might be unrealistic given our budget), as well a few other things.

1. Size

The all important question - how big should our next boat be. We're looking for something in the 35-38' range. Could be a little (just a little) smaller and possibly a little bigger. We want something small enough that we can easily manage as a couple and which can be theoretically single handed if the need ever arises. Cost is the other big factor in what size boat we're looking for - we don't have a ton of money to spend and we don't want to pay oodles more for a larger boat in terms of slips, maintenance costs etc. You can read more about our thoughts on size here.

2. One Hull or Two?

We're going to most likely getting a monohull for our next boat. Cats are more expensive and they are generally bigger which kind of rules them out for us. However, I am very interested in the Gemini cats - small enough to fit into a standard slip and big enough for a couple. And they aren't tippy which is a big draw card for me. You can read more on our thoughts on cats vs. monohulls here

3. Type of Boat & Set-up

We're looking for a sloop with a keel stepped mast. Ketches, schooners and yawls look nice and evoke that romantic sailing feeling, but one mast is enough for us. Scott really wants a keel stepped mast - he seems pretty adamant about this. But I know that there are a lot of different opinions on the matter and pros/cons. Let's hear what you have to think about the subject in the comments!

On our sloop, we want fibreglass decks - teak is pretty, but it is a real pain to maintain. We also want a center cockpit as they allow for an aft cabin (think center-line queen bed!) and you get more protection from the elements. Which brings us to dodgers, spray hoods and biminis - we want some of those! Our last boat didn't have any protection, so when it rained we were wet and we didn't have protection from the harsh New Zealand sun. We also want a decent size lazarette to store all of our stuff in.

And the final key thing in the set-up is easy access. I get enough bruises from sailing without having to add to my collection banging into things when climbing over the pushpit rails. I would love a decent swim platform, an open transom and/or a sugar scoop. 

4. Anchor 

We loved our Rocna anchor - with just one or two exceptions, we never had any problems anchoring and pretty much always felt secure with our ground tackle. We would like another one of these for our next boat, as well as one or two more for different types of conditions and those times when you need an extra anchor or {gasp} you lose your main anchor. Add in an anchor hose, and we'll be as happy as Larry.

5. Other Stuff 

Besides a winning lottery ticket to be able to buy all this stuff with, there are few more bits & bobs that we want in our next boat. Davits would be awesome. This should have been listed in our post on things that make life easier. We hauled our dinghy up using a halyard on our last boat and stored it on the deck which meant it was constantly in the way when you had to go forward. Davits would make life that little bit easier and keep the dinghy out of the way.I should have also included good ventilation in our post about the set-up down below. And finally, Scott wants a 3-blade folding prop. I have no opinion on the matter - do you? 

So what do you think? What else should we consider when it comes to buying our next boat? 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Organising Our Sailing Medical Kit

Thank you Graphics Fairy for another great vintage image.

In addition to being First Mate and Chief Communications Officer, one of my other key responsibilities is organizing our medical kit. Before leaving New Zealand, I met with my GP to talk through what medicines we might need for our medical kit. I did a bit of research beforehand and brought a list of potential medicines with me to discuss. One of the things I discovered is that some of the medicines people listed in their medical kit lists aren't necessarily used in New Zealand or if they are, they aren't funded. I worked with my GP to get prescriptions for a number of different medicines to start us off initially. We will need to think about replenishing and adding to our kit over time. 

I thought it might be useful to share what's in our medical kit, as well as provide links to some of the resources I found useful when I started doing research. If you have any questions or want any more information, please don't hesitate to email or leave a comment. 

The New Zealand Healthcare System

I should probably start off with a little bit of an explanation of the New Zealand healthcare system for folks who aren't familiar with it. I think it is fabulous by the way, especially compared to some other systems around the world. Medical care is considered a basic right in New Zealand. This is one of the reasons why I love this country.

New Zealand has a mixed private-public health care system which works like this:

  • Accidents - Anyone who is involved in an accident is entitled to free treatment through the ACC. This applies to citizens, permanent residents and tourists. (To be fair, this does seem a bit ridiculous at times as when I cut my finger on a soup can and needed emergency treatment, the cost of my visit to the clinic was free and it really was the result of my own stupidity.) 
  • Hospital Care - If you're a citizen or permanent resident, it is all free. Yes, there can be waiting lists, but you can also choose to purchase private insurance if you want to speed things up. All the lab tests I've ever had here have been free as well.
  • Primary Care and Prescriptions - For citizens and permanent residents, you have to pay a co-payment to visit the GP and fill prescriptions. The cost of GP visits varies depending upon the practice and where it is located. For example, mine is in central Auckland and costs NZ$56 which is pricier than you might pay elsewhere. Some people are eligible for a reduction in costs (e.g., beneficiaries, people with long-term illnesses). In terms of prescriptions, medicines that are on the official government list are either free or require a NZ$5 co-payment.

To get my medical kit organized, it cost me NZ$56 for my GP visit and NZ$55 for my prescriptions. I had twelve prescriptions filled - one of which was fully funded. I did have a prescription for an Epi-Pen, but decided not to fill it as it isn't funded and would have cost me NZ$200. Neither Scott of I have severe allergies that would cause us to go into anaphylactic shock (as far as we know), so I thought it was worth the risk of not getting one. Plus, they only last a year and then you have to start all over again.

Our Medical Kit (so far)

In addition to having a basic first aid kit, here is what we have stocked up in our medical kit so far. Any thoughts and suggestions very welcome. If you can't read this and want me to email you a copy, let me know. It basically boils down to treating allergies/asthma, dealing with infections, coping with pain, sorting out tummy issues and some basic first aid things.

In addition, I also have a nine month supply of levothyroxine which I need to take every day. I'm going to have to figure out a way to get more of this when my supply runs out.


If you want to find out more about medical kits, here are some of the resources I found useful. If you have any suggestions of other links to add, please let me know.

Where There Is No Doctor - This is a free health care manual which you can download. It is used by health care workers around the world and is easy to understand from a layperson's perspective. It covers a whole range of topics including examining someone who is ill, prevention and treatment of common illnesses, and guidelines on the usage and dosages of different types of medicines. 

Dr. Mark Anderson has a comprehensive list of what you might want to include in your medical kit. He is a sailor and an MD so he probably knows what he is talking about.

S/V Estrellita talks about how they put their offshore medical kit together and provides a link to a PDF copy of their medical kit list. Their post also has links to other great resources which I've included here. 

The Monkey's Fist has a great collection of posts about health care experiences far from home.

Beth and Evans list the contents of their offshore medical kit including useful information about what prescriptions are only available in the States.

Marine Medic Courses - Scott went on a two day first aid course in New Zealand which was designed specifically for medical emergencies in a marine situation. If you're in New Zealand, this link takes you to information about the course run here, although I'm sure there are similar courses run in other parts of the world.

Commuter Cruiser has a number of useful posts about things you think about before you set off cruising, like this one about what to ask your doctor when putting together a medical kit. Commuter Cruiser is such a great resource that I've even stolen their disclaimer:
ly-used health care manual for health workers, educators, and others involved in primary health care and health promotion around the world. Current edition includes updated information on malaria, HIV, and more. - See more at:
ly-used health care manual for health workers, educators, and others involved in primary health care and health promotion around the world. Current edition includes updated information on malaria, HIV, and more. - See more at:

This post does NOT constitute medical advice, we are generally healthy with no health issues.  The important part of this post is to have a discussion with your doctor before you go cruising and put together a well stocked medical kit tailored to your specific needs!

Monday, July 14, 2014