There are a ton of great resources available for new cruisers and those planning to become cruisers, but perhaps the best resource is the sharing of ideas, information and experiences within the cruising community. Some of the best places I’ve found to connect with the cruising community and begin gleaning some of this first-hand knowledge are at online forums such as Sailnet and Cruisers Forum. Additionally, you can get some particularly good insights by reading blogs from other cruisers like those listed in the links in my sidebar.
Relatively recently a new online resource for accessing the collective knowledge and experience from cruisers has become available. The following two websites offer a chance to learn by reading answers from cruisers to 10 (or more) common questions that most all of us have before we cast off the docklines and begin life anew traveling and living on our boats.
The Interview With a Cruiser Project: Interviews with cruisers who have been outside their home country cruising for more than 2 years.
Newly Salted: Interviews with people who began cruising in the last few years or who have completed a cruise of less than 2 years.
Having just completed our own 3 months cruise last summer and with plans for more even longer cruises sometime in the future, I thought I’d take a shot at answering the questions for the Newly Salted interview. You can read the interview as it originally appears on the Newly Salted website here. I suppose technically we aren’t “newly salted” since we sail the sweetwater seas of the Great Lakes, so maybe we’re “newly unsalted”. In any case, at the very least I may actually learn something from my own interview!
Here’s the interview:
1) What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?
That cruising is addictive and the hardest part is returning to port when the cruise is finished. There’s really no easy way to re-adjust to life back on land. The pace, distractions, complexity and consumerism of being a landlubber become much more visible after having cruised for an extended period of time.
2) What transitions did you find the most difficult during your first extended cruise?
Living in a small space with 3 other people with just a fraction of the possessions and “stuff” that we were all accustomed to back at home. While the transition can be difficult, it is not without great reward. Learning to live with less, growing together as a family, and relying on each other for companionship and our individual strengths are some of the priceless gems of cruising.
3) What mistakes did you make on your first extended cruise?
We wished we had stayed longer in certain anchorages, but felt pressure to move on to see the next great place. In retrospect, slowing down and cruising at your own pace are what it’s all about. Though the North Channel is uniquely stunning, the most beautiful part of the cruise was seeing our family work together to meet the challenge of moving a small boat a very long distance.
4) What is one piece of gear/equipment you have onboard that you couldn’t do without?
Easy answer…our autopilot! We simply can’t imagine putting any serious miles beneath the keel without the help of a good, reliable autopilot. The autopilot (or any self-steering device) not only prevents fatigue but also allows you to do other things while you’re on passage such as cooking, cleaning, repairs, etc. as long as you keep a vigilant eye on your surroundings and position. If money weren’t a factor or if we were on even longer ocean passages, we’d also install wind vane steering to supplement the autopilot and save on battery usage. You can see our Autohelm ST1000 in action in this earlier blog post from the cruise. Additionally, we really enjoyed having a hammock onboard for lazy afternoons on the hook and a small 2-gallon shop vac for easy clean-up on those rare days when we had shorepower.
5) What is one piece of gear/equipment you wish you had onboard?
A bigger solar panel. We carry two very small (2 watt each) trickle-charge solar panels, but they don’t do much. It would be really nice to harvest enough solar energy from the sun to keep our little Norcold refrigerator going instead of relying on block ice. A small (perhaps foldable) bicycle would also be a nice addition for those occasional long treks for provisions while in port.
6) What do you enjoy about cruising that you didn't expect to enjoy?
The food! I was pleasantly surprised that we were usually able to make healthy and delicious meals while cruising. Some of our favorites included fresh caught walleye encrusted with Frosted Flakes cereal, freshly picked wild blueberries in blueberry pancakes, and banana and nut oatmeal. Prior to cruising, I expected that we’d be eating a lot of mac and cheese, ramen noodles and peanut butter sandwiches, but I’m happy to report we mostly avoided those. All in all, cruising seems to keep you healthy because you tend to eat smaller meals (small galley = small meals) and stay active trimming sails, washing the boat, paddling to shore, hiking to the store, etc.
7) What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you didn't find to be true?
8) What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you found particularly accurate?
We had always been told and read how friendly and helpful the cruising community is and are happy to say that our experience backs this up. For example, the crews of the other boats in the many anchorages we stayed in were always stopping by in their dinghies to welcome us and share tips on the current anchorage and suggestions for the next anchorage. Cruisers are a very self-sufficient lot, but that’s not to say they don’t enjoy community and socializing with other cruisers.
9) What piece(s) of gear would you leave on the dock next time? Why?
We have a relatively small boat for a crew of four and therefore spent a lot of pre-cruise time planning what we should take and where we would store it so there really wasn’t anything onboard that we’d leave behind next time. In fact, we’ll probably take more the next time we go. There are pieces of safety gear (climbing harness for mast climbing) and electronic gadgets (WindMate anemometer) that rarely were used, but we’d still bring them along again either because they are essential for safety and/or repairs or simply small enough, in the case of the WindMate, that they didn’t take up unnecessary space.
10) What question do you wish I had asked you besides the ones I've asked you and how would you answer it?
We always find it interesting to hear how people are able to afford to cruise, both from a temporal and financial perspective. In our case, we have a very modest paid-for boat and only cruised as long as we were able to be away from shore. Erin is a schoolteacher so naturally she can be away from her job for three months in the summer. Kevin is fortunate enough to have a part-time position that allows him to telecommute during a cruise. This of course meant we had to bring along a laptop and printer and find reliable WiFi signals on a regular basis, but it worked out and allowed us to cruise for a summer. If cruising is a priority, you’ll find a way to make it work. There’s definitely trade-offs to cruising, like missing your family back at home, but the rewards found across large stretches of blue water are not to be missed.