You can read this, and also many useful interviews at Newly Salted…
I (Matt) live aboard and travel with my wife Kristin on a thirty foot Rawson ketch named Madrone. The boat has been kind to us and we love her. It says Portland Oregon on her sides but she most recently called Olympia Washington her home. I don’t know if she is so much cruising the Salish Sea as being driven like cattle across the plains, left to graze where the kelp is greenest. Right now I am taking her to a marina in Blaine, Washington.
In 2011, we spent six months heading north from Portland around the inside and then the outside of Vancouver Island and finally south down the west coast to San Francisco.
Feel free to contact me if you have questions or want to chat.
What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?
The following three things may be obvious as the day is long, but they were not obvious to me.
Nothing, not even scary things, are all that scary in the moment. You will worry and fret about small things when its not clear what to do. But when things are scary you know exactly what to do. When I first started anchoring I spent an amazing amount of energy and some sleepless nights in conditions so mild my chain alone without the anchor would have kept us in place. But then I didn’t worry one bit sailing with a broken engine from the open ocean between reefs back into Effingham Bay because I was too damn busy steering. While still keeping safety in mind, try to never ever worry. Worrying hasn’t helped me.
There are things you can’t learn in books. If you don’t have experienced boating friends find some somehow. Take classes, crew, invite people aboard your boat. A friend helped me anchor my boat for the first time in the Willamette river for the fourth of July. It was a little tricky because it was a bow and stern anchor so the boat would face the wake from passing motorboats. I knew that part, and how to deploy them in a reasonable order, but I had no idea what proper scope looked like. I knew what proper scope was of course, but not how to visualize it in the real world. Also, my friend showed me how calm you can be if you know what you are doing. See the first point about worrying. In a moment, I learned things missed over a hundred hours of reading. Of course I could have done it myself and maybe learned even more, but I would have suffered more as well.
Lots of cruising destinations can be reached by car or plane. Plan on sailing to Baja? New Zealand? The Mediterranean? A vacation of several weeks will still be a small fraction of the cost of outfitting a boat and sailing there. It will never be a waste of money. If you love it there then it was a good vacation, and you will know more of what to expect when you sail there. If you hate it then the vacation was even more successful, having saved a costly and perhaps dangerous voyage. Of course you can’t reproduce the feeling of accomplishment at having sailed your home there, or of comfortably baking bread in an isolated anchorage. But to get some idea, go to the port town and walk down to the marina. Try to time your visit with the cruising season of the area. You can see the people you’d meet if you had sailed there, and maybe help them buy some groceries. I got a better sense of the long term cruising lifestyle from a few hours with the characters in the La Paz marina than I got from a lot of literature.
tl;dr Don’t worry, and get as much real world experience with the skills you need and locations you are going as you can.
What do you find the most exciting about your cruising life?
Our trip around Vancouver Island was an unending cascade of wonders. I loved the way each new day brought something amazing, sometimes a new bay, sometimes an exciting catch, sometimes a new friend, sometimes a new problem. It was a relaxed but also frenetic adventure, like a child’s Christmas morning when they are old enough to know how to pace themselves and enjoy the experience but young enough to want to open every present at once. Each day was a new present and at night we’d shake the box to guess what might come next.
Now that we are not underway, the knowledge that my home is mobile, that I am fundamentally not stuck in one place is an ever present comfort. I like that I don’t know where I am going, but that because of my choices I am headed there.
Is there something you wish you had bought or installed before starting out?
As we looked forward to our trip down the west coast from Vancouver Island we decided to get a sea anchor shipped to us in Uclulet. That was a silly idea as it cost extra and we relied on the kindness of strangers to get the job done. They were Canadian strangers so there was no trouble, they are a wonderful people. Still, if you are on the fence about some safety gear, get it before you go. We never used our sea anchor and I doubt we ever will, but it gave us peace of mind for the trip down the coast.
What piece(s) of gear would you leave on the dock next time? Why?
As I looked forward to long ocean voyages I knew I wanted a wind vane. I’d read Moitessier and Pardey and loved the idea of a simple passive device steering by the wind and taking its power from the water that flows by the boat. I still do but I bought a cranky old Aries vane that I have never made work right. Meanwhile my much maligned auto helm 3000 that came with the boat has been steering thanklessly now for over 1000 miles. A boat I was crew on for an ocean passage used a powered steering system, and it worked flawlessly the whole time. We often abused its compliant nature, making it steer the boat despite an unbalanced sail plan. I may still fix that Aries, but don’t ignore powered steering for romantic reasons.
What gear do you love the most?
The surprise hit in Canada was the Kindle, an e-ink model with cell data capabilities. It used almost no power and allowed us to check email if we were patient with its limited web browser. We even used it to buy that sea anchor. Because they want you to be able to buy books anywhere, Amazon has deals with most cell providers. This means free access in other countries, where normal cell policies punish roaming.
Our wood stove had a fire in it most nights, as the normally chilly Canadian summer was almost a no show the year we rounded Vancouver Island. A wood stove is many things: a romance generator, a trash incinerator, a free source of heat, and reason to row to shore (to collect more twigs). We had a Newport solid fuel stove but it’s firebox was cracked by a previous owner so we had poor control over the draft. I just installed the“Tiny Tot” by Fatsco, and I love it. Much smaller than the Newport, it still has roughly the same size fire box. It is also really cute. I am moored off Patos island, the northernmost in Washington State, and it is 30F degrees outside. This wonderful stove is keeping me toasty. They are less than 300$ with shipping. Even dog houses should have them.
After sailing to San Francisco and preparing for a trip across the Pacific, you had your boat trucked to Bellingham, WA. What were you thinking?
Several things, as you might imagine. One thought I had, having seen the path I was on while I was crew on a Pacific crossing, was that I didn’t think the risks, costs, and discomfort were offset by the numerous rewards. I didn’t like that it was a one-way ticket to Australia or New Zealand. I prefer open ended futures. But I have been learning, and thanks to good examples set by others, I realize that the options are much more complex than I had imagined.
Also, I was looking ahead to a trip down the warmer half of the California coast and Baja and wishing I could return to the Salish Sea. Not because I hate warm water and tuna, quite the opposite, but because I knew I was leaving behind the most wonderful place I had ever been, and leaving it for good. Then Kristin got a job in Portland, and if she took it we wouldn’t live on the boat there, so we decided to bring the boat back to the top of the waterslide and reset the clock. Now I can cruise as many seasons up here as I want before heading down the west coast again. Maybe then I will like the cost/benefit picture of a Pacific crossing better.
I’m going on a road trip to Baja now, trading in the v-berth for a Coleman 4 person tent and two sleeping bags that zip together. My boat gets 9 miles to the gallon and tops out at 7 miles per hour. My car, which admittedly lacks a head, gets 28 miles to the gallon and goes so fast I don’t really even know how fast it can go and for how long. Indefinitely at 70 miles per hour though. I can be in Baja in about the time it takes a boat to go from Portland to the ocean. And then come back that fast as well.
But everything has costs. Its really easy to hop in a car and drive down there, so there isn’t the same selective process that applies in sailing. The bunch you meet at the end of an ocean crossing are a rarefied lot, full of vim and vigor. And I am bound to gaze out at the the warm blue bays down there and wish my boat was anchored just offshore. And I bet we’ll spend more money on things like food, lodging and entertainment than we would if we had a kitchen and bookshelf with us.
But its cold and rainy here right now, what would you do?