Newly Salted Interview

A while back, we answered a post (Cruisers Forum) from Livia Gilstrap regarding her Interview with a Cruiser project.  We thought it was a great idea to participate and share our insights to her “Newly Salted” questions as we are new cruisers!

Hello – We are Steve and Kimberly Mitchell aboard SV Take Me There; a 1975 Gulfstar M53 Ketch hailing from Tampa, FL.  We have lived aboard for the past 36 months and have experience with coastal sailing and limited time offshore.  We are currently cruising, having traveled south from the Chesapeake Bay to West Palm Beach, FL, and are crossing to the Bahamas within the week of this post where we will begin our Caribbean adventure. We are blogging and VLogging along the way.  We’d love to hear from other folks interested in our adventure through our website at takemetheresailing.com where we will chronicle our journey and lessons learned along the way.

We are now crew of 5 including Steve, Kimberly, our Son David, Brandon (crew member & friend) and Gus the boat dog. We are delighted to participate in the Newly Salted Interview questions – so here goes:

What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?
Don’t marry the plan – just sleep with it! Kimberly and I are both planners by nature, so we are no strangers to study and preparation.  Although no one told us this – it popped up as a theme in every coherent reading we did about those out there “doing it” … cruising plans are written in sand at low tide (is the saying – I think).  Don’t be disappointed (or get frustrated) by planning in detail and having to routinely change, adapt, extend, delay, wait, back up … well, you get the picture.  I think we came into cruising with eyes wide open but eventually approached the adventure with finding the joy in it (Kimberly’s mantra) regardless of the challenges that WILL get in the way.  Perhaps the biggest “I wish I knew” was how Our family would adjust to living aboard…ie… “plannus interruptus” and then (eventually) being way out there where you can’t see land with a plan that has to change because mother nature had other plans or broke something that our plan needs to succeed.

As you started cruising, what transitions did you find the most difficult?
Two transitions required more effort than most:
1. First: adjusting to other (non-cruiser) reaction to where we live (aboard) and what we do in our spare time (all of it).  I’ve found communication is the key.  It usually goes something like one of the below two scenarios:
• Scenario 1: (Q) Where do you live? (A) Aboard our boat. Body language often reads: Ewww…is that like camping?
• Scenario 2: (Q) Where do you live? (A) Aboard our yacht. Body language reads: Whoa – this guy has too much money for me! (so not true)!
• How we answer now:  We are long term cruisers (sailing) currently moored at fill-in-the-blank large bay or harbor – your city/town/village is awesome!
2. Leaving the car behind – the convenience of a car is understated.  6 months ago we shipped ours to rest in our land-based home garage and transitioned to folding bikes, marina courtesy cars, offers for rides and Uber/taxi and public transport.  The “car-less” condition dovetails with our planning skills well as one off-sets the other (so far).

What mistakes did you make as you started cruising?
If you don’t make mistakes – you’re not learning.  We’ve certainly made a few – most notably:
• Put it where you can find it (or even remember it): We did not have real inventory system for stuff aboard until recently.  Try finding something you know you have but haven’t seen in a year?  Sometimes you won’t find it for that long!  We now have a barcode/searchable inventory plan for stuff in every nook, corner and cranny of this BIG boat.  We are using a smartphone app that helps us scan, manage, inventory and find stuff aboard as well as track re-order/re-provision points to make lists for shopping when we go ashore.
• Your vision isn’t always her vision – ask/communicate/share: The way I see something isn’t always the way Kimberly see’s it.  I value her opinion, perspective and insights as a problem solver and a planner.  I need to get better about consulting her before I apply a solution to our needs – I’m improving slowly and have incentive to stop and ask for her input (especially when she is not right there at the point of need).  9 out of 10 times, she can improve upon my solution or offer an alternative that is better for both of us.  She is my battle buddy and half of our cruising equation.
• You can’t sail everywhere:  As a retired military officer, I can read maps easily – but, things are often much more congested (tighter) than they appear from the chart plotter or the charts.  You arrive (often in less than optimal conditions) and Whoa!…there’s a lot LESS room to maneuver than I thought with this current, cross wind or traffic.

What do you find the most exciting about your cruising life?
Freedom to choose destination, timing, to linger, explore or back-track, meet new people or be alone is absolutely liberating!  After 30 years in the Army – the only person that can tell me where to go now is the Admiral (Kimberly)…and she always asks with a BIG smile!  What excites me?…I’m the “guy” so naturally, I like all things BOAT!  In reverse order…anything involving the boat (especially moving under sail) excites me.

Next up is the freedom to go where the wind blows you (or the motor takes you).  Most important is that I love doing this with Kimberly.  She is a joy to be around and I am pleased to operate and maintain the means to carry us on our travelling adventures – which is what I think excites her (travelling/exploring/encountering people – and finding joy in the journey).

What do you dislike about cruising that surprised you?
– Anchoring flexibility and Uneducated boaters…
• Free ICW anchorage opportunity is slowly dwindling – Although we don’t have tremendous experience beyond the US East Coast…So far – I’m surprised by the commercial encroachment of anchoring in once accessible “public” waterways.  Free anchorage in convenient places near commercial infrastructure continue to be threatened by easements around mooring fields and dockage.  The Florida anchoring debate is a perfect example.
• Uneducated boaters are general hazards to everyone.  Not so much in “cruising” but boating in general – You don’t need any certifications or skills to operate a vessel.  I believe you have an inherent responsibility to educate yourself to be safe – which means – KNOW THE RULES.  There are a lot of “uneducated” boaters out there that put us all in danger.  Get in and GO is NOT the way to navigate.  We had an experience awaiting weather (on passage) in a Ft Pierce, FL marina where a large powerboat with a bonehead operator hit us at the fuel dock.  He had no boating experience, yet was operating a 50 ft motor vessel.  What was worse – he hit us (while we were tied to the dock) and just continued to motor off on his way as nothing happened! – his boat was clearly damaged by our large spade anchor.  We shot video of the incident since it was clear on his approach he was a hazard to navigation and contacted the authorities who chased him down; brought him back to address the accident and he proceeded to deny the event!

What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you didn’t find to be true?

A few things stand out…
SSB – I’ve read a lot about the projected extinction of the Single Side Band (SSB) radio as a cruiser tool.  This capability is mature, in ubiquitous use by those who know how and a great tool of advantage to cruisers.  As our cellular and satellite technology advances, I fear that a “point to point” condition may reduce marine public awareness in general.  Much like the way email and texting has become a “point to point” action.  There is value in being able to listen to the “party line” to enhance awareness or render aid if an opportunity exists and proximity is close.  Although I don’t have tremendous experience with its use – I do find that it helps us and I pray that this capability sticks around – thanks to all the great people that proliferate (and improve) its use.  SSB equipment is expensive and requires some skill to employ, maintain and sustain but I wouldn’t “not” have one as a cruiser.  VHF is (of course) the standard means of public communication on the water.  SSB has many advantages that we value: Weather and passage making data (in the next place we want to go); Social (keeping up with other cruisers who may be in remote parts of the world); News (public broadcast channels); Radio-phone relay (with assistance from those who maintain this capability as part of the Marine and HAM nets); Hurricane/storm nets help us track BIG weather patterns in affected areas (for avoidance); SailMail is a great “inexpensive” text email resource with our Pactor modem and most importantly for safety – our system (SSB and VHF) transmits our GPS location and MMSI each time we transmit which helps potential rescue organizations identify us or locate us if we ever got into trouble.

You have to sacrifice to cruise.  This is an “opinionated” subject but I will highlight some observations that we found to be “topics of contention.”

Ship’s Power is “limiting:”  Not really – if you want power flexibility – you can employ the right equipment to make it so.  We spent a lot of time/energy on our house bank and solar/wind/generator combination…so that we could have the power we felt we need.  We enjoy our comforts.  On SV Take Me There we have a large 1200 ah house bank with 530W of solar and 460W of wind generator capability.  Yes, we can run AC, ice-maker, two fridges, electric winches, plotter, radar, AIS and Auto-pilot at the same time on our house bank…but we are very power conscious and only use what we need, when we need it.  Our 16KW diesel genny is a great “bulk charge” resource but its our solar and wind generation that does the “top-off” work very well.

Sailing less than motoring is the norm:  Moving from A to B under sail is a choice.  If conditions aren’t favorable to do so – you have a choice…wait or do it with other means (than sail).  We love the peace of sailing…nothing else like it in the world!  Yes – we motor.  Yes, we motor-sail.  It depend on what our objectives are.  Sometimes we want to sail – so we wait on the right weather.  Sometimes we want to get there – so we motor if conditions aren’t optimum for sailing.

What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you found particularly accurate?
OK – two BIG ones are very accurate:

BOAT = Break Out Another Thousand!  If you want to do it right & safe…spend the money!  Preventive maintenance does save you a BOAT-load of trouble in advance.

SPARES is like a savings account.  A good inventory of spares WILL make your life a lot easier.  Things break, malfunction or go wrong.  Your spares inventory will help you correct a problem (replacement) and permit you to “fix” the spare later (in port).

Is there something you wish you had bought or installed before starting out?
We are planners by nature – we thought of, and equipped our vessel with, a lot of stuff (which I will answer in the next question)…but I think the biggest “I wish” for me (that we don’t have now) is a soft/portable boarding ladder that hangs over the gunnel to permit boarding after using our kayaks.  We can board at the swim platform easily (with permanent boarding ladder installed) but the kayaks are lifted/stored on the foredeck which means we have to pull them around to the lifting location to stow them – we would like to just board from the lifting area and pull them up.

What piece(s) of gear would you leave on the dock next time? Why?
I think we’ve made good “equipping” choices. I will say that some of the things that simply stay in their storage location and never move (never used – however, need to be inspected, run or maintained periodically but we wouldn’t be caught without them) are:
– Emergency manual tiller – this thing is huge, awkward and hard to store – but essential!
– Generac Gas powered emergency high volume bilge pump – in case of loss of all power
– Legacy Furuno GPS plotter (our back up)
– Radar reflector (back-up) – we have AIS

What are your plans now? If they do not include cruising, tell us why.
We are just beginning our nomadic cruising adventure.  We exploreed the Chesapeake and ICW until SEP 2017.  We began to wander South (exploring the ICW along the way) to Florida (Tampa).  We spent  early December at our Florida home and then crossed over to the Bahamas in late December to explore this island complex.  We don’t have a schedule nor do we know where we will go next.  There are two options:

  1.  Return to Tampa for hurricane season (2018)…or…
  2. Head south toward Grenada.

*** We are prepared for both***

What question do you wish I would have asked you besides the ones I’ve asked you and how would you answer it?

What are your favorite cruising information resources and how do you reach them when away from the dock?  My online favorites are Cruisers Forum, Predict Wind, Active Captain, SSB Weather Nets (Grib file downloads) and Sirius Satellite Weather.  Clearly my interests lie in understanding conditions for getting from point A to B.  I enjoy the Sailing-Channel where other cruisers are out there blogging and making videos.  We have both cellular and satellite systems aboard but try to use the SSB resources as they are free (dependent upon signal propagation).  Off-line, the cruising guides, the Dashew’s books (Mariner’s Weather, Practical Seamanship, Surviving the Storm), Bowditch (of course) and Don Casey’s Sailboat Maintenance and the Pardees.

Our thanks to Olivia for allowing us to participate in her Newly Salted interview.  We hope that others will follow our blog and VLog as our contribution to the cruising knowledge base.