Some changes are afoot at Forest and Fin! This site has transmogrified from first Lara’s blog, to her online shop and showcase, and now she’s asked me (Brian!) to write here regularly about Selah and her refit.
Last Friday, Lara had a show in Charleston celebrating her newest works (which are amazing….I see them happen pretty much start to finish and I’m still blown away by them). During the show, she had a slideshow of some random pictures from our travels on Illusion playing on the walls around her art to show the inspiration for her paintings. People had a lot of questions about boat living and our future – so in case any of those curious folks at her show are reading, you got us inspired to write about our new boat Selah - where she came from and where she’s going!
On my first trip up to Maine in August to check out Selah, two guys were sitting behind me on the plane talking about boat stuff and leaving for the Caribbean. My ears perked up instantly, and I eves-dropped long enough to infer that one of them was a real-deal sailor. Before the plane landed in Portland, I turned around and interrupted their conversation.
“Sorry guys, I couldn’t help but over hear you talking about leaving for the Caribbean from Maine — I’m actually looking at a boat up here tomorrow. When is latest I could expect to get a decent weather window for going south?”
Instead of a straight answer, the sailor did what sailors do best — he told me a sea story. He’d gone to the Caribbean every few years for the last 25 years, usually leaving in September. But one year, he got stuck with work and ended up pushing it back towards the end of October. It was 1991. He suggested that I may have read the book about it, or perhaps seen the movie – “The Perfect Storm.” He had been far enough away from the storm not to have endured the worst, but still 48+ hours of gale conditions had been enough for him to make a rule of thumb for heading south.
“If I’m not gone by October the 15th, I don’t go.”
I kept that thought in the back of my mind during the whole process of buying Selah. As the days on the calendar went by, I probably gave myself a few extra grey hairs trying to find a way to be comfortable with the purchase and be out of Maine in time for that deadline. My initial plan had been to make the trip in segments – the short first sail to New Jersey – head back to work in between, then come back a week or so later and sail her to the Chesapeake to do the refit in Gloucester, VA, at a boatyard we’d used with Illusion. I ended up getting too busy with work and the sale wasn’t final until the the 21st of October.
I loaded her on a flatbed 18 wheeler the night of the 23rd of October, and on the 24th, she started her trip south. Selah narrowly avoided Hurricane Sandy by scooting down I-95, instead of coming down under sail. It was a decision I had gone back and forth on for weeks. The money was a major concern but so was timing. We had wanted to get working on her as quickly as possible, and I had some general bad feelings about heading south from Maine that late in the year, so the decision was made to truck her south. On October 29th, Hurricane Sandy made landfall — in New Jersey. Thanks to a sea story, Selah survived her first brush with a storm the best way possible — by not being there at all!
More stories and pictures to come (the ones below were photos I took on my trips to Maine)….we’re well into the refit now. Selah has been pulled apart and is slowly going back together here in South Carolina.
After traveling to Oriental, NC; the Virgin Islands; Tampa, FL; Colon, Panama; and Belfast, Maine, not to mention looking at boats in South Carolina and South Florida last year, we finally found a cruising boat that fit everything on our “want” list including the price! It’s been a wild year and a half of ups and downs since we got back from the Bahamas in May 2011. First we stayed with Brian’s Dad in Hilton Head for a few weeks, then rented a house in Savannah, GA; then we moved back onto Illusion in Charleston, SC, where I rented studio space in an artist warehouse. But Charleston, didn’t fit for us this last time around (probably because we chose to live at a marina outside of downtown and were forced to drive – alot! – which is tricky when you share a car). Brian was driving down to Savannah for work every other week or two, and we had listed our boat Illusion, which meant showing the boat while we were still living on it (this is not so easy!). It was tough for a little while, so we decided to rent another house in Savannah while we figured things out.
Over the summer, there was a lot of back and forth between Brian and I as to whether or not, we still really wanted to live and travel on a sailboat. It definitely complicates some of our other life goals. But in the end, we had come so far with it that we weren’t ready to walk away. With that said, we still didn’t have a cruising boat, Illusion hadn’t sold yet, all of the cruising boats in our price range seemed to be complete project boats (in other words, they would need too much time and money to fix up) or sold faster than we could get to them. We decided due to the time of year, that if the boat in Panama didn’t pan out, we would just put a dodger on Illusion and take her back to the Bahamas for a few months this winter. In other words, stop looking for another boat.
We were both a little disappointed when we got home from Panama – we couldn’t seem to find the “right” boat for us despite the countless hours Brian scoured the internet for listings and leads. But a few days later, Brian decided to take one last look at the listings online and there she was: a Nantucket Island 38 Ketch. We looked at the pictures and looked up the layout (which is about the only info available for this boat on the Web); it seemed like a solid possibility. So Brian called up the owner, and soon enough was on his way up to Maine to see her. One trip turned into two with a survey, and now he is up there packing her up and prepping her for the trip down.
Selah will be on her way to South Carolina, next week by truck, since we don’t have the time or want to take the risk of sailing her down (and it’s almost November in Maine – brrrr!). She is also a bit of a project boat, although nowhere near the condition of the other fixer-uppers we looked at. She has good bones and a whole lot of potential, with flush decks; a large cockpit; two cabins(!); two heads; couches(!); a nice big galley with counter space; and she is a ketch rig with a cutter stay. Not to mention, she is a center cockpit, which will be more comfortable for us offshore. Even though we are only going from our 37′ sloop to a 38′ ketch, it’s safe to say that we are doubling our living space – not too shabby. But we have plenty of projects to dive into upon her arrival.
I haven’t seen her yet, so I am beyond excited to meet her next week! If all goes as planned, we will be moving onto her in a couple months and – fingers crossed! – sailing down to the islands in March!
After reading some of my friends’ sailing blogs this morning, I am starting to get some serious wanderlust again. If only I could transport myself back into this photo! We are planning to sail down to Miami in December, and that is not far away, so I am reminding myself to be patient. I need to focus on setting up my art studio in Charleston and generating some new artwork, which I am equally excited about. Well, and moving back onto the boat! We found a wonderful marina to stay at for the fall complete with a pool and a little cafe. It is located on a river between two islands, with little creeks to kayak, a perfect view of the sunset, and outdoor seating; it really seems too good to be true. So why am I having so much trouble living in the moment right now?
I think it has something to do with the fact that Brian and I have been talking about boats again — alot. We keep going back and forth about Illusion: should we keep fixing her up? should we sell her? are we ready to get a more ideal cruiser/live-aboard? are we crazy?? The answer to that last one is probably YES. However, we can’t seem to keep ourselves from looking, and unfortunately — or fortunately — we’ve found a few boats that we just love. I say unfortunately because, well, they are expensive, and we are planning to move back aboard Illusion in one week. We have way too much to do already. With all that we have going on right now, it certainly seems crazy to even think about upgrading boats, but no one achieves the impossible that doesn’t just go for it, right? Hmm. I’m not sure that I should be applying that to a big financial endeavor.
My brain has been in overdrive lately, trying to make decisions that will help me meet my long-term goals. I know that I am not alone in this struggle and it will sort itself out sooner or later, but it’s still hard to know what the best decision is going to be. Should we continue to aim higher? Or work harder to enjoy all that we are quite lucky to have right now?
These photos were taken on Big Farmer’s Cay and Little Farmer’s Cay in the Exumas last February.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I LOVE our Advanced Elements inflatable kayak. Yesterday, after driving out to Skidaway Island State Park and going for a two-hour sunset paddle, I found myself thinking about all the wonderful mini-adventures we’ve had with it. It is a seriously amazing toy, especially because of the ease with which we are able to tote it around and set it up virtually whenever and wherever we want. It was a wonderful companion to our sailboat and now a wonderful companion to the jeep! To honor the ‘yak, I put together a photo gallery of some of the great times we’ve had with her. Enjoy!
I found these photographs when I was looking through my Bahamas albums last night. It’s such a shame that I didn’t get to post them while we were in the islands, but better late than never right? Brian and I have been so busy since we got back, and we’ve spent so much time in the car, driving here to there…ugh! But we are now set up in a little house in Savannah, GA — wonderful. Brian is still doing IT work remotely and decided to take up a couple new hobbies (like learning how to brew beer!), and I have finally (as of yesterday) finished setting up my print studio. I am so excited to start printing new tees and also to move on to some other art projects that have been on the back burner for a long time. More on all that soon!
While we miss life on Illusion, we are happy to be taking advantage of a little more space and AC during the hot summer months! We are cleaning up the boat and taking as much of our junk off as possible in the hopes of completing some new projects. Some of you may have heard rumors that we are looking at boats again. Well, as if we don’t have enough to worry about, yes, we are looking, but we’ll see what happens. Because we have been living aboard for two years, we have a pretty good idea of what we want! We are looking for something of similar length, but with more living space, a better layout, and a longer waterline. If we upgrade boats, we want an ocean-going vessel, heavier, more stable, and with more free board, in order to sail farther more comfortably. But, as of now, we are still planning to cruise on Illusion again this winter – hopefully probe a bit farther down into the Caribbean. I’ll try to post more pictures from our trip soon (and also some photos of the new press). Bear with me — life on land is busy, busy, busy!
In just two-and-a-half-days Illusion sailed from Great Sale Cay in the Abacos to Hilton Head Island, SC, the same distance that it took us a month to travel (mainly motor) via the ICW last December. This means that Brian and I are quite literally back where this whole thing started. But even though our departure from the Bahamas felt like the ending of our trip, with 3,000+ miles behind us and some 25+ islands visited, we sure have come a long way.
I have learned magnitudes: about sailing, about myself, but most importantly about the life I want to live. Although Brian and I keep putting off such decisions as where we want to be for the next six months or whether or not to sell the boat in order to get a bigger one, we have made a couple other big decisions lately. And the biggest one is this: we like the lifestyle and we want to incorporate it into our long-term plans – in other words, we want to do it again! But when and how are the more recent questions on our mind.
It was a tough decision to head back to the States (mainly a financial one), especially since we know how hard it is to actually leave in the first place. Consider that it took us a whole year after our planned departure just to make it to the Bahamas! But I have always loved the saying, the journey is the reward, and I think it is particularly fitting. We learned so much in our first year, traveling from Hilton Head Island to Annapolis, MD, and learned so much more in the process of bringing the boat back south last fall.
It was because of all of our coastal cruising, that the Bahamas truly felt like a playground. I still don’t consider myself a great sailor, but I know how to handle the boat in so many different situations. Certainly Brian and I found ourselves to be a functioning team. I’m not sure why I needed to prove it to myself, but I feel much better having come to the realization that, as far as cruising is concerned, we measure up. I think now I am finally ready enough to let the chips fall where they may.
On the last morning of our passage back to Hilton Head Island, a pod of spotted dolphins came to visit us four separate times over the course of the day. Beginning with a morning show for Brian, they played in our bow wave and launched out of the water around us for a good thirty minutes each time. I put Brian on dolphin duty, meaning he had to take the tiller so that I could run up to the ratlines and take a hundred or so photos. It was such a beautiful sight to behold, that it was hard to feel sad about leaving. Plus, the fact that the same pod of ten or so dolphins returned four times to escort Illusion home seems like a pretty good omen to me. So let the chips fall where they may! I am rolling with it and coming to terms with the fact that our plans are still yet-to-be-determined. After all, that is one of the most important lessons of cruising.
Or perhaps you can help us determine when and how the next adventure will take place! Stay tuned….
At 4:30 pm Illusion sat in the sand mere feet away from the Staniel Cay waypoint, but the tide was at dead low. Brian put the motor on the dingy and attached the spinnaker halyard, running straight out from our starboard beam. Illusion strained ever so slightly and heeled over a tiny bit more. Even with full sails, we couldn’t tilt her over far enough to get her keel out of the sand.
It wasn’t long before a deluge of dingies came into sight, surrounding Illusion like a school of fish. It seemed that everyone wanted to lend a hand. We sent two dingies to the bow to “push” and the largest dingy to the other side to pull on the spinnaker halyard again. On the count of three, I gave Illusion half throttle forward and the tug-o-war began.
Illusion rocked over to her port side and slowly began to spin in a half circle, but to no avail. It’s an especially low tide today, one man told us, but any minute now the tide will begin rising and you should be able to float off. Scott and Nat, showed up in Rasmus‘s small inflatable, coming from beyond the famous Thunderball Grotto (of 007 fame) on their two-horsepower motor. They had arrived an hour before us and were well into a batch of sangria, when we had radioed. Although it was obvious that there was nothing to be done, they kept us company while we dropped anchor and waited for the tide to rise.
By the time we floated out of the sand, it was nearly dark. We motored into the deep channel that wound its way past the Staniel Cay Yacht club and around the giant rocks to where our friends were anchored behind the Grotto. Since it had grown dark and the current had become quite strong, we picked up a mooring for the night. It wasn’t until several evenings later that five of us headed over to the Grotto to see what it was all about.
Our first view of the Thunderball Grotto was of the giant rock in which it resides. The entrance itself is not overly obvious, except for the small dingy mooring that sits in front. At high tide, the entrance is actually covered with water, but at low tide, you can swim into it without having to hold your breath.
Amazing. I pulled on my flippers and stuck my feet in the cool water before hopping all the way in. It was slack tide. Small yellow-and-black stripped fish swam up to me looking for food. We were in maybe ten feet of water hovering over a white sandy bottom. Little schools of fish swam past us, the larger fish darted for the entrance to the cave. As I approached, the bottom became more interesting and the fish began to increase in size. There were little patches of coral and vegetation covering the ground.
I snorkeled through the entrance to be sure that I didn’t scrape against the rocks. A bright teal-green parrot fish swam under me, puckering his big yellow lips, and a brown-stripped grouper cowered in a small pocket in the rock. When I lifted my head and peered above the water, I realized that I was in a huge chamber. In fact there were two-chambers, the second even larger than the first. The ceiling of the cave was dome-shaped with a small hole in the center that let in a small amount of sunlight. On a small scale, it reminded me of the Pantheon in Rome. We swam around the rocks and chased the small schools of fish at the entrance until the current grew stronger and the sun was setting in the sky.
We stayed in Staniel Cay for three days. It was a beautiful and remote little town, and seemed to be quite the popular place.
Nothing is better than dropping anchor beside a tiny beach, throwing our inflatable kayak in the water, and exploring an uninhabited island. Shroud Cay sits just inside the northernmost boundary of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, a sea reserve that serves to create a safe haven for sea life in the Bahamas. There are ten or more islands within the park, including multiple private islands that are inhabited, but generally the islands are void of human influences – except from passing boats of course.
Shroud Cay looked like a set from Jurassic Park. Brian and I paddled our kayak into an alcove in the rocky shoreline. Gray clouds lined a darkening sky as we drifted past the entrance and paddled into a tiny tidal lagoon and creek. We glided across the clear water a mere six inches off the sandy bottom. A rock-ladened hill dotted with shrubs and miniature palm trees rose to our right. Little piles of stones set in orderly stacks lined the hill. We climbed out and waded over to the shore, our feet sinking into soft white mud that suctioned our toes and squirted out little jets of cold water.
Nat, from SV Panacea, sailed in behind us, looking for a quiet place to anchor his shoal-draft sailboat, and we all walked our boats up the creek until abandoning them to climb the hill. A few big raindrops splattered the water, and soon it began to rain. We looked for cover but found none, the shrubs being too small to provide shelter. It didn’t bother us much, the freshwater rinsed the salt from our skin, and within a short period, the rain stopped. A rainbow appeared against the troubled sky, and we stood in silence until we could no longer tolerate the dampness of our clothes and our skin chilled against the cool breeze. Then we paddled back to Illusion.
The next day the exploration began in earnest. Our friends on SV Panacea and SV Pirat set out to traverse the mangrove creek that cut all the way to the other side of the island. Brian followed in the kayak. The expedition took them several hours, and they returned to say they had made it to the other side and saw a few small sharks and a baby sea turtle along the way. I couldn’t resist the temptation. Brian offered to accompany me for a second trip, so after a quick lunch, we jumped into the kayak and paddled over to the entrance. The tide was lower than expected and, in fact, still going out. The creek narrowed, with deeper pockets of water amidst sandbars and serpentine shoals.
The kayak hit bottom again and again, and each time Brian got out and pulled us farther along. The mangroves we past sat almost completely out of the water, their red trunks and leaves sparkling with dried salt crystals. Small gray fish darted away from us as we navigated the shallows. Finally we came to a curve in the creek with a rock shore and the depth increased turning the water a cool blue. Brian mentioned that he had seen the sea turtle in that very spot, so we circled a few times before tracking deeper into the mangroves.
Mockingbirds sang loudly, flying from one side of the creek to the other, perching above us in the green foliage. The sun dropped lower in the sky, and as talk turned to dinner, we decided it was time to turn around. Once again, we passed through the deep pocket of water that ran along the rock shore, and once again, I stared down six feet below us and watched the fish that swam under the shadow of the kayak.
I was looking for sharks. As I gazed down at the bottom, a strangely patterned rock caught my eye. I watched as the rock detached from the bottom and seemed to drift forward with us. In another moment I saw that the rock had a flipper – four flippers to be exact. A baby sea turtle was frantically trying to swim away from us, but swimming parallel to the kayak in the process. We stopped paddling and drifted until he swam wide of us and darted from our view. I took a deep breath and looked around me at the nursery of the sea. How lovely to see a healthy ecosystem. We retraced our original track to find the setting sun had turned orange, sitting low on the horizon and filling our vision as we paddled back to the boat.
Our friends were already gathering on the beach as we rounded the last corner, so we quickly climbed aboard Illusion and threw a loaf of bread into the oven. I chopped up some fresh garlic, tossing it into a tiny bowl with olive oil and rosemary. With our dipping sauce and a hot loaf of olive bread, we paddled to shore to join our friends for a small feast laid out upon a simple beach wrap.
* Brian took most of these photographs on his first mangrove expedition.
The wind picked up to a solid 20 knots as we left the Allen’s Cay anchorage in the late afternoon and headed farther south to Norman’s Cay following our friends aboard SV Rasmus. Rasmus sailed east out into the Sound in search of Mahi Mahi (which they hooked!), whereas Illusion along with SV Panacea decided to sail west onto the Banks.
We raced Panacea with the wind behind us, fighting hard against the building waves and subsequent weather helm. In such conditions, I usually vote to reduce the sails, because I’ve learned that Illusion does not like to sail downwind. In any sort of seas, it is difficult to maintain a straight course, and with less mainsail up, she is easier to manage. But being late in the day and with Panacea racing off to our port side, we didn’t even pause, and I quickly handed the wheel to Brian.
The waves crashed over the beam, soaking us with salty spray, as Illusion flew over the water, surfing to speeds of 8 knots. Brian had been at the wheel for all of ten minutes when, all of a sudden, we heard a distinct snap. Instantly, Illusion spun 180 degrees back around and into the wind. As Brian turned the wheel with no response, it became immediately obvious that our steering had given out.
Illusion did the best thing she could do given the situation, she hove-to (meaning the head sail blew across the bow, filling backwards with wind and counter-acting the forward wind action of the mainsail – holding us in one place). Meanwhile, Brian tore through our cockpit lockers in search of the emergency tiller. Orange life jackets, bags of extra lines, and boxes of tools, epoxy, and oil piled into the cockpit. Finally, Brian extracted a heavy-duty, L-shaped, stainless steel pole from the depths. Unscrewing a small metal circle in the cockpit floor, he tried to attach the piece to the now-exposed rudder post.
We were shocked to realize that our emergency tiller did not fit. The square end of the tiller was ever-so-slightly too small to fit snugly as it should. Like using a screwdriver on a stripped screw head, it barely gripped the post. With full sails and 20+ knots of wind Illusion would be too much for the tiller (in its present state) to handle. Because we knew we would be dodging a few coral heads on our approach to the anchorage, we fired up the engine, furled the head sail, and dropped the main. Panacea, who was in radio contact with us at the time, slowed down to assist us in the event that we had any additional issues. We motored to Norman’s Cay at a delicate 4 knots and managed to safely drop anchor just after the sun set.
The next day, Brian pulled out the steering chain and discovered a broken link. After radioing the nearest marina, and researching via the phone, we came to the conclusion that, due to our remote location, we would be unable to locate a replacement. So with much patience and determination, we set to filing down the inner edges of the emergency tiller until it finally fit over the rudder post. As our friends snorkeled a wrecked sea plane, the crew of Illusion worked on boat projects. At least at the end of the day, there was a nice big fillet of Mahi to eat in the company of good friends!
Brittany and Livia (of Windtraveler and SV Estrellita) suggested that Brian and I interview on the new companion site to the Interview with a Cruiser Project. If you haven’t checked it out before, there is a link on my sidebar, please give it a click and check it out. The site is chalked full of great information for and by cruisers in interview format. Now there is a new version to the original site; check out Newly Salted for insights into the world of cruising as glimpsed by those of us with less than two years of experience. Happy reading!
Brian and I have been living aboard our 37′ Chris Craft sailboat, Illusion, since March 2009. Although we had originally planned to sail from Charleston, SC, to the Caribbean in November of that year, we realized (much to our dismay) that our boat was not ready to make the trip. After six weeks in the boat yard, during which point Brian rebuilt the engine and we performed projects such as replacing the mast step and keel bolts, we set sail from Hilton Head Island, SC, in May 2010 and headed north to Annapolis, MD. We spent three months there, living on the hook, working, and waiting out hurricane season. In November 2010, we departed from Annapolis, cruised south down the eastern seaboard to Miami, FL, and then across to the Bahamas.
1. Why did you decide to cruise?
Lara – When Brian came back to Charleston after crewing for a family crossing the Indian Ocean, I knew he was hooked on the idea of living and traveling on a sailboat. I had my reservations at first, but I joined him for a delivery of a catamaran from Spain to Greece in the Mediterranean – my first time sleeping on a boat smaller than a cruise ship and sailing around the clock for days. I wouldn’t say that the trip won me over, but after that, I knew I could hang. It was his dream from the beginning, but I have adapted remarkably well and grown to love it.
Brian – I traveled out of a backpack for three years after college, and during part of that time, I cruised on other peoples’ boats for transportation and adventure. I grew up sailing, but never liked racing. I’m basically just into interesting and challenging ways to get from Point A to Point B. If you wanted to bike across the country, kayak the ICW, or windsurf the Bahamas I would be just as into any of those — cruising just makes it all a little bit more comfortable and long term.
My first cruising experience was aboard Karaka. Tom Blancart, the captain, takes crew on as a shared expenses-type of arrangement. He’s an amazing guy, kind of like a social, modern version of Motissier. Anyone who is interested in cruising and wants to get the real experience I highly recommend a few months aboard Karaka. Check him out at http://karaka.voila.fr .
Some people like the sailing, some people like the islands, some people like the adventure, but I think we like the lifestyle the most. Working hard, being closer to nature, living day-to-day – it’s a good life, even if it’s not always easy.
2. In your first year of cruising, what transitions did you find the most difficult?
Lara – Downsizing was a huge deal for me, especially finding homes for all of my paintings and art supplies. Moving from our rented house in Charleston to the boat was difficult in terms of volume and sorting out what to bring with us, but moving out of my art studio later that year really hit me hard.
Brian – What comes to mind is the transition between moving and stopping — it’s something we battle with all the time. Once you stop somewhere for any length of time, getting moving again can be difficult. For us, there was also the transition between “Project Boat” and “Boat” — deciding when it was ok to start moving or whether the boat was safe/equipped to do any sort of cruising or whether or not we were being overly cautious. I think we ended up somewhere in the middle, we definitely started cruising on a work-in-progress, Illusion is farther along than a lot of projects but not as “complete” as a lot of other boats out there cruising. For us, we just wanted to get moving. We were prepared to work on our projects along the way instead of trying to start with a “Bristol” yacht.
3. What did you do to make your dream a reality?
Lara – Save, save, save, and make lots of sacrifices. We made it this far by living on an extremely tight budget and by Brian’s ability to renovate the boat on a shoestring using his unprecedented talent with Craigslist and Google.
Brian – I was really pig headed and refused to give up. There were a thousand times when this seemed like it was going to be impossible, like when my engine seized, I found out the mast step was totally destroyed, and figured out the keel/hull joint was leaking. But I took everything as a challenge, knowing that one day we’d be cruising and that it didn’t matter what the problem was – every problem has a solution. If you don’t have enough money, earn more. If your engine doesn’t work, fix it. If you want to do it, there’s nothing keeping you from cruising but yourself.
4. How much does cruising cost?
Lara – Many of the people we meet, fellow cruisers included, seem to be puzzled by our youth. Admittedly, I look younger than I am and I am young by most standards (27), but people are constantly asking us how we can afford it. Well, the truth is that we scrape by. We buy boat toys when we can, we fix things when we can afford to, and we spend most of our nights at anchor. If we were living on land, we would probably be paying rent or paying off a mortgage; instead, Brian bought a boat (much cheaper than buying a house!) and we put our money back into the boat. We think of the boat projects as our rent and, without all the additional costs of participating in land-based living, we live on the cheap.
Brian – The typical answer – how much you have. For us, our budget is around $1000 per month. Sometimes we come in under that and sometimes over. I spend a lot on boat goodies and my projects often break the budget, but if you anchor out, cook most of your own meals, and don’t waste money, it’s a pretty cheap lifestyle.
5. What mistakes did you make in your first year of cruising?
Lara – I think the biggest mistake I made (which couldn’t really be helped at the time) was letting most of the preparations in the beginning fall to Brian. The boat wasn’t ready when when we needed it to be, and I had little-to-no experience with which to help him. Although he had a great deal of sailing experience under his belt, Brian had never owned or captained a boat before Illusion, and she wasn’t in the physical shape that we had initially thought. We ended up spending a small fortune in the boatyard in South Carolina and missing our planned departure.
Brian – Underestimating how rough an offshore passage can be on the Atlantic Coast. I’d gone a lot of ocean miles on trade winds routes and done coastal passages during periods of long settled weather, but winter weather systems build up swell for days, and even though the wind may drop to a reasonable level, the swell will still be pretty big. We lost a dingy towing it offshore expecting settled weather but instead had a pretty rough downwind passage that shook up everything and the eye bolt tore off the dingy around 2 am while we were surfing around 10 – 11 knots.
6. What do you enjoy about cruising that you didn’t expect to enjoy?
Lara – Living according to the weather. Brian and I call it luxury camping, because unless it is cold or raining, we always have the hatches and windows open. I’ve learned to embrace the fact that when it rains, you get wet – everything gets wet. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I enjoy my foul-weather gear as I never expected to?
Brian – Engines and fiberglass work: we had some diesel engine issues, and I was lucky enough to have a mechanically minded friend that worked with me during the rebuild. I enjoyed learning about it. I also found working with fiberglass to be pretty intuitive and relatively simple as far as a construction material goes.
I also enjoyed cruising the ICW more than I would have expected. It was a lot of motoring, but we anchored out more-or-less every night and often in the middle-of-nowhere USA. We are in the Bahamas now, and you can’t beat the fishing and clear water, but I liked the ICW too, and wish I would have been able to spend more time at some of the random anchorages in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.
Another random one would be sailing with a tiller – a link of our steering chain broke in the Bahamas so we rigged up the “emergency” tiller. I found that I like sailing with it better than the wheel. We balance better and the feedback from the boat is much more immediate. After a few days sailing with a tiller, we’re thinking about making a permanent one.
7. What do you dislike about cruising that surprised you?
Lara – I was pretty spot-on beforehand about the things that I thought would bother me, but I’ve been surprised by how little they actually do get under my skin. Sure, the boat is small, it’s old, so things are still always breaking, and I hate unpacking an entire locker to get to that one thing I need, but really what gets to me more than anything else is that I don’t have the space to work on substantial art projects, and I can’t screen-print on the boat. Still trying to figure out the happy medium between cruising and making art.
Brian – Not much actually. I’d done some cruising on other boats before, so I had some idea of what this was going to be like. I guess what I dislike most (that were unexpected to me) is how difficult it was for us to find homes for things. We don’t have much accessible storage, so we still have things without “homes” and that makes our boat feel cluttered.
8. Is there something you wish you had bought or installed before starting cruising?
Lara – There have been a number of items that we installed after we started cruising, which we wondered why we hadn’t installed sooner: the saltwater wash-down system, the new faucet, a new head, and the long-range wireless antennae/wireless device, for example. Most of the items have to do with the level of comfort on the boat.
Brian – AIS. We still don’t have it but knowing exactly what (big commercial) ships are out there would have made for less-stressful night passages, especially in the Chesapeake Bay. It is less important in areas like the Bahamas or the islands but great for sailing along the coast of the US. Our radar has really helped, and that was a late addition.
We did put in a saltwater wash-down pump last year that made anchoring in mud much less of a problem. I wasn’t sure it was going to be of much use in sand, but low-and-behold having a saltwater dish-blaster has helped us conserve water. I really wish I had bought a backup stereo though – ours died recently and cruising without music just isn’t the same!
9. What do you find the most exciting about your cruising life?
Lara – The unexpected situations that we find ourselves in just trying to accomplish daily tasks; whether it is a trip to the grocery store or a search for a replacement part, we make new friends everywhere. Remote anchorages are also quite exciting. It’s such a novelty to look at the stars without the interference of light pollution, and I love spotting animals along the way. From dolphins, to sea turtles, rays, birds, and even a black bear, there is always something new to see if you are looking. It is refreshing to find our lives so entwined with the environment.
Brian – Generally we’re not in it for excitement. We are looking for relaxation and a more natural pace of life — but catching a fish trawling is always exciting. When the reel starts spinning, there is a rush to get to the rod and land the fish, usually followed by lots of excited shouts for “gaff! get me the gaff!!!” or “where are the pliers? I need the pliers!!” and quite possibly “where are my gloves?? This thing wants to eat my fingers!” Lara get’s to hear all of this while trying to keep us on course and out of trouble. I’d say those are some of the most exciting moments.
The things I get most excited for are the usual, a drink at sundown, good weather, good friends, exploring islands and those rare occasions when everything just goes right.
10. What are your plans now? If they do not include cruising, tell us why.
Lara – We will sail Illusion around the Bahamas for a few more months before most likely circling back up to the states. I need to get back to my art practice, and it’s time for both of us to fill our bank accounts again. I imagine we will continue to live aboard, but our plans for Illusion are unclear. As young as we are, I don’t see this as an ending, but rather a beginning, and I’m sure this will not be our last sailing adventure.
Brian – Our plans are always, at best, indefinite. We always have a few options that we’re juggling, looking for the best option. Our long term plans definitely involve cruising. We are comfortable on the water, have built up our knowledge base to the point that we are no longer beginners — though we still have infinite amounts to learn — and don’t see any point in “stopping” now. That being said, we’re thinking about a larger boat, which means money and continuing our respective “careers.” Lara’s art has been well received everywhere we go, so she needs a place to create that’s bigger than our boat! We’re leaning towards enjoying the Bahamas for another month or so before heading to the Chesapeake Bay for hurricane season. We hope to start hunting for a larger boat, earning money, and setting ourselves up for the long term.