Saturday, November 27, 2010

Water, Water Everywhere...

Rain in the cockpit of Del Viento, 1997,
enroute El Salvador to Nicaragua
Dirt dwellers in the U.S. take water availability for granted. Sure, I grew up in drought-prone Southern California, so I know that many folks west of the Mississippi understand that water is precious and conserve it at times--but even they take the availability of water for granted. They may have dropped a brick in their toilet tank, or stopped watering their lawn, but they always take it for granted that clean, potable water would flow from their tap.

Cruisers have an entirely different relationship with water. There are four common ways to get water into the tanks of a cruising boat so that it is available to her crew:

1. Via a garden hose at the dock to which the boat is tied up.

2. From rain water that is collected and channeled into water tanks aboard.

3. By shuttling empty water jugs from the boat to shore aboard the dinghy, and then shuttling them back and emptying them in the tanks aboard.

4. Using a water maker aboard that removes the salt from sea water, turning it into potable fresh water.

When I lived aboard the first Del Viento in a marina in the early nineties, I filled my tank using approach #1, a garden hose that was at the head of my slip. When Windy and I untied those dock lines and left to go cruising in 1996, we rarely visited marinas and instead shuttled all of our water from shore using two six-gallon jugs we kept aboard for just that purpose. With only two of us aboard, and with a water tank that held only 14 gallons, we made due. This time around, there will be four of us aboard and the water tank holds 100 gallons.

Approach #3 isn't going to be the best approach during this next cruise. With twice as many people, there will be at least twice as much shuttling of water. This would be a pain in the neck (and back!).

Approach #1 will not work for us because we will be cruising on a tight budget, unable to spend time in marinas where the water flows freely.

Approach #2 is attractive and viable, but not dependable in many parts of the world.

And that leaves approach #4. We didn't have a watermaker on the first Del Viento and our Fuji 40 did not come with one installed. Watermakers are very expensive and consume a lot of electricity. On our first cruise, we were in very short supply of both resources. On this cruise, we will not have a lot of money, but will have a bit more power (specifically from two Siemens 100W solar panels mounted atop the davits--contrasted with the single 75W panel we had aboard the first Del Viento).

I don't want to be restricted by a lack of water. I don't want to have to leave a desirable, but secluded anchorage prematurely because we are running low. I've heard too that there are remote populated places where water is scarce and unavailable to cruising boats. A watermaker would offer us total freedom from any water-supply restrictions. We could make the water we needed, when we needed it. We would likely use more fresh water, conserving less, if we had a watermaker aboard. But the cost is nearly prohibitive. The smallest Spectra watermaker runs about $7,000 (over $6 a day for the next three years, ouch) and the output is so low that though it may keep us self-reliant, we would remain vigilant about usage.

So we are resolved to living initially without a watermaker, just to challange any perceived "need" for one before we spend the money. That said, I recently learned about a new model of watermaker that tips the scales a bit further in the watermaker's favor.
SeaMaker 20 by Cruise RO Water & Power

Cruiser Rich Boren is sailing with his family aboard Third Day in Mexico. He comes from a water filtration background, understands reverse osmosis (the technology used to make fresh water from salt water), and was dismayed upon becoming a cruiser to learn how much companies were charging folks for these machines. So, he made his own watermaker to install aboard Third Day, and it worked great. After enough folks showed interest in his watermaker and expressed the same dismay about commercially available watermakers, Rich formed a company (Cruise RO Water & Power) to make his own version of the watermaker. The core technology is no different than that of the other companies, but like his home-grown unit, his watermakers are built from third-party manufactured components that anyone can buy off the shelf. Accordingly, he keeps his prices down. His 20-gallon-per-hour output model, the SeaMaker 20, is priced at just a hair under $4,000.
I don't know how we'll feel about our water situation by the time we hit San Diego, but my best guess is that we will be ready for a watermaker at that time, and the $4,000 price point will probably be not too hard a pill to swallow. We'll see.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Life Raft or Lifeboat?

© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Used with permission.
Back in July, I wrote a post about dinghies: what they are and why they're so important to cruisers (read The Cruiser's Car). I ended the post by describing the fine dinghy that came with our boat, and our intention to get rid of it: "Once back in the States, we plan to purchase a new hard dinghy and new motor…a very specific hard dinghy and motor. More on our dinghy plans and rationale in a future post…"
So here we are.
We plan to get rid of the dinghy that came with our Fuji 40 because it will not meet our needs. Why won't it meet our needs? Because we need our dinghy to be more than a dinghy.
We made a very deliberate decision not to carry a life raft aboard Del Viento. This decision flies smack in the face of the prevailing cruiser mindset. No life raft? Insanity!
Not insane, practical...logical. Instead of going to sea with the de rigueur blow-up life raft, we plan to outfit our dinghy such that it may be used as our lifeboat. To get an idea of how radical and contrary this idea is among cruisers, read the admonition in the recent Toast Floats post Preparing for Disaster. I'm actually surprised more folks don't adopt this approach (of course, it doesn't work with an inflatable dinghy and inflatables make such outstanding dinghies, it would be difficult to sway inflatable lovers). But none other than Lin and Larry Pardey are proponents of the don't-carry-a-life-raft-aboard-instead-use-your-dinghy-as-a-lifeboat philosophy, and they are highly regarded in the cruising community (though, now that I think about it, their respected choices are rarely followed).
If we wanted our dinghy to serve only as our dinghy, it would be difficult to justify replacing what we have. As a dinghy, our Mercury inflatable is large and stable, hard to beat. Even more surprising: Our Fuji 40 comes with a life raft too, a four-person Plastimo with a certification that expired in 2009. We'll sell this in the States too.

Some definitions: A life raft is usually either packaged in a valise and stored in a locker, or packaged in a canister and stored on deck. If your boat is sinking, you toss one or the other into the water and (hopefully) watch your new plastic salvation inflate. A lifeboat is what larger vessels carry--I'm talking ships (remember the lifeboats on the Titanic?). They don't inflate, they just are.

Of course, the reason most cruising boats and other smaller vessels carry life rafts rather than lifeboats is size. Now our boat isn't any bigger than the average cruising boat (a bit smaller actually, at 39.1 feet LOA), and we certainly could not carry a dedicated life boat. But by dual-purposing our dinghy, we won't have to.

While adopting this approach puts us in the minority (way in the minority), we think it makes total sense. Following are the points I think are important when comparing the life raft to the dinghy-as-life-boat (DALB), as I see them:

Points Supporting Our Approach
Portland Pudgy in full lifeboat configuration

  • A life raft, even recently serviced, may not inflate. This is not uncommon. [A dinghy-as-life-boat (DALB) is a sure thing, you use it daily and know it works.]
  • A life raft is passive, with no means of locomotion. [A DALB will have a sail kit stored aboard (sail, mast, rudder, lee boards). This may allow you to sail yourself ashore or into shipping lanes.]
  • A life raft is subject to puncture and chafe. [A DALB is hard, not subject to puncture or chafe, and is unsinkable.]
  • A life raft requires regular repacking at considerable expense. Though there are facilities worldwide, you will have to coordinate your travels carefully to be located near one when you need to have your raft serviced. [A DALB is maintained by you.]
Points Against Our Approach
    Typical life raft
  • A life raft with a hydrostatic release deploys automatically. If things go down hill quickly and you find yourself in the water, the raft will likely bob to the surface and inflate soon after. [A DALB will be secured on deck while underway and will have to be unsecured and deployed manually, perhaps in challenging conditions.]
While Lin and Larry built their own DALB, they are Lin and Larry and we are not. Fortunately for us, almost 10 years ago, David Hulbert, a retired engineer in Portland, Maine, designed and built a prototype DALB he calls the Portland Pudgy. His prototype was so effective he decided to make more and he built a company. They are not cheap, and many think they are not pretty, but they are awesomely practical. Mr. Hubert brought his Pudgy to the the 2007 Annapolis Sailboat Show. Windy and I talked to him at length and even sat in the thing, trying to determine if it would be big enough for our 2011 family. We decided at the time it was, but Portland Pudgys have not returned to the show, so we've not had a chance to confirm what we decided then.

Following is a video interview with David Hulbert demonstrating the boat for (read their complete review):

Also, the Pudgy offers other benefits over an inflatable dingy: it's fun to sail (doubling as an instructional water toy for the girls), it tows well (litlle resistance), it features internal storage (all of the safety and sailing gear are stowed aboard always), and it rows easily.

A couple months ago, Peter Neilsen, SAIL magazine's editor-in-chief, reviewed the Pudgy and wrote of the size: "The Pudgy is USCG-rated to carry up to four people, but they’d better be slightly built and very good friends; there are limits to what you can expect of a 7ft 9in dinghy with the floor area of a four-person liferaft."

He ended the review with the following endorsement: "It’s tough, functional and practical, and if the choice came down to climbing into a traditional life raft or boarding the Pudgy, I know where I’d rather be. For a cruising couple or a family with small children, the Pudgy makes a lot of sense."

Now, more on our dinghy motor plans in a future post...


Friday, November 19, 2010

Blueberries or Flies?

So back in May I wrote about an eye-opening article I read in Cruising World by columnist Wendy Mitman Clarke (see my post here: Along for the Ride [or Shanghaied?]). In her column, she questioned whether pulling her kids out of conventional society and taking them cruising is really in their best interests--as everyone assumes it is (read her CW column here).
I was so impressed by the column that I sent the following comments to the Cruising World Senior Editor, Mark Pillsbury, and he published them in the current issue. Pretty cool!
Blueberries for Sal or Lord of the Flies?
I found Wendy Mitman Clarke's "Child's Play" (Osprey's Flight, June 2010) to be refreshing and thought-provoking. While my wife and I are particularly interested in the subject matter--we're engaged in final preparations for taking off cruising with our two daughters--I think the piece likely resonates with many cruisers because it's a frank look at a topic that isn't heavily covered and is never represented in anything but a positive light.

Cruising isn't a permanent vacation; like complex lives lived ashore, it's enriched with positives and beset by negatives. Kudos to CW for supporting a writer who relates her even-handed take on the lifestyle even if that portrayal isn't always flattering. Her honesty is a hallmark of your publication, and it's exemplified monthly in the front of the magazine by Cap'n Fatty Goodlander and in the back by Clarke.


Monday, November 15, 2010


A while back, Windy found an excellent book swapping site called BookMooch. It’s literally that, a book swapping site. Not a dime changes hands (except between you and the post office). In short, you get a point for sending someone a book they request, and you lose a point when you request a book from someone. It is very cool, kind of like a babysitting co-op. You also get 1/10th of a point for each book you list and 1/10th of a point everytime you leave feedback for someone who sends you a book. If you send a book outside of the U.S., you get three points (and you lose three points when you mooch a book from overseas).

I don’t know how we accumulated the hundreds and hundreds of books we did, but we can’t take them with us on the boat, so I’ve been slowly getting rid of them over the past couple years. Everytime I’ve come up with a stack I am ready to part with, I list on Amazon those that are worth something, and give the rest away. Since discovering BookMooch, I’ve allowed folks to mooch about two dozen books I’d have given away. It’s gratifying to send these books to those who are eager to read them. Tomorrow a paperback copy of Thoreau’s Walden heads to Greece and Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is off to Canada.

Many of my sailing books have already been mooched, but I still have titles available from the Pardeys, the Roths, and Tania Aebi—mooch ‘em quick.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Why The Radical Life Change?

In early 2006, after our second daughter, Frances, was born, I had the mother of all epiphanies: we should quit our jobs, sell everything, buy a boat, and sail around the world. It took Windy about 2 seconds to agree. Within five minutes, we'd launched the five-year plan that is now wrapping up.
At the time I was reading All in the Same Boat by Tom Neale. In the book he describes the past 20 years of his family's life, cruising up and down the eastern seaboard, following the seasons from Maine to the Bahamas. Both the Neale girls were raised aboard and seemed to turn out to be respectable young women. I had two girls and I liked boats; it was easy to imagine myself in that life...
Now, to put this into perspective, Windy and I have been cruising before. In fact, it’s how we met. In 1996 I lived aboard a Newport 27 in Ventura, California and signed Windy on as my sole crew for a 7-month trip to Key West, via the Panama Canal (SAIL magazine published an article I wrote about this trip in their November 2007 issue). We had the time of our lives and dreamed of cruising again, someday. Of course, we would first settle down, buy a house, start a family, contribute to IRAs and 401Ks, join the neighborhood association, attend Back-to-School night, and hopefully take two weeks off each of the next twenty years to vacation. Eventually, our kids would get out on their own, we’d help pay for college, maybe a couple of weddings, and then buy a boat to pursue our cruising ambitions. This script was tried and true, the American Dream. So what happened?
On that March day in 2006, I realized an alternative might be more satisfying to us both. We’d grown up, gone to college, found careers, bought our first house, and made a family. All that appeared on the horizon was more of the same. Bigger house? Nicer car? Better vacations? More responsibility at work? For the next 30 years?
1. Wake up.
2. Go to work.
3. Eat dinner.
4. Return to Step 1.

I know that I’m painting a bleak, over-simplified picture, ignoring about a million factors that make our life pretty damn good by conventional measures, but it just isn’t enough. The primary shortcoming is that we are not living together. We are all under the same roof, but pulled in too many directions by economic and societal demands to be really living together.
Until December 2008, we were a two-income family. This meant that we dispersed every morning to live distinct lives. Windy to work, check. Frances down the street to daycare, check. Eleanor to school downtown, check. Michael to work, check. In their early years, most of the impressions that our girls were forming, the synapses they were making, were happening in our absence. Despite the second-mother-like daycare situation for Frances, and a safe, caring school environment for Eleanor, this situation was not sustainable for Windy. Her decision to end her career at National Geographic was an easy one. Because our cruising plans were by then in full swing, I was against her decision. "Stick it out." I argued, "We are leaving soon." It did not make financial sense to scrape by on one income at a time when we were trying to save as much as we could.

Since losing that battle, I have seen (in the 5-or-so waking hours I am with my family each day) a steady transformation in her as a parent. Her relationship with our girls and her parenting experiences mean everything to her. I no longer doubt the wisdom of her choice; I am grateful to her for making it. I am grateful for the direct, immediate, and tailored attention she offers Eleanor and Frances, all day long. We are both pleased with this outcome for their sake. 

But that still leaves me. While I have a good job and I work with many sharp, interesting people from all over the world, I'm not doing work that interests me. My job is not satisfying physically nor intellectually. I am not driven in any way to do what I do. Rather, it is a well-paying job that I do well, but which keeps me away from my family for the bulk of my waking hours. In fact, whole days go by where I leave for the office before anybody is awake, and return after the girls are back in bed--their little heads filled and expanded with new experiences and associations that do not include me.

Surprisingly, this is not intolerable. Maybe it's because I am a guy, because I'm wired differently? Maybe it's because I am not missing what I have not yet been able to know? However tolerable, it seems wrong. Too, it leaves me feeling guilty for those hours I steal away for myself, whether it is work that has to be done on the house or reading and writing that I want to do. How can I have so little time available for my girls and not spend every minute of that time with them? My justification is that they need to see me engaged in my own pursuits. They need parents who attend to self interests and who model the adult behaviors we want them to emulate. Today, Windy is able to offer both. I am not.

It is a problem of lack of time, the bane of families everywhere. My epiphany on that March day suggests a solution to this problem. In cruising, we envision the opportunity to spend nearly all of our time together. We could accomplish the same ends by selling everything and buying outright a small house or trailer in a small town in North Dakota or Mississippi. But in addition to togetherness, cruising offers a rich and varied life for a cost that is less than the U.S. poverty level for a family of four ($22,050 in 2010).     

So, we’re trying something new and radical, we'll see how it goes. We can always come back and rejoin this race, or find yet another path.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

West Marine v. Defender

"Thank you Auntie Julie and the Ryans!"

At the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis this year, we were on a mission: we were there to buy, we knew what we wanted, and we were price sensitive. On the first day, we walked back and forth between the West Marine and Defender booths, our lists in hand, taking notes and taking pictures of price tags with our iPhones. That night, we reviewed all of the data and surprisingly, neither retailer emerged as the clear winner. West Marine beat Defender in some cases, and vice versa. I was surprised because I expected Defender to undercut West Marine with few exceptions.
Before casting off on my first voyage in the mid-1990s, I lived two-and-a-half miles from the Ventura, CA West Marine store. During the three years I worked to ready the boat, I drove back-and-forth to that West Marine hundreds of times. I heard often from friends on the dock that Defender’s catalog prices were much lower than West Marine's prices, and they were. For the larger purchases that my big-boat dock mates made, I'm sure Defender made sense. But this was the pre-Internet era and Defender was strictly a mail-order operation. For the smaller, frequent purchases I made over that time period, the cost of shipping and the receipt and return hassle didn’t make Defender a better value to me.

Of course, over the past 18 years the marine retail landscape has changed. With Internet sales common, free or discounted shipping the norm, and sales tax the exception, the West Marine store’s brick-and-mortar value is diminished—especially given their recent dilution of their once legendary return policy. Young folks today never use the words "mail order" and Defender is now an online retailer--and so is West Marine.
Windy is planning a Mexico trip to the boat now, for the first week of December. She’ll take a bunch of measurements while there. When she returns, we’ll be able to finalize a list of the remaining items we need to purchase and bring south with us. I’ve already begun scoping out retailers for some of the purchases we have yet to make. I know now that it will not be just a West Marine v. Defender battle. At home, and now that the 'boat show specials' are over, there are hundreds of online retailers, including Amazon, competing in the marine retail area. Some are specialized ( and others compete more broadly--all of them are eager for our business.


Things We Will Miss: The Price-Bleimehls

With daughters the same age as ours, we've shared many milestones and adventures and margaritas with them. Dozens of birthdays, many Easter egg hunts in their backyard, clothes and shoes and toys perpetually co-mingled between our homes, sleepovers galore, and hundreds of good meals.

Every October they watched our girls while we spent 12-hour days at the boat show.

They adopted our chickens, our cats are going to be theirs, and they even offered months ago to provide care for our aged and much loved, but smelly and sometimes incontinent dog Honey--just to help us out. What can we say? Leaving this family is going to suck...

--WR & MR

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