July 1, 2004
Brenton Cove, Newport, Rhode Island
41° 29.325 North
071° 19.319 West

Opening The June Mail Bag

By Bernadette Bernon

Moored around us in Brenton Cove, which is tucked into the southeast corner of Newport harbor, is a Kentucky Derby of sleek racing boats, all newly arrived from around the country to compete in the Rolex Regatta, a week of grand-prix sailboat racing. Among the screamingly fast one-designs here is the Farr 40 Barking Mad, which we rooted for all week during her daily sprints in Narragansett Bay, as she was Ithaka's stable mate in Newport Shipyard over the winter.

The Newport Bridge glimmers in the black June night.
Jane, the boat's beautiful, professional skipper, was one of the guys this winter at the yard, upgrading and meticulously preparing the boat, getting it ready for the owner to arrive. Ithaka even sports some of Barking Mad's old sheets and halyards. Farr 40s are highly competitive boats, usually with rather large budgets, and at one point this spring, Jane replaced all her old (used only one season) top-shelf line with brand new kit, to leave no stone unturned in her pursuit of faultless summer performances. Happily for us, one day she picked Ithaka as the recipient of the "old" stuff. I credit my niece Hannah for playing on Jane's soft-heartedness, as Jane often chatted with the little girl this spring as the four-year-old played tag with me under both boats. Among those big-money mega-yachts in the yard this winter, perhaps Ithaka made us look like the "neediest" cruisers when it came time for Jane to unload the line. I don't know. But I do know that the week after we splashed, a crewmember from an America's Cup yacht in the slip next to us dropped off a baked ham and three dozen eggs. I began to wonder what kind of impression we were making.

Hannah in full fairy regalia for her dance recital.
Moored in Brenton Cove, life has taken on a new pace. It's been a cold, wet June, so whenever we dinghy ashore, we're bundled in full foul-weather regalia, including boots. Until last week, we've been sleeping in all the fleece we own. Mercifully, this week the sun burst out, dried everything, everyone emerged squinting from their hibernation, and we attended Hannah's ballet recital, and nursery-school graduation outdoors at Eisenhower Park, which overlooks Newport's East Passage. In a synchronicity of time and people, as Hannah shyly walked up when her name was called, Barking Mad raced past us in the distance. I hoped for the best -- for the sweet and steely Kiwi girl at the helm, and for our curly-haired god-daughter getting her first diploma from Miss Jody.

From our position in Eisenhower Park, we can see in the distance the first arrivals of the racing fleet, as they mill around the committee boat before the start of one of the sprints in the Rolex Regatta.
So Ithaka bobs on her mooring like a Clydesdale amongst the thoroughbreds this week, proudly wearing all the accoutrements of her cruising profession - water, gasoline and diesel jerry jugs strapped to the rails, self-steering vane ready to deploy off the stern, two massive anchors in their chocks at the bow, wind generator whirling. Inside, Douglas and I thaw, check our cruising mail, and take some time this week to answer a few questions. Thanks for following our story, and for getting in touch. We always welcome hearing from you.

Fresh Air

Walt, in Ohio emailed us, asking Douglas if we have air conditioning on Ithaka. "I don't recall any mention of it in your logs," wrote Walt, "so I assume the answer is no. Assuming this is correct, did you purposely avoid getting air conditioning in a pathetic male attempt to keep your wife from wearing clothes at night? And if this is correct, does it work?"

Ithaka's awnings make an incredible difference in keeping down the heat below decks. We strolled the pretty streets of Cartagena's old town day and night, and felt secure.
From Bernadette: No air-con here. When we're cruising in the tropics, we spend all our time at anchor, so we're always pointing into the wind. We have awnings over the deck, so the shade keeps the temperature lower during the day. In the evening, there's generally a little breeze funneling down the open forward hatch, and onto our bed in the V-berth, no matter how little wind there is. As you get closer to the equator, over time everyone gradually acclimatizes to the heat, and it doesn't seem so hot really. Regarding your other questions, about attire, or the lack thereof, here's Douglas…

From Douglas: Okay, Walt, I admit it. We had a superior air-conditioning system on the boat, but I never told Bernadette about it, and one day when she was off somewhere I ripped that puppy out and threw it into the drink, just hoping the maneuver would have the effect you mentioned. Of course it did. Now I have to plead with her to wear clothes, cause I'm so exhausted. This just proves that if men would completely sack their expensive, mechanical heating and cooling systems, we'd save oodles of dollars, get lucky more often, and be less reliant on foreign oil, proving that nudity is the key to world piece.

Overcoming The News

"How do you get over your fears of traveling to a place like Colombia?" wrote Walt. "Am I just reading the paper too much? These days I find I get worried about flying a charter plane with four co-workers to the next state. Spending several weeks in a place like Colombia just boggles what's left of my mind. That's what's inspirational: you've taken what many of us would consider an impossible dream and made it a reality."

The beauty of Cartagena
From Bernadette: Thanks for the nice words. It's funny though. Now that we've been home for a few months working on the boat, we've been surprised and dismayed to see how far the fear level has ratcheted up in the States. All the color-coded alerts, and the constant 24-hour-a-day fear-mongering on television has a horrible effect on our nation. Many of our friends, have become more frightened to leave the country, more distrustful than ever that they are safe anywhere but here. When you're living on a boat outside the country, you don't have that feeling at all, perhaps because you're not flooded with gloom and doom from the repetitious media. Instead, you tend to take one country at a time, consider what other cruisers - who've just come from a place -- tell you, read the papers, and then make an informed decision. Cartagena, Colombia, was one of the most welcoming places we visited. The people embraced us, invited us to their homes for dinner, shuttled us around town to doctors, dentists and well-stocked hardware stores - whatever we needed. We walked the streets day and night, never feeling threatened. Colombia has problems with security and drugs in the interior regions - it's a gigantic country -- but we felt content and utterly safe in sleepy Cartagena.

Sails Calls

"Isn't it a pain to fight with the sails all the time?" Walt asked. "I'd be pitching that genoa thing overboard with the anchor! It's a total lack of understanding of sailboats speaking when I say this, but more than once I've been reading your logs and silently screamed, 'Start the damn engine!' "

Sailing is rewarding and fun, but when the wind dies the engine goes on.
From Bernadette: When the wind is blowing, and the sails are full, and you're making great speed through the water, the feeling you get is one of thrilling and complete satisfaction down to your core. It's magical, a feeling of endless possibilities. When the wind dies, and the sails need tweaking, and trimming, and coaxing, Douglas and I are in complete agreement: That's a little preview of what hell must be like, and during those moments we want an extremely big engine, and we want it RIGHT NOW. We're not purists; we don't hesitate to put the engine on when the wind dies, or when we want to make a landfall before sunset. At those moments, the sound of the Yanmar rumbling to life is the sweetest of symphonies.

On The Fence About Going Cruising, And Filled With Questions

Wayne F. wrote to us recently, after reading my story, "How Much Does It Cost To Cruise?" In this report, I analyzed the annual expenditures of a dozen cruising couples with a wide range of annual cruising budgets - the smallest was about $12,000 a year; the largest was $75,000. Wayne had several follow-up questions about the people in the story.

Cruising is more expensive than most sailors realized before they set out. See Bernadette's article on the real costs, so you can plan accordingly.
"What was their primary motivation to go long-distance cruising?"
For two couples, a medical wake-up call that reminded them that life is short. For three of the couples, a new direction after retirement, a love of sailing, and a desire to travel. For two others, the desire to take a break from their "normal" lives to see where life took them. Although they all had somewhat different reasons for going cruising, everyone shares one thing: the desire to push themselves beyond their comfort zones.

"What surprises came up, both pleasant and unpleasant?"
All of the couples were surprised that cruising cost more than they budgeted. Whatever you budget for cruising, be prepared to spend about 40 percent more than budget for year one, a period packed with expensive surprises as gear breaks, you get to know your boat's foibles more intimately, and you become accustomed to a new life style. After year one, most people normalize to their original spending goals. Another unpleasant surprise is that gear breaks down and needs replacement far more quickly than anticipated, no matter its quality. Constant daily use, especially under the tropical sun, is far more demanding than weekend sailing over a finite period. On the other hand, the best surprise for everyone is how important cruising friendships become. Everyone sets out to see the world, but the treasured memories are of people along the way.

Boat maintenance and gear repair takes up more time than most cruisers expected before they set out.
"What are their plans after cruising?"
Three couples know that because of family and personal history they'll settle in the towns where they started. Three couples are playing it by ear. All the couples want to continue working in some capacity. Those in their 50s and younger plan to return to professional work, and restock savings accounts. Those in their late 50s and older want some kind of work, too, but more for the intellectual stimulation than for more extensive funding (by and large, those folks were retired). All crave staying active and engaging in rewarding work of some kind.

"How did they handle health problems? How did they get approval from insurance companies when they were out of the country?"
People in the story all have had some connection with the medical system while they've been cruising - it's inevitable. Mostly, problems have been routine. But, one man did have a serious infection from a cut; he tried to arrest the infection by going to a local doctor in Panama City, and taking antibiotics. It was persistent and began to spread, so he opted to fly home to deal with it. One woman required surgery for a cyst; she flew to the States for its removal, as did a man with a cancerous skin lesion. For the routine stuff - fillings, rashes, sprains, and that sort of thing - everyone seeks medical attention locally, in the nearest city, generally at private hospitals, which tend to employ the finest doctors. Such care costs a miniscule fraction of the same care in the States. Most American cruisers do keep their domestic medical insurance, with a large deductible to keep premiums lower. If you have no serious pre-existing conditions, you'll probably qualify for one of the vastly less expensive travelers' medical policies that are open to people who are outside the US for more than 6 months a year. Douglas has that kind of coverage and he's paying less than $2000 annually. (He got it from www.cassinins.com.) If you have pre-existing medical conditions, you'll have to buy one of the more expensive domestic policies, such as Blue Cross Blue Shield - although, BCBS will only cover your treatment inside the US, unless of course it's an emergency.

Bernadette enjoying another world.
"Did they ever get bored?"
One of our cruising friends mused that, "When I'm not bored, I'm terrified" - a joke, yes, but there's some truth to it. There's a great deal of routine on a boat, mostly because there is so much to do every day to keep things humming - maintenance, navigation, fix-it projects. Part of every day feels like you have a demanding (hideously low-paying) job - taking care of your boat. The remainder of the day you spend in lots of ways, sometimes snorkeling and fishing for your dinner, sometimes going ashore to explore, and sometimes spending all day trying to get ashore, walking the mile or so to a market, lugging the stuff back to the dinghy, cleaning and disinfecting the fresh food once you get it back to the boat, storing it, and on and on. Things that require but a few minutes at home can eat a whole day on a boat. More specifically, though, Douglas and I have learned that it's crucial to have some intellectual stimulation as part of your cruising life, and that keeps things interesting. We're lucky to be writing these logs for BoatUS, and a monthly column for Cruising World magazine. Plus we do a lot of photography for these columns. Some cruisers do volunteer work in the villages they visit. Others learn to play musical instruments, teach themselves how to draw, or really work on learning a foreign language.

There are sea cows. And then there are sea cows. This one is on the side of delicatessen in Middletown, Rhode Island. Douglas relaxing.
"Were there ever tinges of remorse or regret? How often do they ask themselves, did I do the right thing?"
Sure, there are always those moments when you want to beam off the boat, when you wondered how you ever got yourself into this mess. Those moments are generally associated with major gear breaking. Once things are fixed again, you look around and remember why you're out here.

"What would they do differently, such as boat or equipment?"
Cruising World has just done a feature on this question in their June issue. They interviewed several couples who've been cruising in the Caribbean for at least two years, and asked them what they'd do differently (regarding their boats) if they had it to do over again. Mostly, people said they'd get the biggest engine they could.

Douglas relaxing.
"What are their plans after cruising?"
Everyone has different plans. What is consistent among all the people interviewed in the article is that cruising has inspired them to do something next that they'd not thought of before. One couple wants to build a house in Costa Rica. Another wants to teach in a foreign school. Another wants to ship their boat to the Pacific Northwest to explore there for awhile. Another wants to write a book. Cruising inevitably expands your horizons. You never know where life will take you, once you untie your lines and cast off.