Before we left San Francisco, we were hungry for information, advice, and stories about the cruising life. Newly Salted and companion series Interview with a Cruiser became two of our favorite sources—we looked forward to every new interview. And now it’s our turn! As we approach seven months underway, we’re excited to share some of our lessons and experiences with the Newly Salted audience.
If we haven’t met… hi! We’re John and Michelle, a couple of 30-something urban squares who left professional life behind to become sailing nomads in October 2017. We’ve been cruising the Pacific Coast of North America—from San Francisco Bay to Costa Rica, where we are now—aboard our brand new Outbound 46 Pineapple. We are chronicling our life as cruising sailors at particularharbor.com. And we’d love to hear from you! In fact, we’ve been anchored in empty bays for the last week so it’d be nice to know someone else is out there ☺
Why did you decide to cruise?
When we finished school, we both wanted the same thing, which was to live in a big city, focus on building careers, and achieve financial stability. Typical yuppie stuff. About 10 years ago, we learned about the cruising lifestyle and we were captivated. Sure, the beaches and the endless vacation were appealing, but mostly it was the allure of spending a chapter or two, while we’re still young, experiencing a different way of life. Cruising seemed perfect for us, and not just because we enjoy sailing. We like stability and routine, and while every day out cruising is new in some way, traveling with our home fits our sensibilities. We’re not wanderers who were looking to leave all responsibility behind—we actually find our thrills in the challenge of keeping ourselves safe, healthy, and happy.
After years of talking and planning, the only question left was, “Why not go cruising?” So we made a plan, we stuck with it, and here we are!
As you started cruising, what transitions did you find the most difficult?
While we knew in theory that cruising would require us to be more self-sufficient (and it was one of the reasons we wanted to go), the reality was difficult at times. We missed the conveniences of a big city. After a day in the sun spent working on the boat, we can’t just tap a few buttons on our phone and have our favorite meal delivered to our door. When we want to feel a high level of satisfaction from a meal, we have to plan and work for it. Similarly, we had to replace the positive feedback and external stimuli from our jobs with the feeling of achievement that comes from being self-sufficient and self-responsible. We thought those rewards would come naturally, but it actually took a bit of time to rewire our brains to find enjoyment in a much simpler lifestyle.
Tell me your favorite thing about your boat.
We love our Outbound 46. There are so many great features, but most of our favorites stem from the fact that it’s designed as a couple’s liveaboard cruiser: It’s not jammed with unnecessary cabins. It doesn’t have a cavernous but impractical “boat show” salon. There’s no whiz-bang technology like push-button sailing or joystick docking.
Instead, it features practical, comfortable, compact accommodations; large fridge and freezer; huge amounts of storage and tankage; a real walk-around bed in the forward cabin; a workshop and equipment room; overbuilt and heavy-duty equipment; and a cozy cockpit for sailing, dining, or entertaining. If you’re curious to see Pineapple in detail, check out the boat tour we posted on our blog.
How do you fund your cruise?
We manage our own simple investment portfolio with Vanguard—this is our “cruising kitty” that funds our lifestyle. Back when we were employed full-time, we made it a point to save 30–50% of our income every month. This meant living in a one-bedroom apartment, sharing a used car, and skipping a lot of the “lifestyle inflation” luxuries that tempt so many young professionals. But it was worth it. We socked the savings away into our investments month after month and watched them grow.
We also have some passive income: John has written two books (Sprint and Make Time), so we receive royalties from those, and he still has some startup investments from his days working in venture capital. Both of these are pretty variable in terms of timing and amounts—so we don’t count on them as part of our cruising money plan.
(If you’re curious about what it costs us to cruise in Mexico and Central America, we share our expenses every month on the blog.)
What is your favorite piece of boating-related new technology?
It’s not exactly new technology, but today’s watermakers are amazing. We have a Spectra Cape Horn, which generates 15 gallons of freshwater per hour—enough that we can shower every day and rinse the boat without stressing over water. It’s DC (direct current) powered, which means that it runs off the batteries, using about 19 amps. Since it’s battery powered, we can run the watermaker pretty much whenever we want: underway or at anchor with the engine on or off. On a sunny day in the tropics, our solar panels cover the watermaker’s energy needs—that’s a cool feeling! We have friends with AC-powered watermakers on their boats. While the output is often a lot higher, they’re stuck running the generator every time they want to make water.
Another favorite new technology is the iPad. We use two for navigation on Pineapple instead of a typical fixed chartplotter. The iPads are cheaper than a chartplotter and way more functional, thanks to the universe of apps available. A lot of sailors have told us that iPads can’t stand up to the marine environment. That’s nonsense. Apple spends millions on R&D to make their products robust and idiot-proof—they can be dropped, stepped-on, and even splashed. With a Lifeproof case, the iPad becomes waterproof and super durable. We love our iPads and can’t imagine going back to the old world of expensive, proprietary, fixed navigation technology.
What is something you read or heard about cruising that you didn’t find to be true?
“Cruising is just fixing your boat in exotic places.”
Okay, we know what you’re thinking: We have a brand new boat, which buys a grace period where everything just works. Or does it? We’ve had plenty of old salts tell us that new boats have as many problems as old ones. We’ve heard lots of commissioning horror stories. And we’ve certainly had to fix and replace things already: rigging hardware has pulled out of the deck, our fridge controller went on the fritz, we nearly chafed through a diesel hose on the engine, etc etc.
Cruising blogs and forums are full of stories about being stuck in port waiting for parts, changing itineraries when gear fails, and the epic bad luck of a few boats that seem constantly dogged by technical problems. But it doesn’t have to be this way! And it’s not just for new boats, either.
Friends on old boats from 28 to 74 feet manage to avoid the inevitable “fixing in exotic places.” Cruising luminaries like the Pardeys, Leonard-Starzingers, Dashews, and Harries have sailed hundreds of thousands of miles without a gear failure forcing a change in plans. We’ve learned from them and adopted their approach: Avoid problems in the first place (preventative maintenance), find problems before they find you (exercise and test your gear), and engineer the ability to keep going when problems do arise (carry lots of spares and build in redundancy).
There’s no guarantee we’ll enjoy the same success. But we believe it’s possible (and worthwhile!) to do boat work on our terms—not when we’d rather be enjoying the sights or exploring ashore in “exotic places.”
Is there something you wish you had bought or installed before starting out?
We wish we had thought more critically about our dinghy setup. When we left San Francisco, we brought along the 7’7″ air-floor dinghy and 2.5-horsepower outboard engine we had from our last boat. We used it a few times so we knew it would get the job done. We thought back to our experiences on Catalina Island and in the Caribbean, where the main purpose of your dinghy is to bring you ashore, and where dinghy docks are everywhere. We liked the idea of a small, lightweight dinghy that we could easily stow on deck. Oh, and we didn’t want to install davits on our boat—we don’t like the way they look, and we knew we’d stow the dinghy on deck for longer passages anyway.
It turns out that the Pacific Coast cruising grounds in Mexico and Central America (especially Costa Rica!) are a different animal. Big surf landings and launches are common (if John doesn’t drive me through a breaking wave, we consider it a success!), and huge tide swings (up to 10 feet in Costa Rica, bigger in Panama) make going ashore part of the adventure. We upgraded to a 5-horsepower outboard in Cabo and added dinghy wheels in La Cruz, and we’re getting by just fine. (Having friends who offer to drive certainly helps! Thanks Wags and Paula 😀).
But upgrading to a bigger RIB and larger engine—and the davits (ugh!) that are necessary for managing it—are on the list for next season. This upgrade would give us a faster, more comfortable ride, and dryer beach landings and launchings. Plus, we’ll gain the ability to travel longer distances—to explore tidal estuaries, the next bay over, or far-away snorkeling spots.
We also wish we had installed more shade before we left. Back in San Francisco, “too much heat” and “too much sun” were abstract concepts for us, so we thought a bimini with a few side curtains would be sufficient. We were mistaken. We’ve remedied the situation along the way, but now we know you can never have too much shade.
What piece of gear would you leave on the dock next time? Why?
The cats! Just kidding. We are cruising with our two fur kids and didn’t consider for a second not taking them along.
Serious answer: Our two inflatable paddle boards. They were very lightly used for several years before we left, and we should have taken that as a sign we were just not that into it. We could have traded them for a kayak, and maybe even a couple of folding bikes. Now we know those things better fit our idea of fun while cruising.
Finish this sentence: “Generally when I am provisioning…”
I like to take a stroll through the grocery store and then return later to actually buy. We rarely provision in the same place twice, so checking out all the stores and markets to see what’s where helps me find the best options, especially the freshest fruits and veggies, and best value. It also helps me make a shopping list and menu plan, since I know what I can expect to find when we go back to shop.
What are your plans now? If they do not include cruising, tell us why.
We absolutely love Mexico and Central America, so after we transit the Panama Canal in June, we’ll spend next season in the Western Caribbean so we can spend more time in this area. We’ll probably spend hurricane season 2019 in the Rio Dulce, Guatemala. Then, we have dreams of crossing the Atlantic and spending several seasons in Northern Europe and the Mediterranean. So from the Rio Dulce, we’ll make our way up the East Coast of the U.S. in preparation for that crossing in summer 2020. But don’t hold us to anything—we are just as likely to change our minds next week!
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