[Newly Salted is a blog Dominic and I found beyond useful as we prepared for our departure. They interview sailors who are six months underway. We took their survey, and hope our experiences are helpful to others!]
Our Background: We are Dominic and Corinne Dolci, two longtime sailors from the San Francisco Bay. We have been cruising in our Island Packet 380, Helios, since January of 2015, enjoying the California coast, Ensenada, and French Polynesia as we journey to New Zealand. You can follow our adventures at www.svhelios.com.
1. As you started cruising, what transitions did you find the most difficult?
Sleeping in shifts while underway is rough. It's the one part of cruising we couldn't prepare for without actually cutting the dock lines, and both of us put huge value on sleeping an eight-hour night.
We've built a routine that works for us—Dominic is on watch from 8 pm to 12 am, I do the graveyard shift, and Dominic takes over again at 4 am, dozing if conditions allow, and taking a proper nap in the early afternoon—but we're both left feeling groggy, and I'm not convinced that Dominic is as able to really deeply sleep at all while Helios is underway.
We maintain a ban on alarm clocks in all other circumstances, so we manage to tough it out.
I've also never lived more than 30 miles from my family, so for me, not being able to have lunch or do yoga with my mom, hike with my brother, or make dinner with my dad on a weekly basis has been a huge, difficult life change.
2. What is the best cruising advice you've heard?
The sailing advice we live by: never enter an anchorage at night.
The best adventure advice I've heard: travel like you know you're going to return.
But there are a handful axioms we find ourselves often repeating: all plans are written in the sand at low tide; a quiet boat is a happy boat; red sky at night, sailor's delight; it's five o'clock somewhere...
3. What mistakes did you make as you started cruising?
We were lucky to have a lot of cruisers supporting us as we prepared for departure (living in a marina for 16 months before departure was invaluable on this front). They're still close friends, meaning if we find ourselves at a crossroads, we can send an email via the satellite phone and have a variety of experienced opinions in the next few hours. It's awesome.
There are things we've learned by doing (no wine for me on overnight passages, wipe down the bright work and stainless after every passages, tune in to the SSB nets regularly) and different choices we would make with the benefit of hindsight (getting a long-stay visa in French Polynesia), but neither of us can think of anything we'd really call a mistake.
4. What do you like the most about your cruising life?
Getting to have a relaxed morning, just about every morning. We sleep in, drink coffee, make a delicious breakfast, consider the day. Sometimes the morning is followed by chores, other times followed by killer sailing, fantastic scenery and magnificent wildlife. We spend the days together, at our own pace, and it's a beautiful thing.
It's also thrilling, to be out cruising, not knowing where you'll be in a week, or what adventure is swimming toward you.
What they say when comparing cruising to landlubbing life is true: the highs are higher, but the lows are lower. Sometimes it's raining and you're lugging groceries around town or cleaning out the icebox while your sister is getting married half way around the world and you're missing it.
The best frame of mind I've found is to consider that cruising isn't a vacation; it's a lifestyle choice, with ups and downs like any other.
5. What do you dislike about cruising that surprised you?
I miss the food from home more than I thought I would. We've found a few tasty meals here and there, but there's a reason the tropics aren't known for their cuisine. We can usually find groceries and make ourselves delicious meals, but we're spoiled foodies from the Bay Area, and it shows.
It's also tough to have to pace our own adventure. We often find our selves in gorgeous anchorages where we want to stay longer, but our visas are limited and we have to be in New Zealand by a certain date, or a weather window opens and we have to move on. This is a challenge in most travel scenarios, but it's a series of choices we face all the time, and decision fatigue is real.
6. Is there something you wish you had bought or installed before starting out?
Dominic's wish list revolves around our energy consumption. We have 700 watts of solar power, but he would have a wind generator and a larger battery bank.
It would also be nice to have a more reliable dinghy. We have a soft-bottom Zodiac that came with the boat, and it's been chronically leaking despite multiple repairs. It takes a lot of abuse (getting pulled up on to the beach, tethered to questionable docks) and is still doing its job, but it would be nice to not have to worry about it sinking.
7. What piece(s) of gear would you leave on the dock next time? Why?
We have a lot of blankets we don't use and clothing we don't wear. We have pieces of gear we haven't yet had the chance to install: our BBQ, a drogue kit, some fancy speakers for the cockpit. We have the storage space, so they're not too cumbersome. And who knows...maybe we'll get around to it.
8. What pieces of gear do you find the most valuable?
Our satellite phone, solar panels, and water maker are our favorite luxury items. I say a prayer of gratitude everyday I wake up and don't have to lug fresh water back to the boat. With only the two of us as crew, we consider the autopilot to be absolutely invaluable—to the point that we have a second autopilot stowed away in case of emergencies.
9. How did you finance your trip?
Our trip was five years in the making, so we were able to spend that time saving and living on the cheap: we had dual incomes and no kids; we lived in the East Bay instead of San Francisco; as we got closer and closer to departure, traveling became less frequent, as did nights out on the town. We chose to live aboard for over a year prior to departure, allowing us to purchase a high quality vessel that will hopefully hold her value when we put her on the market in Australia.
10. What are your plans now? If they do not include cruising, tell us why.
Our plans are to spend the 2015-16 cyclone season in New Zealand. We'll spend next summer cruising Fiji and Vanuatu, and then move on to New Caledonia and Australia. We'll likely cruise Australia while our funds last, sell the boat, and return to life in Northern California (so we can refill the sailing kitty and start planning the adventures of Helios II).