The Love Boat | Red Rose Hotel In Chiang Rai, Thailand

It’s been ages since we’ve traveled anywhere and my nomadic spirit is getting a little restless. It wants to go someplace new and exciting. Apparently, driving to Home Depot doesn’t count.

It’s going to be a while before we set out on new sailing adventures, so I did the next best thing – look back at pictures from old adventures and reminisce. Like the time we stayed at the Red Rose Hotel in Chiang Rai, Thailand. They bill it as an amusement hotel. I’d use the word quirky to describe it. It’s a bit weird too, in the nicest possible way.

We had hired a motorcycle in Chiang Mai and were making our way up to the Golden Triangle and needed a place to stay. I was just hoping for a comfortable bed and clean sheets, but we got so much more.

By the way, if you run into my mom, don’t tell her about the motorcycle. They kind of freak her out. Definitely don’t show her this picture of the machine of death.

This is the office. Right away, you know you’re in for something different.

There’s all sorts of themed rooms to pick from – Star Wars, cartoon characters, race cars, jungle etc.

We went with one of the Love Boat rooms. A nautical theme and romance – you can’t really go wrong.

After you pick and pay for your room, you drive into a covered parking lot and are greeted with all of this wonderful weirdness.

We parked our motorcycle, grabbed our stuff and unlocked the door. The moment of truth – would the room be as exciting as the picture promised? The answer is yes. It was even more bizarrely wonderful in person. Just look at those murals!

Alligators are everywhere. Even in quirky hotel rooms in Thailand. See the river that our boat is floating on? That’s hot water and coffee supplies at the bow of our boat.

Yes, we slept in a boat – such fun!

And we had a monkey sitting on top of the toilet paper in the bathroom. I’m not sure why he’s holding his nose.

Even the common areas are quirky.

What was just a stopover on the way up to the Golden Triangle, turned out to be so much more. If you ever happen to find yourself in Chiang Rai, the Red Rose Hotel is definitely worth checking out.



Wordless Wednesday | Corinth Canal In Greece

Wordless Wednesday is supposed to be about posting a photo(s) without any words. But, I’m a rule breaker, so here are a few words:

1 –  The Corinth Canal connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea and cuts through the narrow isthmus that separates the Greek mainland from Peloponnese. It’s four miles long and only 70 feet wide.
2 – We traveled through the canal many years ago on a no frills budget cruise run by the folks at the European budget airline company, Easy Jet. It was a cheap and cheerful way to see the historical sights in Greece.

3 – I love Greek food, especially spanokopita and pretty much anything with lamb.


Scary Water, Annoying Inner Voices, Music & Friends

Do you remember this picture I posted of the gross, smelly algae surrounding my boat a couple of months ago? It’s a result of runoff from sugar cane farming and is all over the place in southern Florida. Ick.

While the algae hasn’t been quite as bad as it was back then, it’s still alive and well at Indiantown Marina. Not only is it disgusting, it’s also scary. I dropped one of my flip-flops in the water the other day. For a few minutes, I considered just leaving it there while the voices inside my head had a heated debate.

“Grab it quick before it floats away! The last thing we need is more plastic polluting our waters. Don’t you care about the environment?” 

That was the responsible voice. This is the same one that’s horrified by the lack of recycling at our marina and thinks I shouldn’t spend so much time doing online crossword puzzles.

“What’s wrong with you? You just spent 99 cents on those flip-flops at Walmart. We don’t want to shell out for another pair already!” 

This was the frugal voice that thinks we should save all of our nickels and dimes for more important things, like a water maker and many boxes of brownie mix.

“Stay away from the water! Don’t even think of putting your hand in the water! Your hand will develop green scales on it, shrivel up and then fall off!” 

While the scaredy-cat has a kind of an annoying, shrill voice, it actually makes a lot of sense at times. The algae is toxic and scares the crap out of me.

When you have so many voices living in your head, the key is compromise. Otherwise, they start to argue, shove and pinch each other. Did you know that’s what causes headaches? It’s the voices in your head acting like kids in the backseat of the car fighting over a toy.

So, I compromised. I found a hangar and scooped the flip-flop out of the water with it, avoiding putting my hand directly in the water. I then washed it off for ages to get all of the gross, scary algae off of it.

Everyone was happy. I avoided polluting the water with plastic, kept us from having to shell out another 99 cents for a new pair of flip-flops and avoided the soylent green algae water as best I could.

This stuff is everywhere in southern Florida. I was out in Stuart yesterday hanging out with my friends from Sailing Wind Spirit and MJ Sailing. We walked over from Sunset Bay Marina to hear a concert and along the way I saw this sign, which goes to show you how downright horrifying this algae is. The fact that it says “Declaration of Emergency” kind of clues you into that.

Fortunately, the music, conversation, drinks, food, a nautical trivia game and pretty views from the marina managed to take my mind off of the dangers lurking in the water. It even managed to keep the little voices inside my head quiet for a few hours too.


Slow Cooking (with a Solar Oven) on a Slow Boat

Heather McCarthy has been sailing with her husband, Dan, and their three daughters, the “McMermaids” since 2011. They are currently cruising the Florida Keys, Dry Tortugas, and the Bahamas onboard s/v Jullanar.


The McMermaids (Calypsa, Jelena, and Marina) are preparing to solar-cook white rice and chocolate-chip blondies. Summerland Key, Florida.
Photo taken by Heather McCarthy.

What kinds of foods do you cook in your solar oven?

I love to prepare dishes in the solar oven that I wouldn’t dare cook on my galley’s 2-burner propane stove – foods that require long cooking times like rice, dried beans, roasted meats and vegetables, potatoes, stews, chili, etc.

I feel great about saving propane and sparing everyone from the “dinnertime sweat” by keeping the boat cool in the late afternoon.

Our sailboat does not have a propane oven, so I use the Solavore Sport solar oven to do ALL baking – bread, cakes, scones, muffins, cookies, pizza, pies, etc.  I have tried stovetop ovens with little success – some part of the dish usually burns.  However, the baked goods coming out my solar oven never burn and are always crowd-pleasers!

In the galley of s/v Jullanar, Heather is preparing a small, 4-pound whole chicken to roast in the solar oven.
Photo taken by Calypsa McCarthy


The golden, juicy roasted chicken after 4 hours at 275°F in the solar oven! My kids said it was the best chicken they’ve ever had! Summerland Key, Florida.
Photo taken by Calypsa McCarthy

What kinds of adaptations do you make to your recipes for cooking in the solar oven?

A solar oven cooks like a crockpot or slow cooker (low temperature, long cooking durations).  While the boiling point of water (212°F) is achieved, very little water evaporation takes place.

That means that you can and should add slightly LESS WATER to your rice/grains, dried beans, chili, stew, and soup recipes.  One cup of jasmine rice to 1 2/3 cups of water turns out perfect for me every time.

You don’t need to add ANY WATER to cook hard-boiled eggs, corn-on-the-cob, potatoes, and other vegetables that you might boil in a pot a water on the stovetop.

Can you bake bread in it?  If so, how long does that take?

Oh yes!  Bread baked in the solar oven is delectable!!!

I have had excellent results with basic white bread, cornbread, and a variety of sweet breads like pumpkin or banana breads.  I try to keep the loaf size small, or spread the recipe between the two black granite-ware pots to keep cooking times shorter.

Cooking times depend on the internal temperature of the solar oven, which, of course, depends on the sun’s intensity at the time.  For baking, I want the solar oven to be in its highest temperature zone when I place the dough into the oven – at least 275°F.

I achieve this in two ways:

  1. Pre-heat the oven for 20-30 minutes,
  2. Use the reflectors – the more light rays diverted into the oven, the hotter it will get!

Today, I cooked a small loaf of garlic and herb bread in 60 minutes with reflectors on and an internal temperature of 300°F.  Everyone on the dock was salivating as they could smell it baking!

Baking bread in the solar oven is easy!
Use a bread loaf pan, split the dough between the two graniteware pots, or place the loaf on a cookie sheet. An 11” x 17” cookie sheet fits nicely in my solar oven, when raised up on two empty tuna cans. You can fit a muffin pan into the oven in this way too.
Summerland Key, Florida.
Photos taken by Calypsa McCarthy.

How long does it typically take you to cook a casserole, rice and beans, stew, etc.?  What time of day do you typically place your dish in the oven?

When estimating cooking times of dishes such as these, try to change your mindset from “oven” to “crockpot.”  Think about how your crockpot at home has time settings like 4, 6, 8, 10 hours – these are comparable to solar-cooking times.  My crockpot at home cooks at 200°F on its “HIGH” setting.  At 275°F, the solar oven cooks rice in about 1 ½ hours, roasts a whole 4-lb chicken in 4 hours, and cooks dried beans (soaked overnight) in about 6 hours.

As long as you start thinking in the morning about what you want to cook for dinner, you can ensure that you have you enough time.

If I am going to cook roast beef, pulled pork, or a whole chicken, I’ll need to start the cooking at about 10:00am, in order to give the dish up to 6 hours of bright sun to fully cook. Occasionally, my kids have begged to eat at 4:00pm, because dinner was basically done in the solar oven and smelled so good! Why not!?!

When cruising with three children gets a little crazy, I simplify meals by cooking box mixes like these in the solar oven. Here are “before” and “after” photos of boxed rice and beans and country white bread. I place baked goods on a sheet of wax/parchment paper for easy removal and clean-up. Summerland Key, Florida.
Photos taken by Calypsa McCarthy.

How often do you have to finish cooking a recipe on your propane stove or propane oven?

In this regard, solar cooking is a bit like cruising – if you try to force things in less-than-ideal weather, less-than-ideal things will happen!

I did this once….  A week in advance, I invited guests over for a Saturday night meal of “solar-cooked pulled pork and rosemary scalloped potatoes.”  Well, Saturday ended up being a cloudy day, and the pork didn’t cook.  It went back in the refrigerator to wait for a sunny day, and we ordered pizza for dinner!

Just watch the weather and pick sunny days (air temperature doesn’t really matter), and you will rarely (if ever) have to finish a dish using propane.

When baking pizza in the solar oven, our results are fantastic when we brown the crust first. Then, add sauce, cheese and toppings, and bake until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Summerland Key, Florida. Photos taken by Heather McCarthy.

How hot does a solar oven actually get?

Our youngest McMermaid (8 years old) baking an apple pie in the solar oven. You can see that the lid of the oven is cool enough that she can touch it with her bare hands, while handling the pots inside requires an oven mitt – the pots and food are very hot at around 300°F.

The Solavore Sport is engineered to withstand temperatures up to about 325°F.  I like to keep an eye on the oven temperature gauge, and if it starts to climb above 325°F (I’ve seen it do this on very hot, sunny Florida days), I just take the reflectors off or turn the oven slightly away from the sun to bring down the temperature.

Does the solar oven get hot on the outside?  Do you have to place something under the oven in order to cook on your deck?

When cooking, the black, exterior base of the oven feels barely warm to the touch.  This oven’s thick insulation keeps the heat inside, and the outside stays cool.  The lid can feel slightly warmer, but we can still comfortably lay our hands on it.

I have no fear of my kids playing right beside the oven, and I can cook directly on my boat’s deck without anything under the oven.

McMermaids cooking directly on the foredeck of s/v Jullanar – Spanish rice and brownies! The outside of the oven stays cool to the touch. The kids just had to “test” the brownies to make sure they were done! Eau Gallie Yacht Basin, Melbourne, Florida. Photo taken by Heather McCarthy.

Can solar cooking start a fire or burn food?

I can’t imagine a scenario in which the Solavore Sport could start a fire.  The average internal temperatures (225-275°F) of the oven are low enough that it is extremely safe.  Even if a piece of paper accidentally found its way inside the oven with your food, it would not catch on fire (it’s easy to remember the average temperature at which paper catches fire and burns, because author Ray Bradbury named his famous book after that temperature — Fahrenheit 451).

Likewise, the relatively low cooking temperatures of this oven prevent foods from burning.

Believe me, I’ve tested this!  When I first started using this solar oven, everything cooked faster than I expected, so I ended up with a couple over-cooked, yet quite edible, dishes.  Learn from my experience….  Cookies bake FAST (20-30 minutes), but, if left in too long, they simply turn dark golden and crunchy — still yummy!

My best example is banana bread that I forgot about and left in for 4 hours (it cooks in 1 hour).  When we tasted the golden banana bread, we realized something magical had happened!  The bread wasn’t dried out or burned, but the sugars had caramelized!  This created a delicious, new, caramel-flavored banana bread!

Not burned! Banana bread left in the oven too long did not burn or dry out, but the sugars caramelized into a moist, delicious “new” flavor!

Where do you store your solar oven aboard?  Can you store it on deck?

I’m often asked questions about storage!  When bringing any item onboard, every cruiser has to carefully consider the value of the item versus the space required to store it.  We REALLY do — we’ve got five people cruising full-time for six months onboard a 29′ sailboat.

In response, I love this quote from s/v The Red Thread’s blog regarding a wafflemaker… “The last thing we wanted was to weigh down The Red Thread by hoarding unnecessary nonsense. “HOLD IT – doesn’t a waffle iron fall into the unnecessary nonsense category?” you ask. Well, I suppose it depends on how much you like breakfast!”

Same idea with the solar oven — I LOVE solar cooking, so I’m going to make room onboard for my solar oven.  I derive great rewards from using and teaching others about the fuel-free, planet-friendly, time-saving power of the sun!  So, for me, it’s worth the space sacrifice.

My Solavore Sport oven weighs 9 pounds and measures 12 ¼” high by 27 ¼” long by 17” wide.  The reflectors fold flat and fit nicely inside the oven with the two pots.  I store the whole unit in a pillowcase on top of the engine when stopped and on the aft berth when underway.  If you have a place on your deck out of the rain and sun, you could store it there.

When docked or anchored, we store our oven under the companionway on top of the engine cover in our 29’ Ericson sailboat. When underway, we store it on the aft berth. Summerland Key, Florida. Photo taken by Heather McCarthy.

I’ve brainstormed with clever cruisers about creative ways to
a) mount it like a grill on the stern rail (when not cooking, the oven should be upside-down to prevent rain or saltwater from getting in), and
b) suspend the oven from davits or some other part of the boat that allows you to rotate the hanging oven while cooking to follow the sun.

I’m sure fellow cruisers can come up with other ingenious storage solutions!

Could you use the solar oven underway?  How do you cope with wind?

I prefer to solar cook when we are tied up at a dock, a marina, or anchored out.  I usually place the solar oven on the bow of our sailboat or on the dock beside it.

An aerial view of our oven pre-heating on the dock next to our sailboat s/v Jullanar.

I suppose you could use the solar oven underway, if you found yourself in a stable situation like a flat day on the ICW.  I would be more inclined to cook quick, non-liquid dishes while underway – like cookies, which bake in 20-30 minutes.  I wouldn’t want to be cooking a soupy dish, if there was any chance of getting hit by a rogue wave or an unexpected boat wake that would cause the dish to spill.

Does Solavore sell a smaller solar oven?

Great question — I, too, wondered if it was possible for Solavore to make a smaller one-pot version, so I asked the CEO!

At this time, the answer is no, because a minimum number of light rays are needed to get the oven to cooking temperature.  As designed, the convex surface area of the lid gathers and concentrates enough light beams to reach adequate temperatures.  Let’s say the surface area of the lid was reduced to half its current size to make the oven half as big (imagine a one-pot version)… Reflectors would be a MUST, and they would have to be twice as big to gather in and concentrate the same number of light rays to get the smaller oven to cooking temperatures.  Huge reflectors are difficult to stow and cannot be used during windy conditions.

So, the engineers of the Solavore Sport came up with a design that balances size, usefulness, storability, and cooking effectiveness.




Sailing Home Again

Leaving land life behind to go cruising can seem like a big step, but coming home afterwards can be just as challenging.

We’ve completed two extended “seabatticals,” and the emotional process of transitioning back was very different each time. The physical process, on the other hand, was similar: in each case, we came back to the same town in the same part of the world (Bavaria) and in my case, to the same job.

With those experiences in mind, I’ll look at how each of us transitioned back and what factors helped ease that process.

First trip: In the Caribbean

Our first trip (2007-2008) was a year-long cruise which took us from the Mediterranean, across the Atlantic, around the eastern Caribbean, and up to US East Coast to Maine.

Our son went from being 3 to 4 years old during that time, and my husband and I both had a leave of absence from work so we could return to the same jobs. We had given up our rented home and sold the car, so when we came home, we had those things to sort out.

For me, coming home from the first trip proved to be a surprisingly difficult transition and it took months to get out of the slump.

Our second trip (2011-2014) was a three-year trip that took us from Maine to Australia on the same boat.

Second trip: Back in our apartment in Bavaria

Our son completed grades 2, 3, and 4 during that trip, an upon our return, he went back to the same school he left after grade 1. I had a leave of absence from work while my husband resigned from his position.

We were able to sublet our rental apartment and loan out our car, so when we came home, we had both waiting for us.

For me, the transition back from that trip was very smooth due to factors beyond those conveniences.

We also lucked in to a very long, easy-going transition time: after we sold the boat in Australia, we enjoyed land travel for six weeks before going to Maine for another six weeks. In Maine, we were land-bound but right on the edge of the ocean, and we weren’t working yet.

We returned to our home in Germany with two weeks before “real life” started up in earnest with the start of a new school year.

In Maine. New challenges and new forms of fun are one good way
to fight post-cruising blues

Each trip, therefore, was followed by a very different experience.

Although our first trip was shorter, it took me a much longer time to transition back afterwards.


The biggest factor, I believe, is that we finished the first trip wishing for more sailing time. Although we accomplished everything we intended from the outset, it still felt too short. We had just tasted the sailing life and it was time to go home.

During that trip, we also met several sailing families who continued in to the Pacific and seeing them carry on while we headed home had me regretting that I hadn’t dared to dream an even bigger dream.

The transition back, at least for me, was hard, because my heart and soul were still out cruising. Compounding that was the fact that the apartment we did find wasn’t available for nearly two months, so we had a long period of temporary housing to deal with as well.

To my surprise, coming back from the three-year trip was much easier. I thought it would be harder, but that didn’t prove to be the case.

The two main reasons for this were that

  1. We had planned for a two-year trip and were able to extend it into three full years, so it already felt we’d won a lottery,
  2. Though I could have continued cruising forever, we had a greater sense of completion than after the first trip.
    Much as we would have loved another three years in the Pacific, we felt like we had seen and done more than we ever wished for.
    In addition, most of the dear friends we made along the way wrapped up their sailing adventures at around the same time, so there wasn’t so much of that feeling of watching the rest of the kids enjoying the playground while we were stuck indoors.

Germany: Meeting our fellow sailors who have also returned home
has helped the transition back.

Finally, we were also able to come home to the very same apartment – a home we love in a town we love in a gorgeous part of the world. Part of the latter was true the first time around, in that we also came home to the same town, though dealing with temporary housing was a significant issue for me.

My main frustrations on coming home the second time were small things, like the shock of coming home from a beautifully simple, off-the-grid life to a world that is even more absorbed in electronic devices and multimedia entertainment.

After the second trip, I slipped easily back into the same job, though it took a while to adjust to the idea that I would be doing it for years and not just as a short stint. Six months down the line, I’ve digested that fact at last!

And what about my husband and my son?

With our son, it’s hard to judge because he had a smooth transition each time.

He was only four years old after the first trip and would have just been starting in a new school anyway. His kindergarten teacher did comment that he seemed a little overwhelmed by being surrounded by twenty other children all the time. (He had been in day care previously with the same number of children, but during our year at sea he got accustomed to having no more than two or three playmates at a time.)

After the second trip, he re-entered the same school. We were very lucky that a number of the students he knew from grade 1 were in his new grade 5 class – including his closest school buddy, with whom he’d been in email contact throughout the cruise.

The boat kids of Suwarrow, Cook Islands

So for our son, the transition was quite easy, too. He had enjoyed the company of several other kids while cruising (as well as attending a few local schools and a summer camp in New Zealand), so the group social situation of school wasn’t as much of a shock to him.

The main observations his teacher made was that he was so used to home schooling alone that he had a hard time working in pairs – in the sense that he’d do his half and let his partner do the other half without realizing that it ought to be a collaborative process.

I was surprised, because while sailing, he collaborated beautifully with kids of different ages, backgrounds, and even languages. However, those were all informal situations and it seems that it took some time to transfer the skill to a school setting.

• My husband reports that transitioning back home after the second trip was slightly more difficult than after the first, though not by a great deal. He had no trouble finding a new job after the second trip, and although it was at a different company, he was familiar with the setting since he had consulted for that company while in his previous employer.

How broadly applicable are our experiences?

It’s hard to say. The sailors we know who’ve done the same kinds of sailing trip have a range of experiences to report. Some came back to their previous homes and immediately thrived, while others floundered. Others settled in entire different places (even different countries) and again, some are full of cheery news while others sing the blues. The question is, is there a single secret to success?

One sailor I spoke with observed that there are so many books that help you go cruising, but none that help with the transition back. It may well be that the variables range over such a wide spectrum that it’s hard to establish a pattern.

I’m no expert, but I will mention two things that helped ease both transitions back for us (aside from the obvious: having jobs to pay the bills and alleviate that stress).

  1. One was maintaining contact with sailing friends – both those still out there and those who like us are back to more humdrum lives. They’re the ones who understand us best and with whom we laugh the deepest laughs, smile the widest smiles.

    Two families who last met in the Cook Islands reunite on a weekend hike

  2. The second factor was having a new goal that I could be passionate about working toward to replace the “loss” of the sailing lifestyle.

For me, that goal was writing Lesson Plans Ahoy after I returned from the first trip, as well as writing magazine articles for the sailing press. These gave me a chance to relive parts of my trip while producing something valuable for others, which is rewarding.

My goal now that we’re back from the second trip is to not only write more non-fiction (like Pacific Crossing Notes and Cruising the Caribbean with Kids), but to branch into fiction writing as well. This includes my two sea adventure novels (The Silver Spider and Rum for Neptune) as well as other projects in the works.

In many ways, these fiction-writing goals give me the new horizons I crave, and that’s another reason that this second transition was a smoother one. If I had come home with the feeling that the grand adventure was over and had nothing to look forward to, I would be telling a very different story right now.

We count our blessings every day – those that allowed us to go sailing in the first place, and those that give us new aspirations now that we’re back. We’re thankful for our health, luck, and the family members who let us go, then welcomed us back, not to mention friends and employers who generously did the same.

Are we done with sailing?

Not by a long shot! But we’re content to pay our dues and pursue other goals until we earn a third chance to live the sailing life we so enjoy. Someday!


First-timer account of offshore sailing

 What’s it really like to go offshore?

A delight of dolphins!

I have been a sailor all my life, but only started cruising in 2001. I grew up racing in small open boats, windsurfing, and day sailing. Years later when my husband proposed the cruising lifestyle and maybe a circumnavigation, I started reading to find out what this was all about.

You’ve probably read from much the same list I have and we’re lucky to have so many talented writers among our experienced cruising community. But because they’re experienced they didn’t really address one question I had… what’s it really like when you first go offshore sailing?

They told me hints and tricks and lots of wonderful ideas, but never what it was like first time out.

Many of the books I read indicated that most people who actually go offshore sailing do it for less than two years – many leave it after six months, some after their first ocean crossing. If this is something we were going to gear up to do for years, it seemed like I should know whether I’d like it or not. But no one gave me a feeling of what that experience might be.

I’m now three weeks into my first ocean crossing so I’ll try to share what it has been like.

Nature of our trip

Of course all ocean voyages and all boats are not the same. I’ll describe a little about what our trip is so you’ll know how similar your experience might be. Your trip may be in a larger more comfortable boat, or on more temperate waters, or you may have more conveniences or comforts and so your experiences may be different for those reasons.

We live north of Seattle and are doing a “shakedown” ocean cruise to Hawaii and back before deciding whether to finish outfitting the boat for extended ocean cruising- a trip of about 3000 miles each way – about a month of ocean time each way.

We leave the land behind us as the wind vane takes over steering

Although our boat is the most complex boat either of us has owned, it is an older boat (1967 hull, renovated 1984) so is still by modern standards somewhat spartan.

For this trip we have no refrigeration, no generator, no water maker, no tv or microwave. It has a diesel engine, although not a powerful one. No integrated electronics, although I did set up a laptop for this trip and connected some serial devices (GPS, AIS, Pactor modem) to my computer for communications and navigation. No electric winches or anchoring.

We do have solar panels. We also have an Aries wind vane, but no autopilot. We have a two burner stove, but the oven doesn’t work currently. So we won’t be taking hot showers or drinking cold beers, but we will have hot meals.

As for the crossing itself, paradoxically the coastal part of it is reputedly as difficult as they come (in this country), but the ocean part is fairly easy.

To leave Washington state by water you generally need to tackle the Strait of Juan de Fuca – a 100 plus mile stretch of current-ridden, wind-driven water separating the US and Canada. Some cruisers have said it was the worst part of their trip. The straits are so turbulent that fluid dynamics studies use this body of water as their laboratory to study complex turbulence reactions.

After the first few days of beating to get away from the lee shore that is the US west coast, we spent most of the rest of the month wing-and-wing

However the crossing to Hawaii is fairly easy, although the coast of Washington, Oregon, and even California can be quite treacherous. But once you get offshore (in summer) light winds are more a problem than big winds or seas. Hurricanes or typhoons are extremely rare.

In mentally preparing for this trip I expected to get beat up for the first week out and then see a gradual easing of conditions and temperatures. This turned out to be pretty accurate.

Dealing with cool weather, high seas

The first two days were mostly beating in 12 foot seas. Weather was in the 60s when we left, water temperature in the mid 50s, seas a bit mixed from earlier storms.

Already the first days’ rigors are disappearing into memory, but this is what I emailed to friends at the time:

The first few days, off the Washington and Oregon coast, were rough and wild, with 10-12 foot seas and strong winds. Those days passed in a fog of standing watches, grabbing hot food, and trying to sleep all against a background of being slammed around the boat like popping popcorn.”

During this time we never went out of the cabin without the full foulies – fleece pants and jacket covered by foul weather jacket and farmer johns, wool socks, sea boots, ski hat and gloves. It wasn’t really particularly cold, but it was wet from the occasional wave getting the side decks or from spray over the weather cloths or from light rain. And sitting still in the cockpit would get cold, until something needed doing like shortening sail – then it got sweaty fast.

I remember watching the boat raised on a wave … up, up, up to about a story and a half, then just when you were sure you’d crash and fall, the wave gracefully slid out from under the boat. Again and again and again.

However from inside the boat it was a different experience. From my journal:

Our first four days were demanding, occasionally debilitating. Snatching sleep in two hour increments was all we could do with four hour watches. And four hour watches is all we could do on deck. Like backpacking on a six-degree of freedom platform, voyaging has bruised and exhausted us. The simplest tasks such as eating or sitting on the toilet became Olympic events.”

I get a new angle on cooking while sailing to windward the first few days. The galley belt, at hip height, is the only way to have two hands for cooking

Down below in early days was nearly as much work as in the cockpit. Just moving down the cabin was a full 3-D game experience. Even with handholds available from every position in our cabin I was constantly getting slammed against a bulkhead, unfailingly one with a pad eye sticking out.

I did manage to cook some simple meals from scratch during that time but I guess I would recommend sticking to heating up pre-prepared food. However I still remember the first day’s split pea soup that I made from scratch, with Bisquick biscuits. It was very tasty and did a lot to lift our spirits.

Night sailing

Night falls at sea

On deck was scary at first, especially at night, hurtling through the waves without being able to see what’s in front of you. The large rolling waves would come in and sometimes crash heavily on the side decks. You could really hear the weight of the water and it was a sobering sound.

My fears kept me occupied as well. What if someone falls in; what if something breaks; what if these were breakers not rollers; what if the wind, already whistling in the rigging, freshens; what if I can’t sleep; what if I can’t get the sail under control?

Gradually these fears gave way to appreciation for the boat. I stopped focusing on “what if..” and watched how the boat was made to handle these waves. I saw that if we got overpowered we could always round up and ease the pressure or the speed. The motion became more natural and not something to be fought.

And, however dark it was, there was nothing in front of us. I soon stopped worrying about running into something unseen in the dark – the somethings I needed to worry about, ships, were well lit up. But there were darn few of them in the north Pacific either. For two weeks we saw no ships, even on our AIS, and even the occasional planes were so far overhead that we heard nothing and could barely make out a glint as they passed overhead.

Even birds and large fishes were increasing rare as we got 800 or miles from the nearest land. Clouds and water were the only companions that we could rely on until clearer weather returned the stars, moon and sun to us.

Night watches are difficult for both of us. If you’re active in the cockpit, four hours is a long watch. If you’re trying to sleep, four hours is very short.

As the weather smooths out we’re compromising with five hour night watches – sundown to midnight and midnight to dawn – and seven hour day watches. This gives us plenty of time to get sleep between our two off-watches and keeps our night watches from being too difficult. Having light at one end of your watch seems to help psychologically.


And we have adjusted. I’m now falling to sleep faster and easier than I ever did on land, although a heavy roll will still keep either of us sleeping fitfully. Again, we don’t have staterooms, but keeping lights on helps the person on watch stay awake. I thought it would keep the sleeper awake as well, but this has not been a problem, even though on land I’m extremely sensitive to light while I’m trying to sleep.

However the beauty of night watches also makes them wonderful. Hundreds of miles from the nearest light source the stars are luscious and rich with variation. Warm winds caress as the boat moves effortlessly forward. It’s intoxicating.

Sounds at sea

The thing I was not expecting was the sound of cruising.

Water crashes on the side decks, sounding like a ton of bricks from my quarterberth below

It was worse because we were beating, but the sound is unending. Water sounds, boat sounds, and stuff-shifting-around sounds all combined into a constant cacophonous background of sound. On deck it would be difficult to hear each other.

Even more unexpected were the voices. I had heard of sleep-deprived single-handers imagining voices and even seeing people, but I didn’t expect to hear them myself. But we both heard voices constantly during that first week. The words weren’t quite distinguishable, but the tones and cadence sounded like English. Some of my voices included a phantom cocktail party – some male and female voices and the clink of glassware – as well as a mom calling her kids to lunch on a summer afternoon – relaxed and unhurried. Occasionally I heard the staccato tones of a slightly worried man or the murmur of a conversation in another room that lapses momentarily into a querulous note of sharpness then subsides back into conversation.

A couple of weeks later, running downwind in warmer conditions and lighter seas we rarely hear these voices. I sort of miss them.

Hygiene, moisture, salt

We didn’t want to use water for bathing until we really knew how much water we were using for essentials. But, as I had learned from backpacking, a sponge bath can be very effective. A wet washcloth with a little Dr. Bronner’s applied to “problem areas” at bedtime is a delight.

Except for these efficacious sponge baths we didn’t try to bathe until the weather got warm enough that it was pleasant to do in the cockpit. And then washing our hair was a near religious experience. However do not attempt this with salt water. I thought it would be a relief to get the oil out, but anything with salt water in it never really dries. Rather awful. I washed it again the next day in fresh water.

A flexible bucket made of rubberized cloth (sold at camping stores) minimized the amount of water you need since you don’t waste water in the corners of the bucket – sort of fold it around your head as you rinse.

But the fact remains that we are dirty. Clothes particularly are a problem. You can wear the same clothes over and over – or you can pile up the dirty laundry – neither is an attractive proposition.

I did wash out underwear and a few shirts in a minimal amount of water to good effect. However cottons don’t dry and get dirty fast – avoid them. My microfiber, polyester (dri-wear type), rip-stop nylon, and polyprop / fleece clothes don’t get as dirty as fast as cotton, don’t hold water, don’t hold sweat, and are easy to wash.

Next trip I will not allow cotton during the voyage itself – particularly cotton sweatshirts and jeans. They just stay damp all the time.

As the weather warms I wear bathing suits almost exclusively, sometimes throwing a long sleeved shirt over for sun protection. My husband has chosen not to wear clothes. Both are better solutions than bra, panties, shirts and shorts. On the other hand, like during our backpacking in previous lives, we’re dirty together and getting used to it.

Related to hygiene is moisture and salt. Even a boat as well-ventilated as ours has moisture issues, especially in high seas. What I didn’t really appreciate was the salt that encrusts everything. In a mild morning I go forward and sit on a hatch with a cup of tea – the hatch is crusted in salt and now so are my clothes. My hands are salty, my hair is salty. I don’t miss potato chips – I just kiss my husband. Everything is salty and with salt comes moisture. Even with sponge baths before bed the sheets are vaguely damp. A separate stateroom away from companionway traffic would help, but we don’t have this luxury.

Next time I think I will have silk or synthetic sheet sacks that can be easily washed in little water and dried in little time. I did provide spare sheets stored in zip lock bags with lavender-scented dryer sheets and this worked well – at least the new sheets were dry and fresh smelling. The polypropylene blankets worked well – never seemed damp, dried readily if wet, didn’t pick up sweat smells. Wool or cotton would have been disastrous.

To counteract salt buildup in the cabin I wiped down surfaces with vinegar. This cut the salt and eliminated any mold that might be thinking of forming.


All in all ocean passages, at least for this first-timer, are awe-inspiring and exhausting – no namby-pamby boring stuff.

Time passes strangely quickly, filled with necessary activities. The work – cooking, cleaning, bathing, getting weather reports, standing watch, doing sail changes – seems to fill most of the day but is all clearly necessary, not make-work. The down time – sleeping, reading, watching, thinking has never been quite enough but is pleasingly unstructured. I have managed to do a little writing, and reading, but not as much as I thought. Knitting, games, music have stayed put away.

Except during squalls there isn’t much of a schedule. So if dolphins arrive, we stop everything else and just watch them. When the sky is clear and my watch begins, I just watch the stars until I’m satiated. We do what’s in front of us, not much planning or juggling of activities, which feels unpressured and, well, simple. I think we’re a little closer to just being.

On land I live in the future – always looking at least an hour or a day ahead. Out here I’m living in the same time I’m doing, so even though we’re always busy it’s not the frantic busy of trying to finish up x to get to y that seems to characterize my working life on land. I feel healthier, more centered, more tired, but more … at home perhaps.

About Marie Toler Raney

Marie and Williwaw leave Neah Bay, Washington on their first Pacific trip in 2008. Co-captain Jon took the photo.

Marie grew up racing small boats in the Chesapeake Bay area of Maryland before becoming a software developer. Jon grew up in Davis, CA dreaming of running away to sea, finally escaping at 15 on an Alaskan fishing boat. Williwaw the Portuguese Water Dog, born on Lopez Island, WA, has an ancient and noble sailing heritage.

After years of coastal sailing in the Pacific Northwest they all decided to run away to sea together on their steel sloop, Phoenix.


Cruiser Anne Patterson makes solar ovens … And shares a recipe

Anne Patterson and her solar oven, in her ‘other galley’ (the SEA LADY foredeck)

Three years ago on the Women and Cruising blog, Anne Patterson of sv Sea Lady wrote about cooking aboard with a solar oven.

Her experience with the solar oven was so favorable, that when the company producing her oven went out of business, Anne decided to step in to keep the solar oven in production.

As quite a few cruisers have begun cooking with these ovens, we recently asked Anne to answer some questions about cooking with a solar oven, about her decision to produce the oven, and of course … for some recipes.

Here is the first of a series on solar cooking aboard.

How did you become interested in solar cooking?

I was introduced to solar cooking by a fellow cruiser in Puerto Rico. John baked the most mouthwatering, wholesome, healthy wholegrain bread complete with dried fruit, nuts, and pumpkin seeds. Moist, yet perfectly dense. And without even turning on the oven.

As a frustrated cruising baker (hot galley, temperamental oven, extravagant use of propane), I was hooked at the first bite.

How long have you been using your solar oven aboard?

Anne’s carrot cake, baked in her solar oven.

I have been using my solar oven aboard Sea Lady for seven years now, and I have a solar oven at our summer cottage in Connecticut.

On average I solar cook 3-4 days a week.

Sometimes it’s yummy and exotic, like my 2-layer carrot cake (I’m guaranteed an invitation to every birthday party in the anchorage), other times it’s pantry basics like roasted garlic, organic long grain brown rice (which I can never manage to cook successfully on the stovetop), or steel cut oats for breakfast.

How does a solar oven work?

There are several types of solar cookers including parabolic, vacuum tube and box.

My solar oven (Solavore Sport) is a retained-heat box-type solar cooker, the only practical design for on-board use. The box cooker is also the most versatile of solar cooker designs, meaning you can bake, simmer, roast, dehydrate and even pasteurize water. The Sport’s 1” surround insulation means you can cook even in passing clouds, and food stays warm through sunset.

How does a solar oven work?

How did you learn to cook with your solar oven at the beginning?

People are often a bit intimidated when they first start solar cooking, poring over recipes wondering how to adopt. In just a few tries, however, they often comment “it’s just an oven!” (i.e. no recipe modification required.)

Personally, when I was getting started I thought of it as a crock pot and experimented with the simple basics: jerk chicken, rice & beans, etc.

Probably the key things to remember are:

  • Reduce the amount of water. Since the pots are lidded and the oven lid is closed tightly and you’re cooking at low temperatures, there is no steam escaping. Don’t add water at all to vegetables, or to meats (unless adding wine for flavor!), and cut back on water (try 25% less) for rice and grains.
  • Get an early start. In most areas the sky is clearest in the mornings. This requires behavior modification – tough for some of us! – to start dinner after breakfast, but the rewards are well worth it, and before long it’s routine.
Why did you take over production of the solar oven and launch a new business?

The Sport was invented by engineers at 3M Corporation and distributed out of Minneapolis, Minnesota by the non-profit “Solar Oven Society.” Over 20,000 Sport solar ovens were sold from 2000-2012, at which point the founders felt a need to re-structure and halted production.

Imagine my dismay to hear from my aspiring solar cooking friends that they could not purchase the oven!

Are you still cruising?

What Anne does while dinner cooks in the sun.

Absolutely! That was non-negotiable.

Our cruising is, like many in the Caribbean, 6-months on, 6-months off and never far from an airport or fast internet, but we are definitely on the hook.

One of your favorite solar cooking recipe?
Featuring the ubiquitous “calabaza” or green-skinned pumpkin found all over the Caribbean, this Sopa de Calabaza is an elegant starter served on its own or a main course served with a hearty whole grain bread and a green salad.

Sopa de Calabasa
Pumpkin Soup
Serves 8-10

Sopa de Calabasa
Pumpkin Soup
Serves 8-10

This soup is evocative of the Caribbean – colorful pumpkin, spicy ginger, and an unexpected twist: coconut milk

[Note: Calabasa is known as pumpkin in the Caribbean but is really more of a squash. Deep yellow-orange flesh with a speckled dark green skin. Any pumpkin or squash can be used. May be prepared a day ahead and refrigerated – even better!]


  • Peel 2 ½ lb. pumpkin. Scrape out the seeds, cut in chunks. Place in Sport roasting pot. Do not add water.
  • In the second roasting pot, place 2 chopped carrots, 1 stalk celery chopped, 1 lg. chopped onion, 1 chopped green pepper, 1-2 T. grated fresh ginger, and a good pinch of crushed red pepper. (For the green pepper use the mild “Pimiento de Cocina”, long slender light green, if available).
  • Place both pots in the solar oven and cook for 1 ½ to 3 hours or until tender.
  • Remove from oven and allow to cool enough to blend.
  • In small batches, blend pumpkin along with liquid generated in the cooking, carrot/onion mixture, and 1 c. chopped tomatoes, canned or fresh. Blend until smooth. Combine all in a large pot. If you prefer your soup thinner you can add vegetable broth at this point, up to 1 c. (but keep in mind you will be adding coconut milk before serving, and the soup should be relatively thick and hearty.)
  • Add ½ t. thyme (more if fresh), salt and pepper to taste.
  • Before serving, stir in 1 can (13.5 oz) coconut milk. Heat to serve.
  • Garnish with fresh parsley or fresh thyme.
  • Great served with cheese sticks, bread sticks or seasoned toast.

Vegan/Vegetarian if made according to the above instructions.
Carnivores may wish to stir in crumbled bacon after the blending stage.



SeaWise Safety Checklist / Emergency Action Guide for Sailing Yachts

Book Review – SeaWise Emergency Action Guide and Safety Checklists for Sailing Yachts by Richard Dorner

Safety Checklist for Sailing Yachts

An ‘action guide book’ for mariners,
inspired by the aviation world’s discipline of thorough checklists for everything.

What if….?

“What ifs?” are dark questions that lurk in the minds of many sailors, and not just those new to sailing, but those new to a particular boat, signing on as crew for an ocean passage, perhaps, or just relaxing as a guest for a weekend.

Safety Checklist for Sailing Yachts side

Safety Checklist side

Too often, “What ifs?” are questions that get left unasked, shoved aside by blind trust in the skipper or in the face of sunny reassurances and thus left to fester in the musty corners of the imagination.

Even responsible captains who plan carefully and brief thoroughly can fall prey to assuming their crew will somehow know what they need to know in the unlikely event an emergency arises.

Left unaddressed, especially for those who come aboard nervous to begin with, “What ifs…?” can lead to anxiety if not disaster.

The SeaWise Emergency Action Guide and Safety Checklists for Sailing Yachts, from Schiffler Publishing’s Cornell Maritime Press, brings all this out into the bright light of day in a handy, new flip booklet brought to reality by a duo of Israeli sailors – Zvi Richard Dor-ner and Zvi Frank – who have come together to create what they dub “action guide books” for mariners.

Emergency Action Guide for Sailing Yachts side

Emergency Action Guide side

These action guide books – there’s a SeaWise Emergency Action Guide and Safety Checklists for Motor Yachts, too — are inspired by the aviation world’s discipline of thorough checklists for everything.

Spiral bound, tabbed, and printed on waterproof paper, the SeaWise Safety Checklist for Sailing Yachts read one direction is a collection of safety checklists divided into twelve sections.

Flipped over and read the other direction, it becomes the SeaWise Emergency Action for Sailing Yachts, with guidance addressing fourteen different emergency scenarios.

The Safety Checklist side begins with a checklist for every captain for pre-voyage planning: reminders of information that should be written down in the logbook for each specific passage.

This is followed by checklists for pre-departure safety briefings about procedures and equipment – briefings that go two ways, so that the captain obtains information about the crew as well as the crew about the boat.

Safety Checklist for Sailing Yachts

Safety Checklist: On Watch

The next section is on the responsibilities of the watch keeper, for both day and night passage-making, and summarizes, in a helpfully concise and accessible format, the Rules of the Road, buoyage, vessel lights and sound and distress signals.

This is followed by a checklist for heavy weather preparation, reminding crew of many small preparations to take before the bad weather hits that are all too easy to forget while worrying about the bigger preparations.

The next four sections provide boat owners a place to assemble in one place the specific specifications of their boat for the crew’s reference. This includes pages to sketch in your boat’s sail plan, deck plan and stow plan (but, unfortunately, no pages for electrical or plumbing). There’s even a page for your boat’s polar diagram, a neat graph of your boat’s potential performance in given wind speeds and points of sail, so that you can calculate if you are making the best of the conditions.

Wrapping up the checklist section are lists of materials and tools to inventory for damage control, medical needs, sail repair and engine maintenance. This last category, of course is general, and should be customized for your engine and/or generator.

Emergency Action Guide

Emergency Action Guide: Medical

Taking all the preparations recommended by the Safety Guide will reduce the chances of ever having to use the Emergency Action Guide side of this book, but bad things can happen to even the best prepared mariner.

When those bad things do happen, they require prompt and appropriate response, and the Emergency Action Guide is constructed to provide “concise and direct guidance” for dealing with each possibility, in those very moments when one can hardly think straight.

In an “If…, then…” flowchart format, the Emergency Guide addresses flooding, collision, running aground, fire, loss of steering, engine failure, emergency communications, medical emergencies, man overboard, extreme weather, rig failure, abandon ship, rescue and disabled skipper scenarios.

All this information is packed into a compact 8 ½” x 6” package that will easily find a place in the cockpit on passage, handy for constant review and reference. The pages can be marked on with pencil to customize and update lists and diagrams, and used in conjunction with a seagoing logbook to record specific information for each region travelled.





What we learned from our first cruising boat

It’s been nearly a year since we sold Camille and we’re starting to think about our next boat. We’ve had a nice break but the sea is calling.

CAMILLE, 2001 Hunter 380.

When we were boat shopping before we bought Camille, we had some ideas on what we wanted out of a boat but did not have a specific make or model in mind. We looked at everything from 30 year old blue-water boats to brand new fin keels.

This time around we know exactly the make and model we want to purchase. We’re just waiting to for the right boat (i.e., previous owner) to come along.

Camille ended up being sort of a practice boat to determine what we really wanted out of a cruising boat. Turns out there are a few things we will not compromise on in the future. We’ve had some time to reflect and made a list of what we learned.


We bought Camille at rock-bottom price because the previous owner had fallen on some bad luck and had to short-sell. This allowed us to make extensive upgrades and still come out even when we sold Camille two years later (more about our cruising expenses here). She had been very well taken care of and we continued babying her. Her hull looked whiter and shinier than most near-new boats.

We didn’t affix anything permanently by making holes in the wood or made any “weird” modifications. All this added to the resale value.


We made sure to buy a boat under ten years of age. Older boats tend to need of TLC and repairs. They need new rigging, new sails, new electronics, new hoses, etc.

We sold Camille right when we were starting to think about needing to replace a few major systems. The next boat will need to be even younger so we can keep her longer and be more confident in her integrity.


For our first cruising boat, Camille, at 38 feet, was the perfect size; and in the future we have no plans of going any longer.


In the late 80’s, when I was in my teens, my parents and I sailed from Germany to California sans watermaker , We used saltwater for nearly everything and I don’t like the feel of dried salt on my skin or what it does to expensive gear.

So when Mike and I bought Camille I knew I would not go anywhere without a watermaker. We added a 110V high-output watermaker to Camille  It was great having tons of water but every third or fourth day we had to listen to a very loud water-pump for 3-4 hours to fill our tanks. We also had to run a portable gas generator to power the 110V pump.

Watermaker pumps and filters.

We don’t like having gasoline on board (we are even considering an electric motor for the next dinghy) and the smell from the exhaust of the generator is not very pleasant – not to mention dangerous. We will definitely have a watermaker on our next boat but it will have to be powered by either a diesel generator or the sun.


We kept the Ipad at the binnacle while underway

Shortly before leaving the US we bought an iPad with the Navionics navigation app. Since we also had two iPhones and a hand-held GPS we had lots of backups to our chart plotter.

We had to replace the GPS antenna on the chart-plotter twice. The original antenna was fading in and out when we bought the boat. The second antenna which we had bought from some guy off the dock failed a year later. Reading the forums this seems to be a known issue with older Raymarine GPS antennas (ours was seven years old). We contacted Raymarine and they simply told us to buy the new model which required an expensive converter. Glad we had the backup GPS units!

Camille came equipped with a radar which we were very glad to have when we encountered dense fog off the coast of Baja. A definite must have on our next boat.

We added a new VHF with AIS receiver which is just another layer in assuring we don’t get too close to other boats. Next time we would love an AIS transceiver but neither is a must have. The boats that broadcast an AIS signal are usually well lit. It’s the little boats without lights we have to worry about. And nothing replaces good old-fashioned watch keeping.

LED Lights

After trying many different brands of interior LED lights we finally went with Imtra LED lights for the cabin lights. Most LED lights give off a bluish/cold hue that makes me think of a cafeteria. The Imtra lights were the warmest color I could find and kept the cabin feeling cozy.

We also changed the navigation lights to LED. This was especially helpful for the anchor light. Many boats will use the cheap solar garden lights as anchor lights to save on electricity. This is not legal and makes them very hard to see.

A real anchor light (at the top of the mast, where it belongs) will light up the water for long distances and makes it easy to spot a boat. Coming into an anchorage late at night to find many boats badly lit can be very dangerous. Please, buy an LED anchor light!


This was something we always knew we wanted in a cruising boat and was very high on the must-have list.

CAMILLE’s swim step.

Camille’s swim-step was huge. Great for showering and rinsing off after spending time in the ocean. And since we did not have a separate shower stall we always had to shower outdoors. A shower stall had been high on my must-have list but I realize now that I would not want to introduce that much moisture (i.e., mold) into the cabin on a regular basis anyway.

The swim-step is also great in marinas. When the boat is backed into a slip it is easy to step on and off. Much safer than rickety steps to climb up the side. Maybe I’m just clumsy but I have fallen between the dock and the boat on a couple of boats — once nearly splitting my head open on a concrete dock.


Opening ports and hatches.

Camille had 16 opening ports including three large hatches forward. We had one of those wind-scoops to funnel the breeze into the cabin but actually only used it a couple of times since it did not really make much of a difference. For windless nights we had four powerful cabin fans (more on those below).


We purchased an inexpensive WiFi booster to receive free WiFi signals from shore. We never felt the need for an expensive unit that is permanently affixed high-up in the mast. By simply sticking it out of the window in an anchorage we usually found an open signal. The same company now also makes an outdoor version, which we plan on purchasing in the future.

  • Lines led aft into cockpit
  • Huge galley that also had spaces to wedge into in big seas
  • Arch for traveler keeps the cockpit clear of lines
  • Electric winch (Mike likes to go aloft)
  • Vacuflush head (no stink!)
  • Solar panels
  • Lots of easily accessible storage
  • Check out our list of Favorite Gear

When we bought Camille we bought an almost barebones boat.

CAMILLE, when we bought her in San Diego.

We added solar, bimini, watermaker, dinghy, outboard, liferaft, anchors, anchor-chain, and tons of safety gear and spares. We spent over $20,000 not to mention nearly three months installing and upgrading.

Having everything new was a major bonus but the installs took a lot of our time that we could have spent cruising. We don’t have unlimited time to cruise since we still have to work, so we should enjoy every minute of our time off.


We usually stood our night-watches under the protection of the dodger, especially if it was a cold night, using the iPad to keep an eye on progress.

The problem with this location was that all the instruments were on the binnacle. If the auto-pilot stopped or the AIS alarmed or we had to keep a very close eye on the radar we had to sit behind the wheel – exposed to the elements.

We learned that a night-time watch keeper is happiest under the dodger and that it would be helpful to have some essential electronic displays visible from that protected position.

The next boat will need a more convenient location for the instrument panel or repeaters inside of the dodger or at the nav desk.


We had one VHF radio at the helm as well a couple of handhelds. Most popular cruising grounds have VHF “cruisers’ nets” in the mornings to exchange information and goods. The time of the net often coincided with breakfast preparations aboard Camille so we tried using one of the hand-held VHFs but could not pick up parts of the conversation. Unless we were right at the heart of the cruising grounds we had to use the high-powered VHF at the helm to listen in.

Having a second, high-powered VHF in the cabin would gave been a great addition. Not to mention having a backup radio that is not exposed to the elements.


Charging the battery with solar panels.

We added 300 watts of solar to Camille but there was no space for a second battery. Our one Group-4D battery was not enough to power everything we needed to run. The fridge was a power-hog in the hot Mexican sun. During the day we were making more electricity than we could store and at night the battery could not keep up with demand.


The autopilot on Camille was not adequate once she was fully loaded with cruising gear. It was rated for 24,000 pounds of displacement – Camille displaced about 16,000 pounds empty. Add water, diesel and gear and you reach the limit very quickly. In largish following seas or if it had to make a lot of corrections the autopilot drive stopped and had to be reset. We looked into buying the more powerful model but would have had to replace the chart-plotter at the same time resulting in many boat bucks (one boat buck = US$1,000.)

We had looked into adding a self-steering wind-vane to Camille but since we were not planning on any major ocean crossings the expense would have been prohibitive.


Camille was very noisy. In a rolly anchorage the creaking drove me nuts. I could not sleep. I ripped apart lockers looking for the source. I added little pieces of material between areas that were rubbing. It always came back. Under sail we could not simply enjoy the sound of the waves slapping the hull because the creaking drowned it out.

Under power the noise was even worse. With the engine located right under the stairs the engine droned on in the main cabin and in the aft cabin. The only place that was somewhat quiet was the V-berth which is more akin to riding a roller-coast when the seas kick up.


Camille had basic, thin foam cushions in her bunks. We should have just gone ahead and purchased a custom folding marine mattress. Instead we purchased the Froli sleep system and more foam – almost spending as much as for a real mattress. We had no moisture issues but were never really very comfortable.

Next time we’ll just get a real mattress right away.


I would like to be able to look out the windows while doing dishes or sitting in the saloon.

My biggest complaint about our boat was that I could not see out of the windows.

It felt like living in a hole. Mike is quite a bit taller than I am and was able to see out of the windows while standing up. The boat was very bright and airy thanks to large windows on deck but in the hot sun we usually had to keep all the windows and hatches covered.

I would like to be able to look out the windows while doing dishes or sitting in the saloon. It seems silly to travel thousands of (hard-earned) miles to stare at the walls when right outside is a breath-taking anchorage.


The 6-step companionway made the cabin feel very disconnected from the cockpit.

At anchor this was a mere inconvenience but at sea it was a pain having to go up and down the stairs carrying food or drinks – one item at a time. I longed for more of a “porch” where the cockpit is an extension of the cabin.

6-step companionway.

Deck Color

The two-tone deck color highlighted the difference in heat reflection in the hot sun.

Camille’s deck was two-toned. The main walking-areas were painted light grey and everything else was white.

If I had not felt it for myself I would not believe the difference that made. I could not walk on the grey areas on hot, sunny days because they would burn my feet. The white areas felt merely warm. I can only imagine how much cooler the interior would have been with white decks.

Sunbrella covers for all hatches as well as mesh covers for large deck windows.

Cabin Fans

We purchased four 2-speed Caframo cabin fans. After one year of fairly light duty they became very noisy and were slinging black dust.

My parents, who are currently cruising Mexico, have been using these Hella fans on their boat for several years and they are quiet and low-maintenance.

Dinghy Davits

While we would not make any passages with a dinghy in the davits on a mono-hull, having davits at anchor would have been a great addition to Camille. Most nights we left the dinghy in the water and it would either rub against the hull or we would worry about it getting stolen. When the wind kicked up we had to pull it up on deck but not until we heaved the outboard on deck. This was always a huge production that could have been avoided with davits.


Even if the next boat does not have all of the options we want, we can always add them. The basic layout of the boat, however, cannot be changed.

We will make sure the boat doesn’t creak, that the beds are large enough to be comfortable and that the boat makes us feel safe.

We can’t wait to go cruising again!

About Verena Kellner

Mike and Verena met after college, while working aboard a NOAA hydrographic research vessel in Alaska, collecting data to update nautical charts. They later moved to Portland, Oregon and worked for a hydrographic firm that kept them traveling all over the US and working aboard boats and ships.

In 2008, they both got our 100 ton captain’s licenses, and in 2011 quit their jobs, bought a sailboat (s/v Camille) and went sailing in Mexico for a couple of years. They eventually made the Baja Bash back up to California, sold the boat and spent summer 2014 working and playing in Alaska. They are back in the lower 48, making more nautical charts, traveling in their mini van, and saving up for their next adventure.





Cruising kitty: Will I have enough money?

Pam Wall (Kandarik), Nadine Slavinski (Namani), Diane Selkirk (Ceilydh) and Aimee Nance (Terrapin) answer Tom’s question:


My biggest fear and concern about dropping everything and taking my wife (who is more enthusiastic than I am) and three kids cruising is $.

  • Will I have enough?
  • How much is enough?
  • Will I be able to earn anything underway with dive gear and being a licensed captain with systems experience?

This is always my main stumbling block.

– Tom


4 Answers

Pam Wall, s/v KANDARIK

My husband, Andy, and I were working parents of necessity. When we planned to circumnavigate we had the very same questions that actually kept us from departing for a whole year after our intended time to be able to sail away from an income. And that was a mistake. We had a little stash of money, not much, but we knew if we lingered until we had enough money, we would never leave!

So, after a year’s delay, when our children were a year older, then 4 and 7, we did finally just cast off with what little we had, and we knew we would have to make it do! We just knew! So, with that in mind, and the free air filling our sails as we headed for the great South Pacific, all care disappeared with that first breath of wind filling our sails for the voyage around the world. The reality was that we had to be very careful of what we had with us. We never felt as if we were missing anything! We were careful and smart, and found that we could survive easily on our 39 foot sloop with much much less than we anticipated. We were actually happy and proud that we could curb our land bound appetites and still sail and see the wonderful places that we made as landfalls around the world.

We did find work when we stopped in a few places. We put the two children in real schools which was great for them as they met children and teachers from different cultures. We worked while the children were in school and replenished some of what we had spent. Then we took off again, westbound, and found other work further down the Trades and again put the children in real schools which was marvelous for them and allowed us to get more in the piggy bank, and then carry on again further west.

This was how we lived and paid for the most fantastic life a family could ever ever have together!!!

It was not a flamboyant life of spending, it was a carefully thought out of what we could spend and what we did spend. Our biggest expenditures were eating out, which we just did not do often, renting cars to really get inland and see the countries not just the harbors and we always rented from RENT A WRECK type of places, and haul outs for our boat’s maintenance. Food was carefully chosen when needing replenishment and we fished and fished and fished and had a love of fresh fish that makes eating on land almost impossible now as we only could eat FRESH CAUGHT FISH that tasted completely different and so much better than any store bought or restaurant could offer.

We found work, and work found us. We had to be careful and thoughtful of the countries laws where we worked, but we always seemed to be able to work and not break any laws, which is the only way to do it.

If you asked me how much was in our budget, I could not tell you. If you asked me how much we spent, I never kept track. If you asked me how much the experience was worth, I would not hesitate to say a million trillion dollars!!! We made what we had, and believe me it was not much, work for us. We never were without what we needed and we saw the world from our cockpits and our children met and got to know people from around the world which I feel is the only hope for that elusive “World Peace”

Don’t put it off, go while you can, go before it is too late, and handle the situation as it happens. I have learned that you can make all the excuses in the world to not cast off, and believe me, don’t do that. Just go and make it work with what you have and remember your family is the greatest asset you can possibly hope for in life!


Nadine Slavinski, S/V NAMANI

I have two answers.

1. One is the general cost of cruising, which is an excerpt from my book, Pacific Crossing Notes: A Sailor’s Guide to the Coconut Milk Run (by Nadine Slavinski & Markus Schweitzer).

The most difficult question to answer is how much cruising costs, because every sailor has his or her own definition of “necessity” and “comfort.” The best answer may be Bernadette Bernon’s “it costs what you’ve got.”

We know sailors who have crossed the Pacific on an average of US$500 per month and others who might multiply that number by five, ten, or even more. A frugal crew with an older vessel that never ties up at a marina, goes out for a meal, or hires help for repairs will be able to go on a long way on a tight budget. Their principal expenses will be boat parts, food, cruising permits, fuel, and insurance (if they purchase insurance at all). Of these, the latter two are highly discretionary. Given fair conditions, we often chose to drift along for days instead of motoring through hundreds of dollars of diesel just to make landfall sooner.

Similarly, the costs of outfitting a boat vary widely. Some crews spend top dollar for safety gadgets, electronics, and creature comforts, while others are happy with a back- to-basics approach. All in all, most cruisers report that they spend a fraction of what they do back home since transportation and accommodation costs are essentially zero. After all, anchoring is free, wind is our primary source of propulsion, and deserted atolls offer limited opportunities to spend money.

We consider ourselves cost-conscious sailors. We pay for boat and health insurance and treat ourselves to the occasional meal out while making our own repairs and otherwise watching our wallets closely. We cruised the Pacific from 2011-2014 for an average of US$90 per day – which included everything but the cost of the boat itself: food, fuel, insurance pro-rated by day, cruising fees, and parts/repairs. (We paid approximately US$1700 per year for boat insurance and US$1500 per person per year in health insurance.) Our normal daily operating expenses were much lower than that $90 average, but the overall average is skewed by periodic investments in the boat: new rigging, haul- outs and bottom paint, new engine mounts, plus one-time costs such as transiting the Panama Canal. We saved a great deal of money by cruising on a sturdy older vessel: our 1981 sloop (loaded with many extras) cost C50,000 in 2006 and sold for the equivalent of C44,000 in 2014.

That’s us. You can compare the cruising costs of various crews on Bill Dietrich’s website. Just remember, it doesn’t have to cost a king’s ransom to cruise the Pacific – unless you want it to.

2. The second is a link to an article I wrote about working while cruising, including an interview with a scuba diver and an engine mechanic. It can be found here: Here, Kitty Kitty (Blue Water Sailing website)

I also have many other information articles about cruising as a family on my author website, here.


Diane Selkirk, S/V CEILYDH

Having enough money is pretty essential.

But as Tom figured out, knowing what counts as enough can be hard to gauge. I think it also depends on how comfortable you are with risk. When we hit Australia we were down to six months of money and didn’t have the guarantee Evan would get a job. Our worst case scenario was this would be the end of our cruise and we’d sell the boat in Australia. So I was comfortable with the risk.

My personal rule of thumb is I want enough money for a however long I want to cruise plus six months for resettling, plus a 5-15%-of-the boat’s-value maintenance/repair budget for each year we’re out. Short-term cruisers can often defer this maintenance–but once you’re out for more than two years, or cross an ocean, big ticket items need repair or replacement pretty regularly.

As far as how much money you need to live–this really varies too. There are families that manage basic expenses for $1000 a month and others who spend 5K. It depends on where you travel, if you stay in marinas, how much inland travel you do, schooling expenses etc…

As far as what you can earn with your skills–I’m not sure. It probably depends on where you plan to cruise and exactly what services you intend to offer. We know diesel mechanics, electricians and refrigeration technicians that manage to find steady work with in the cruising community. Most cruisers tend to be jack-of-all-trade types so you would probably need specific expertise to be hired.


Aimee Nance, S/V TERRAPIN

Hi Tom,

This is also the most pressing question we had before we set off to go cruising.

So far, we have found that the answer really depends on the cruisers themselves, rather than location or circumstance. We have seen families that get by on less than $2000 per month and families that seem to have unlimited budgets. It really comes down to what comforts are you willing to sacrifice for your cruising adventure. For example, we have found that marinas and restaurants are some of our biggest budget killers. Are you willing to anchor out 99% of the time? Do you plan to catch and eat your meals or are you the type that loves to eat out?

We budget about $2100 per month for everything and seem to get pretty close to that when we are in the water here in Mexico.

Also, do you plan to be on your boat the whole time? Right now, we are in San Miguel de Allende to wait out hurricane season. Many cruisers in the Sea of Cortez haul out in Guaymas/San Carlos to avoid the heat and hurricane danger of the upper sea. For us, this has been pretty expensive since we now have rent and substantial transportation expenses. However, there are a few boats that head up into the Sea and sweat it out and there is hardly a cheaper place to be.

We have also met cruisers who have had significant expenses for boat/ and or dinghy repairs. We have been lucky in this category so far (knock on wood), but having to rebuild a diesel engine on the move could obviously be a budget killer. This is something to take into consideration when boat shopping and also a reason to get a mechanical survey and rigging survey in addition to the general survey.

As far as working while cruising, there are certainly those who do it. You probably won’t make very much with your dive gear if you are talking about cleaning hulls. Most cruisers that anchor out do this themselves and you may tick off the locals if you try to do this in a marina.

There are certainly those that make money with a captain’s license. Scott from Windtraveler picked up some work in the Caribbean for a while. Also, if you can fix outboards or diesels, you will always be in high demand. I would caution you on this type of “working” only because some folks end up getting stuck in certain places for the sake of the job and for me, this is not what cruising is about. That being said, when we start running low on funds who knows what we will do to keep it going!

I hope this information is helpful to you. We post our “Cost to Cruise” every month in an effort to help those with questions like yours.

Good luck with your transition to the cruising life and hopefully we see you and your family out there one day!