09 October 2017

10 Questions for Calico Jack

Travis and Joanne Scott circumnavigated from the end of 2012 until early 2016 aboard SV Calico Jack, a 1972 Chris-Craft Caribbean 35, hailing from Key West, FL, USA. Their general route was from Florida, through Western Caribbean, and the Panama Canal, then across the Pacific to Bundaberg, Australia. From Australia they sailed the Great Barrier Reef of Australia to Indonesia, across the Indian Ocean to South Africa. They then sailed across the South Atlantic to South America, up the Eastern Caribbean, through Bahamas and returning to Key West, FL, USA.

You can learn more about their circumnavigation on their website.

Having cruised both the Atlantic and the Pacific, how do they compare?

We expected the South Pacific Ocean to be the best sailing conditions we would find, and while they were decent enough, we found our longer passages to be slow and rolly, with lighter than expected winds and large swells coming up from the deep Southern Ocean. (We were told by local islanders "it was a very unusual year"). But other than the first long passage, the island hopping style of cruising with short jumps in between turns the S Pacific into a cruisers dream.  You could spend a lifetime there and still not see it all.  On the contrary, we did not know what to expect of the South Atlantic, yet found that to be the best cruising conditions of our whole trip.  Wind, seas and currents all lined up in our favor for a change, and we had stable enough conditions that we could set the spinnaker and leave it for days without tending to it.  Also, much shorter jumps between landfalls.

Are you attracted more to sailing itself or cruising-as-travel and has that changed over time? 

Cruising-as-travel, definitely.  Prior to getting together, my wife and I had both been avid travelers, and the cruising lifestyle allows us to travel more extensively and on a better budget. Our boat is our home, and the thought of taking our home out for a day sail just seems like too much work. But casting off the lines and setting out over the horizon... now that's exciting!

Finish this sentence “One thing I’ve learned about passage planning is…

prepare meals ahead of time.

There are many, many books out there on the subject of passage planning and weather routing. With a little common sense and a good understanding of weather patterns, most passages will be pleasurable.  But here's something we did that made eating while on passage enjoyable: Prepare a few meals before departure. No one likes to cook in a galley when its rough out, at least not us. We would start a few days before setting out, and make a bunch of "one pot" meals (chili, hearty stew, curry, etc), then measure out a portion for 2 people into a Ziploc baggie, and freeze it.  Then it was fast and simple to quickly heat up a nutritious meal without spending lots of time getting tossed around down below, or watching all your ingredients go flying off the counter top!

What is your most common sail combination on passage?

Our west-about route pretty much had us sailing down wind almost all the time.  With our sloop rig, we predominantly used a single head sail only, either jib or spinnaker.  If we set the main and the jib, we found the large main would block the jib and rob it of the wind.  Wing and wing sailing is beautiful, but a lot of work and diligence to maintain that configuration for long periods of time.  We found our speed of roughly 5 knots could be achieved with a single head sail, which could also be easily operated from the cockpit by one person in times of changing winds or deteriorating weather.  We are all about easy, and the little tiny bit of speed we lost was not worth the extra effort.

With the benefit of hindsight, what are the boat selection criteria you would use to purchase a boat for long term cruising?

All the old cruising books describe the ultimate cruiser as a ketch rig, full keel with the rudder attached, heavy displacement tub.  We have seen all varieties of boats out there doing it, and doing it just fine.  Mono- and Multi-hulls, sloops, ketches and schooners, big and small and everything in between. Just pick the boat that suits your needs and the cruising grounds you plan to go to.

We had thought of up-sizing to a larger boat before our next cruise, but have decided to stay smaller for reasons that work best for us.

Smaller boat = shallower draft. At only 4.5', Calico Jack can make nearly any pass, or anchor up close to shore when needed. It is a lot cheaper to do a refit or routine maintenance on a smaller vessel.  We found many places were charging in 10' length increments (30-40', 40-50',etc) and the difference between was sometimes significant.  We were small enough to secure dockage when we needed to, at times when marinas were full and larger boats were being turned away.  We managed to pack into 35' everything we needed for long term cruising, and still had room enough for two people to be comfortable.  .

In your own experience and your experience meeting other cruisers, what are the common reasons people stop cruising?

For us, we have taken a break from cruising simply because we ran out of money.  A few years to replenish the coffers and we'll be back out there again.

From our cruising friends we have met who stopped cruising, some of them had reached their goal or destination, some ran out of money like us, some had catastrophic damages to their boats, and some had those same catastrophic damages to their relationships.  Offshore cruising can be difficult to relationships, and we saw it affect many couples... older, younger, married, dating, family, straight or gay... no one is immune.  Proper communication is key.  Fears and concerns, hopes and dreams should all be discussed and shared. Teamwork and flexibility will get you through the worst situations, but only if both parties are on the same page.

What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you didn't find to be true?

Its not totally free out there anymore.  There are still some free cruising grounds, but it is more common to find areas that charge small anchoring fees, or cruising permits. Many places have installed moorings to protect the environment and no longer allow anchoring. Yachties are often seen as walking ATM's (especially in the eastern Caribbean). And we all know anything with the word "marine" on it will cost more!  It is still possible to cruise on a small budget, but be prepared to either pay the local costs or to look for another place.  Bitching about it, or even worse, sneaking out without paying only makes the rest of us look bad.

What piece of gear seems to break the most often?

It all breaks eventually!  Preventative maintenance helps, but the wear and tear of constant use will eventually win.  In our case, we blew our transmission, a few sails, the auto-pilot, a fresh water pump, our ice maker, and more little things than I care to remember. But none of this ruined our experience, and even empowered us when we were able to fix it ourselves, or added to the adventure of trying to source parts in other languages.  Some things we never did fix, realizing we never needed them at all... like our ice maker!

Share a piece of cruising etiquette

Don't anchor on top of your neighbor! (unless you are French, then its ok. Every French port we have anchored in was the same.  Its just what they do, get used to it.  Besides, it IS convenient to be able to hand a glass of wine to your neighbor when he runs out.)  But seriously though, it may seem like common sense to some, but to many they don't seem to quite understand that anchoring is NOT the same as "parking" your boat.  Take into account not only your depth and scope and swing radius, but also the same for your neighbors.  If in doubt, dinghy on over and introduce yourself to your neighbors, and talk to them. Maybe they are ok with how close you are, or maybe they are not. Or maybe they have local knowledge of the area that will change your mind about being that close. At the very least they will know your are a conscientious cruiser.  Remember: "last one to anchor, first one to move"

We had one very tight anchorage in Grenada, and after looking for a spot for about 45 minutes, we picked a spot between 2 boats (one we knew, the other we didn't) which left just barely enough swing room.  Our unknown neighbors were busy giving us the stink eye from their cockpit.  Once we were sure the hook was set, we went over to them and explained why we anchored where we did, and asked if they were ok with it.  They understood it was tight, and thanked us for checking with them.  As it turned out, we all became really good friends and we hope to share another anchorage with them someday.

What question do you wish I would have asked you besides the ones I've asked you and how would you answer it?

"What do you do for watch schedules on passages?"

As with any vessel, someone must be "on watch" at all times.  This can be difficult while cruising single- or short-handed.  We have had this conversation with other cruisers and have seen a whole rainbow of watch schedules... some good and some bad.  We buddy-boated for a while with a couple who did a strict 4 on/4 off, but they arrived in port exhausted and needed a day to recover.  We also met two ladies who did NO watch at night... after dinner they both went to bed and trusted in the auto-pilot and radar on all night!  Aboard Calico Jack we used a fairly relaxed and flexible schedule of 6 on/6 off during the day and 3 on/3 off at night.  This allowed one of us to get a solid block of sleep, while the 3 hour watches at night were fairly short and easy to stand.  We always arrived in port well rested, and in times of heavy weather or when there was a need for both of us on deck, we always felt alert and ready.  Of course, what watch schedule works best for YOU is the one you should do.  This is just our observations and what we have found to be best for us.