GARY FRETZ: Welcome back to our show. I am Gary Fretz and my co-hosts are Stephen and Estelle Cockcroft. And we are talking about getting off the grid. Stephen, how tech savvy do you need to be to go long distance cruising?
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STEPHEN COCKCROFT: You need to understand your boat to go long distance cruising. You are going to find you are going to be in places where there is no service, where there are no dealers or mechanics or sail lofts or anything to help you. You know, I recommend you do a diesel course and understand a diesel engine. I mean, you’re never able to rebuild it, but if it has an airlock you need to be able to know how to be able to bleed it. Or if it throws a fan belt, you need to know how to change it. Or if its raw water impeller goes, you need to know how to change it. So you need to know basic diesel engine maintenance. [See our tips on how a marine diesel engine works and other catamaran maintenance tips.]
You need to know how to change the oil, check the sail drive oils or the gear box oils depending on what boats you have. You need to be savvy about the engine. You need to understand it. A basic understanding of electrical is probably an advantage. The boat’s 12-volt system is pretty logical if you have enough time to sit and think about it.
Electronics, make sure you have all the manuals. Always make sure you have the manuals for every single thing that you put on the boat so that you always have a reference that you can go back to. You know, if you look on catamaranguru.com, you will see the boats that we had. You know I actually built some of them ourselves. So being very fortunate in completely understanding the vessels we have been on and I can tell you it has always been a huge advantage.
ESTELLE COCKCROFT: I would recommend that you keep it as simple as you possibly can. We have had experience on not only on our own boat, but we have seen other cruisers with really nice big shinny boats with every system imaginable every modern system on board. And they were forever trying to fix something somewhere so try and keep it simple.
One example I can mention is we were sailing up the Red Sea, we encountered particular bad seas, really bad seas or weather rather. And one of the boats that was doing the passage with us had their in-mast furler jam and they couldn’t roll their sail out and they couldn’t roll it back in. And they shredded their sails and there was nothing they could do. But on the other side, Stephen and I shredded out sail and we just took it down and we sat down and we sewed it back together.
STEPHEN: That particular incident we left Kenya and we were heading around Horn of Africa pass the Somalia. That was in the early ‘90s and we were well off shore because of even in those days there were a little bit of piracy. And we tore our head sail and got it damaged. And once we got around the Horn of Africa, we were going up the Gulf of Aden. And we got Estelle’s sewing machine out, put it on the deck and took the sail down. And she sat there and sewed the whole sail back up. And that sail lasted us all the way from the Red Sea up through the Med(iterranean) across the Atlantic and finally we replaced it when we got to St. Martin.
You know a lot of different skill sets with a lot of different crew members. One crew member can’t do everything. It is very good to have different skill sets and knowledge and between the crew members fixed and maintain different stuff.
GARY: And what if you have no experience whatsoever with sailing and you want to be in a sailing yacht because of course that is a least expensive way to get from A to B. What is the fastest way for you to get proficient in sailing?
STEPHEN: Easy, go and do deliveries. Find delivery companies with delivery skippers. If you look up all these delivery skippers that advertise, you call them and say, “I want to learn to sail and I will pay my own way.” Because delivery captains, when they quote to do a delivery, actually quote 8 tickets for the crew, etc. Generally, the crew don’t get paid. Sometimes they have to pay the crew, but mostly they don’t get paid, but they pay the crews’ tickets and they pay the crews’ food.
If you tell them you’re prepared, you want to learn, and you’re prepared and you want to go along for the ride and you will pay your air ticket, you can get thousands of miles at sea very quickly learning from the top guys who do this for a living at a very low cost in fact.
ESTELLE: From my point of view when I started, I think I told you before, that I didn’t know every much. And I was fortunate enough that Stephen is a very good teacher and a patient teacher and help me through the process. However, not everybody can do that. Not all couples can learn from each other. So I would suggest that you go and do a sailing school, that you live aboard for a period of time and learn from people who have done it who understands the intricacies of it, who understands the dynamics between couple, and so forth. And to be honest when we were doing the sailing school it probably is when I learned the most and just being there and through osmosis some of these stuff became clear to me.
STEPHEN: Even if you’ve done quite a bit of sailing, it’s not a bad thing to go and do a sailing course. Because I became a sailing instructor after sailing the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, cross the Mediterranean, cross the Atlantic. I then had to write exams and become a sailing instructor when we were in the caribbean and it was very interesting because a lot of the stuff are new but I did not know that format.
Once you do the sailing school, there is a lot of validation and knowledge that you actually have so it is always good to get that extra validation.
GARY: Now what’s the format of these sailing schools? Don’t you go out for like a week at a time on a boat and you live on a boat and there is an instructor? how does that work?
STEPHEN: Yes, you get on a boat and you got to choose your sailing schools. There is a very good sailing school down here (near Miami, FL) call Blue Water Sailing. And we’ve done a lot of business with them where they would book you and you go down and you would spend a week living on the boat and your instructor should basically hand everything over to you and you run the boat.
You drive the dinghy when you go ashore. You put up the sails. You take the sails down. You clean. You cook. You do everything. And your instructor is there to supervise you and teach you and give you a very sound basic, I call it cruising survival course.
ESTELLE: If you have good instructors they are not going to teach you sailing or only sailing they are going to teach you the lifestyle. And the lifestyle is very different to just hanging out on the boat just for a few weeks on vacation. You know, you learn about the things that you have to do without or the discomforts that you might feel. But the good things about the lifestyle totally outweigh the bad things.
Couples Find Different Reasons for Enjoying Cruising
GARY: Okay, now what about special challenges with couples. You know, I’ve sold a lot of boats to couples who went cruising. And it seems like the women were not quite as gong ho as the man about this whole thing. But sometimes, many times, this turned around. The women just fell in love with it. You want to talk about that?
ESTELLE: We’ve had that happen several times on sailing schools where the couples would come on board and the guy is, “Hey, great! We are going to learn to sail and we are going to sail off into blue yonder.” Well, the ladies come and say, “I am doing this because he wants me to. Don’t expect me to like it.”
Well, by the end of the week, the ladies so enjoy it and not because we make it a wonderful rosy-colored experience for them. But because we give them the reality and we give them the tools to cope with the lifestyle. They learn how to handle the boat even if they don’t do it perfectly. But they know what to do in a situation and they feel confident and therefore it makes it pleasurable.
GARY: Now, I have heard you all talk about some of the parties that you have attended while cruising. And I am it seems like there is really a lot of very memorable social events. Can you think of one that you can just tell us about?
STEPHEN: Well, I think one that stands out in our mind is the one in Santorini. We were tied up to a very small dock that…Santorini is extremely deep…so there’s just one mooring ball that everyone ties off to and then (????) back on to the dock a giant swan (???) call Jugra came backing up to the dock. And you know there was a crew who were New Zealanders and us being South African we have some sort of affinity. And I noticed this one little chap. He kind of look like a crewmember. And we were chatting and doing our thing. And he just wanted to chat and he was just yakking to me while the crew was working and I was getting a little bit uncomfortable because I thought that, you know, maybe he is going to get into trouble. Well it turned out that he was the King of Malaysia and that was his boat. But we had some memorable visits on his boat. He had a very good cook and great crew of New Zealanders. And he sailed that boat around the world. Took him just 2 years and Jugra??? stands for “we sail to sea”. And very memorable and always remember that particular encounter.
GARY: Yes, I am sure you have met very interesting people and in your travels. Well, that’s about it for today. We are going to be back here same time same place next week you have been listening to “Yachts: The Perfect Escape Vehicle” only on the Overseas Radio Network.