Your questions...

Here are some questions that have reached us from time to time, and our answers...

Q:  How do you send and receive e-mail on the boat?

Q: How do you manage laundry on the boat?

Q:  How do you use the computer while on watch?

Q:  What did you bring that you wish you hadn't?

Q:  How do you manage watch scheduling without additional crew?

Q:  Aren't you worried about pirates?

Q: What did you do with all your stuff when you sold your house?

Q:  How do you receive snail mail while on your travels?

Q:  How did it work out for you to have your cello along on this cruise?

Q:  How do you send and receive e-mail on the boat?

A:  I'm certainly not a technical person, so my explanation will seem pretty simplistic for you technical types out there.  We compose our messages on a computer, and then put them in a file that is something like an outbox.  Then when the time comes to send email (usually at dusk is the best time), we turn on the SSB radio.  The computer has a program which takes control of the radio to send the messages.  We select a particular station and frequency, and the computer tries to get a connection with the station.  The "station" is some guy with a computer and a big transmitter/receiver.  Currently (as of Tahiti/Moorea) our best connections are with stations in Southern California.  The station is controlled by a computer, and it is constantly listening for people like us trying to get a connection.  Once the magic connection is made, our computer sends out small pieces of the message (perhaps 50 bytes at a time).  The station plays back what it thinks it heard.  Then our computer says "yeah, that's right" or "no, you got it wrong, try again."  Once they've achieved agreement on those 50 bytes, they go on to the next 50.  When we receive messages, the process is reversed.  If we get a good connection, the whole thing takes just a few minutes.  Other times, we can't get the job done in the 30 minutes we are allotted by each station -- if we can even get a connection at all.

This system (known as Winlink) is something set up by and for amateur radio operators (HAMs).  We can use this system because Craig is a ham.  Boats that don't have a ham aboard can use a similar but paid membership system called "Sailmail."  It uses the same software and hardware, but the shore stations are different.

In either case, once the shore station has the complete message from us, it sends it on the internet to the ultimate recipient. 

Q: How do you manage laundry on the boat?

If there are shore laundry facilities (laundry service or laundromat), we'll always take advantage of that.  In French Polynesia it's such a rare thing that there's no risk of overspending our budget on that item.  (But it can be outrageously expensive.  We spent $110 in Atuona, Hiva Oa on laundry that couldn't have amounted to more than 4 or 5 washer loads).  About half that amount is more typical.

On the boat we have a small pressure washer which will wash 5 or 6 shirts at a time.  It has a small sealing barrel which you fill about a third full of the hottest possible water and a tiny amount of laundry detergent, and then hand crank for three or four minutes.  It gets the clothes moderately clean.  Then we use several rinses, and a hand wringer between rinses, to get the detergent out. 

   Brian and Jim doing laundry mid-ocean...

Finally we hang the clothes on the lifelines to dry, and hope for no rain.  If we've recently been on passage, we have to clean all the salt off the lifelines before hanging the clothes.

Both the pressure washer and the hand wringer came from Lehmann's non-electric catalog. 

Later:  The handle broke off the little washing machine shortly after I wrote the above.  I discovered that by tying the bottom of the framework of the machine to a convenient location (in our case, the helmsman's seat), it can be operated by rotating the barrel directly, hand over hand.  This actually turned out to be easier and more effective.


Q:  How do you use the computer while on watch?  Do you use a laptop up in the cockpit? If so, any special ways you contain it from slipping around? Inquiring cruisers want to know...

Actually, when it's raining we often sit inside the boat, popping our heads up every few minutes to make sure we're not about to run into something that can't be seen on radar.  The computer is a desktop one, permanently installed in the cabinetry, with wireless keyboard and mouse.  The keyboard and mouse get put away inside the chart table when not in use.  You can actually see a picture of Craig working at the computer here.

There is a radar readout at the chart table, with data boxes available, giving information about course, wind direction and strength, depth, heading, etc. etc., more than you ever wanted to know.  The radar shows any squalls in the area.  At night, when it's raining, there's just as much information -- if not more -- at the chart table as there is outside.  The photo to the right shows that we're in the middle of a squall (or possibly it's raining for as far as the radar can see.)

We also have a remote for the autopilot, so if small course corrections need to be done, they can also be done from inside (assuming we're using the electronic autopilot rather than the windvane, which is usually the case if we're motoring).   


Q:  What did you bring that you wish you hadn't, and vice versa? 

Surprising things we did bring, and we're glad: 

Evert-fresh green bags -- keep unrefrigerated fruits and vegetables fresh for way longer than they have any right to be fresh.  If I had known about these when we were cruising in the Northwest, it would have made provisioning much easier.  HOWEVER, despite what it says on the package, they're not nearly as potent once they have been washed for re-use.  ALSO, they don't seem to be as effective in the tropics (not surprising, where the temperatures are in the high 80's or low 90's every day.)

A wonderful discovery:  Pre-washed, bagged lettuce in salad-bite-size pieces.  (This does have to be refrigerated).  Check the pull date, and make sure you have 10 days -- they'll actually last 20 days.  But don't get big bags, because once a bag is opened, the lettuce starts to go brown in about 24 hours.  We had salads, with green lettuce, for about the first 20 days of our 23 day passage. 

Countrytime lemonade.  We just (May 2003) ran out, and boy do we regret not having brought more!  (Later:  we found a resupply source in American Samoa at the Cost-U-Less Store.  Although it doesn't say so, that store must be a close-out location for Costco.  It has the same smell, the same shelf tags, and a "Hebrew National" hotdog stand at the entrance.  It's a good source for lots of American things you can't find elsewhere, including beef jerky, Torengo corn chips, corn muffin mix and 110 volt small appliances.  We replaced both the toaster and the computer printer there.  Reportedly there's also a Cost-U-Less in Suva, Fiji, but we didn't visit it.  It seems unlikely Suva would have the 110 volt appliances, since Fiji, like the rest of the South Pacific other than American territories, is on 220 volt power.)

Wonder Clean hand washer from Lehman's non-electric catalog

Hand wringer also from Lehman's

Instead of a salt shaker: Rock salt grinder with a ceramic mechanism -- if the salt gets all gummed up from humidity, it doesn't matter -- you can still grind it.  It turns out that rock salt specifically sized for salt grinders is available all across the South Pacific.

2 gallon Ziploc bags -- available mail order, and useful for many things.  (4 rolls of toilet paper fit in one, or two rolls of paper towels).  HOWEVER, the ones we bought had some defective bags, which turned out to be scored and tore open upon use.  The vendor's guarantee does you no good in the middle of the ocean.  Check some random samples before you depart.

Folding crates from West Marine (for fresh fruit/veggie/eggs storage on passage -- easily stored away once we arrived in port).  We found many more uses for these crates than originally anticipated, including corralling the personal belongings of an unexpected guest who ended up sleeping on the settee in the main cabin.

A couple of coated nylon tarps:  fold up very small when not in use, and protect vulnerable beds.  We cover our v-berth with one when we're away during the day, so we can leave the hatch open without worrying about rain.  Another tarp protects a berth against a persistent, elusive leak.  I actually bought tarp material from a fabric store, and cut it to size (60 x 75) with a hot knife.  Never finished the edges, although that -- and some grommets -- are on a "maybe someday" list.

A big supply of Top Ramen.  When the cook is on strike anyone can fix it.  The dry, broken up noodles also make a great main-dish salad, mixed with shredded cabbage, canned chicken, diced hard boiled egg and your favorite salad dressing.

1 liter Nalgene bottles with sports cap and flip top cover (available at REI).  Everyone is assigned their own (with different colored caps) and is enjoined to try to drink 4 liters of water a day.  These bottles don't leak, even if lying on their side, and everyone likes them.

4 jerry jugs for diesel.  Some cruisers brought only 1 or none at all, and it seems to be the only prudent way to get fuel in many places.  (Theoretically you can use hoses at concrete docks, but so far -- May 2003 -- there has been an issue with water depth, swell, and/or the condition of the hose.  One boat got 50 gallons of diesel all over their boat and themselves when the hose in Taiohae burst.) Later:  Fuel docks that you can actually tie up alongside become more frequent as you head west across the South Pacific.  We ran into the first one in Papeete, Tahiti, and after that found them in New Zealand (of course), Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Australia (of course).  During our second cruising season we didn't use the jerry jugs at all.)

Things we brought and could have done without: 

blue jeans, cotton knit clothing such as t-shirts.  Simply too hot.  (Later:  we were glad to have some cotton things in the cooler climates of New Zealand and Australia).

Hot chocolate -- we used it so much in the Northwest, and haven't once been tempted here.  (That was as of May 2003.  We soon found that other cruisers really like hot chocolate despite the hot weather, and we were able to do some trading from our huge supply for other things we wanted).

A big supply of margarine:  it melts unless stored in the refrigerator.  Instead, we've been buying canned New Zealand butter (widely available, starting in the Marquesas), and it doesn't melt even at 90 degrees.

Instant oatmeal.  Who wants hot cereal in this climate?  (Later: Except in the hottest times, some people like hot cereal for breakfast on passage.  It's easy to fix, with the thermos of recently boiled water I keep on the counter, strapped to a grab bar.  So I'm glad we brought it after all.)

A big supply of coffee.  It's usually too hot to want it.  We have it only now and then as a special treat.  We swore it off during the passage (having heard that it contributes to seasickness) and haven't really felt the need since.  (Later:  We are enjoying coffee from time to time.  We threw out our original supply, and have been resupplying from locally grown coffee, or lacking that, with Italian coffee such as Illy, or Lavazza, which seems to available in most big cities.)

Wish we had brought: 

More Countrytime lemonade.  More pickles.  (add crunch when you're out of fresh veggies).  More fresh veggies and fruits for the passage.  They keep just fine -- even, for the most part, unrefrigerated -- in the Evert-fresh bags.

Fly swatter.  Fly paper.  Better repellent for no-no's  (perhaps Skin-so-soft?)

More Costco (Hebrew National) Polish Sausage (taste great barbecued and then served in the locally-available baguettes).

More canned chicken.  This is completely unavailable all across the South Pacific, except for some very expensive French products, with the bones still in and swimming with fat, available only in Papeete, Tahiti and Noumea, French Caledonia.  Had I known this, I would have brought 100 or more cans of canned chicken for the entire trip.

Talcum powder (great for making you feel not-so-sticky when it's time to go to bed).  We've bought Johnson's Baby Powder locally, and it works great, but you smell like a baby (not all bad).

A collapsible water carrier.  Even the world's best watermaker doesn't always work perfectly -- or even at all.  Or you can't use it without clogging your filters, because there's sediment in the seawater.  Or an algal bloom (green here, not red like in the Northwest).

Moleskin for blisters (hikes in rubber sandals are standard, and produce heretofore unknown blisters).  No one in the South Pacific, including New Zealand and Australia, has heard of moleskin.

A flopper-stopper system.  Every anchorage in the Marquesas is rolly.

A generator (maybe).  Our solar panels and wind generator just don't quite make up for our daily use, and we run the engine to charge the batteries nearly every day (thereby using up the hard-to-obtain, jerry-canned diesel fuel).  But of course the generator brings its own problems, and we haven't fully sorted out the trade-offs.

Q:  How do you manage watch scheduling without additional crew?

We have done very few passages without extra crew. When we have, it's only been for one or two nights, and we have done 3 hours on -- 3 hours off. It's VERY tiring, although I'm told by other cruisers that you do get into the rhythm of it. The problem is that you don't really get three hours sleep between watches. You have to dress/undress, wash off the worst of the salt, make log entries, get snacks ready for the next shift, use the head.. etc. With any luck, you can get 2 1/2 hours of sleep. It's easier, of course, in calm weather, and in the tropics, where there isn't much to take off or put on, and little salt to wash off. (We find that if we don't wash off the salt, the sheets get clammy in only a day or two.) The other issue with your sleep periods is that if the conditions are rough, you find yourself thinking, "What the hell is going on out there? Shouldn't the sails be adjusted?" Or if the conditions are calm, and the boat is moving around in the swells, the issue is "what is that clanking, why isn't my partner fixing it?"

Three hours on shift, particularly between 1 and 6 am, is really hard to do. I find I am singing every song I can think of, watching the minutes tick by, telling myself stories. We have a few books on tape (actually on MP3) which help the time pass. The risk, of course, is that you'll get so engrossed in the story, you'll forget to check the radar, scan the horizon, check the engine exhaust if motoring, monitor all the instruments... If conditions are rough, you can't use the MP3 player, both because it will get wet, and because it's too distracting, or too hard to pay attention to.

Being able to do a passage with just two people comes down having enough time to do the passage that you don't set out until conditions are optimal -- even if it means waiting three weeks to get to the next island. I remember in particular one passage that was supposed to be about three days, and we gave in to the thought that we needed to be at the next set of islands because the season was coming to a close. We were close hauled in 25 knots of wind -- which doesn't sound like that much, but when the seas are big... There were four of us. Everyone got seasick. No one could eat anything. It was difficult even to drink water and keep it down. It began to be a safety issue, because after 24 hours of that, none of us were thinking clearly. We made the decision to fall off and head for another destination. Immediately (or so it seems) the seas calmed, the winds dropped, and we were in a different tropical paradise within half a day.

Having said all that, there are plenty of cruisers out there who do all their passages with only the two of them. Some say they don't want another personality on the boat. Some say they can't find anyone competent. There are lots of stories about crew disasters (people who claimed to know how to sail when they didn't, people who walked away from the wheel when the going got too rough, or when their shift ended and the replacement didn't show up exactly on time, etc. etc.) Some of the cruisers have pretty strong personalities themselves, so it's easy to see how there would be conflict with almost any crew they might find.

We have talked to one couple who do eight hour shifts. The wife is a "night person" and the husband is a "day person." So each gives the other a full complement of sleep, and they split the remaining "together" time up in shorter watches. Other couples do longer shifts in the easier hours (during daylight and up to midnight) and then shorter shifts (perhaps 2 hours) during the dark hours.

On balance, our preference is to have crew for any passage that's more than just one or two nights. The answer may well be different for someone else, in some other boat.

We did a plan-ahead snack and supply box on our really long passage from San Francisco to the Marquesas. The only one interested in preparing the snacks each night was yours truly, and I began to get complaints. "I don't really like those crackers, could I have more dried apricots, please." "I don't like jelly beans." "Chocolate at night is awful." So I decreed that people could do their own @#$% snack bags. It worked for about one night. Then people just began raiding the "snack locker" directly during their shift. A bit dicey, since we were mostly on port tack, and everything tended to fall out of the portside snack locker when you open the door at the wrong moment. Of course we soon ran out of people's favorite things.

The other thought that I have is a story about a two-person boat that had a plane to catch in New Zealand. They left Tonga in the face of an oncoming deep low, against the advice of all their friends, and against the advice of our net controller/weather forecaster, who kept admonishing them to find a port, even after they had left. They saw 50+ knots of wind, and by the time they got to Minerva Reef, they had torn their main and genny, broken the boom and broken the depth sounder (how do you do that?). They checked into the net from Minerva Reef, where the low passed directly overhead. Astonishingly, they went on the next day. About 300 miles north of New Zealand, they had wrecked all their sails except for their trysail, and were out of diesel, drifting in little to no wind. A very kind boat from New Zealand motored out to them with a diesel delivery. They didn't make their plane. Perhaps the upside to that story is that they DID make it to land, despite all sorts of adversity, and despite being only two of them on a 55 foot boat.  We saw them in Whangarei in March, 2004, with optimism for the new sailing season, and the boat undergoing final repairs and refurbishing.

Q:  Aren't you worried about pirates?

The areas of the world where we have chosen to sail have not had any reported problems with piracy.  (We check frequently on Jimmy Cornell's website.)  If we did hear such reports, we would be careful to sail in a convoy with other boats -- a strategy which has been quite successful in most piracy areas.

Q:  What did you do with all your stuff when you sold your house?

One picture is worth a thousand words:

But here are a few words anyway:  We sold the house in September, 2002 (6 months before our planned departure).  We rented a 1000 square foot space in an industrial park, with a big roll-up door.  The space already had a loft (increasing the space to about 1200 square feet), and Craig built floor to ceiling shelves along the back, sized for banker boxes.  He set up his power tools in one part, to allow for boat projects after we sold the house.  The space is heated, has a small office, bathroom and phone line.  (We have a message machine there, and when we were back at Christmas we had 18 "junk" messages from places offering free trips to Disneyland, debt relief, and mortgage refinancing.)

The original idea was to store a vehicle there too, but we have TOO MUCH STUFF.  We ended up renting a garage as well.  AND THEN, of course, there was the furniture we were using in the apartment we kept up until our departure in March, 2003.  We ended up having a moving company take it all away and put it in storage.  When we get back, and find a place to live, they'll redeliver the stuff, which should be just about right for an apartment or small house.

Having now lived on the boat for a year (as of April, 2004) we think we'll be able to significantly pare down our belongings when we get back.  But it is a horrendous prospect.  I'm afraid we're both packrats, and we have a lot of worthless junk.  Like many folks of our age we've talked to, our parents were children or young adults during the Great Depression, and some of them taught us never to throw anything away, in case it might be needed someday.  HA!

Q:  How do you receive snail mail while on your travels?

We signed up with a mail forwarding service in Oregon.  The idea was that every few weeks we would call or email the proprietor, and she would bundle up the mail that wasn't junk, package it, and send it by U.S. mail to a designated address.  That works fine when we're in an English speaking first world country (such as New Zealand).  Most of the countries we are visiting, however, do not interface well with the U.S. Postal Service, and mail can take six weeks, if it gets there at all.  Our Oregon mail forwarder has proven to be quite inflexible in this regard.

We recently (April, 2004) changed to a Florida mail forwarder (St. Brendans Isle) that is so far working much better.  They will send our mail by FedEx or DHL, or any other method we may care to designate.  The cost, however, is breathtaking.  In Fiji we received a four pound shipment by FedEx, which was only four days in transit from Florida, and we were charged $100.26 USD (in addition to St. Brendan's monthly charges).  We think we'll only be asking for our mail about once a month.

Fortunately we've set up most of our bills to be received and paid electronically, so there is little of earthshaking urgency that comes to us by snail mail.

Q:  How did it work out for you to have your cello along on this cruise?

First regarding enough space to play on the boat.  One reason we selected the Outbound 44 was the semi-custom layout available.  We ordered a fold-up table (similar to what you can see on Island Packets).  This makes a big space between the settees -- plenty of room to draw a bow.  You can see photos of this space here:  As far as I know, we're the only Outbound 44 that has been built with this layout, and I know of no other boat in that size range where cello playing is so possible.  Believe me, we looked at a lot of boats with that exact question in mind. 
I purchased a folding keyboard stool (adjustable height) to sit on.  That's been a GREAT purchase, and we've used the stool for other seating, a coffee table, a foot rest, and even a saw horse and a mast step!  (even though there is a prominent label:  "Do not stand on this stool!")   There is a metal socket in the floor for the table leg, and I made an end-pin stop (plywood with an appropriately sized bolt) which fits into the socket.
There are a number of reasons why cello playing doesn't combine so well with cruising.  Surprisingly, humidity and physical damage to the instrument was not one of them.  The instrument survived the journey with no damage.  I was warned that the bow hair would relax in high humidity, and I might not be able to tighten it fully.  I had two bows rehaired more tightly than usual.  One bow I put in a plastic bag, sealed up with tape, hoping to seal out moisture.  The other I played on from time to time.  In 18 months the hair didn't relax enough to be a problem.  However the one in the plastic bag turned out NOT to be sealed as tightly as I thought, and when I took it out (for the first time) just a few weeks ago, there was mildew on the leather and frog. 
My electric cello came with two different effects boxes.  The batteries leaked on one of them, and destroyed the box.  I don't think that had anything to do with humidity -- it was just a bad battery or two.  The problem could have been avoided if I removed the batteries when I was not using the effects boxes.
I was surprised to discover that what I love about music is NOT primarily playing the cello by myself.  What I really missed during our time cruising was playing WITH OTHER PEOPLE.  That simply wasn't available out there.  If you have other musicians in your family, or will buddy-boat with other musicians, that problem will be much easier for you.
I'm sure I would have enjoyed playing the cello by myself more if the electric cello were not such a pale imitation of the real thing.  I don't think there is anything magic about one particular electric cello over another.  None of them sound like an acoustic cello.  For whatever it's worth the Jensen was a fine instrument -- beautifully made, and relatively easy to assemble.  But even with that, it was a ten minute process to un-stow it from it's cabinet (the back of a hanging locker) and assemble it into playing condition.  I almost never used the amplifier because it was another 5 minutes to get all the wires strung and connected.  With my acoustic cello, I can have it out of my case and be playing in about one minute. 
My main goal in playing became NOT personal pleasure, but instead keeping in shape for the day we would return to land and I'd be playing my acoustic cello again.  As such, what the instrument sounded like became less important.  The other problem with the set-up and playing is that you really couldn't do it except in a calm anchorage.  It's too big, and the endpin is too sharp (and the varnished surfaces too close) to use it under any but the most stable conditions.
I took along a few music-minus-one recordings, thinking I would enjoy that.  But I was so unhappy with the tempos taken on the recordings, that I never used them much.  It's almost as though the recording emphasized the absence of other musicians, rather than simulating their presence.
I really have no basis to compare the Jensen cello with any others.  I chose the Jensen because Eric Jensen lives in Seattle (so I could visit him and talk about the instrument, and get some basic instruction on it).  Also he was willing to make the neck, string length and bridge curve EXACTLY like my acoustic cello, and so I wouldn't learn any bad intonation habits by playing on it.  I didn't try any other electric cellos.  I did look on the internet a fair bit, and the Jensen seemed to get favorable comments from a lot of people.  The model I chose was the standard four-string version.
If I were planning another 18 month trip, I would either opt not to take the cello at all (I can certainly use that space for something else) or else take an acoustic cello (but not my 200 year old fine English instrument).  Absence certainly makes the heart grow fonder in this case, and I LOVE playing my cello, upon our return -- with renewed vigor and energy.  All of my overuse problems went away while we were gone (knock on wood), and I'm being careful how I play and selective about what I play (no more Easter marathons at mega churches).