We’ve been invited to take part in Newly Salted, a series of interviews with new cruisers that we enjoyed reading as we were getting ready to embark on our own adventure. So fun to be included! For those of you who don’t know us, here’s a little introduction:
We’re Monica and Rich and we live on our 39-foot sailboat Mata Hari. We lived aboard in New York City for three and a half years before sailing down the ICW to Savannah, Georgia, where we worked and saved for another year before sailing down to the Bahamas. We also did a transatlantic crossing on a friend’s boat a few summers ago. That was an adventure! Currently, we’re back in Savannah, Georgia, after five months of cruising in Florida and the Bahamas. It’s time to find jobs and refill the cruising kitty! At the moment, it’s looking like we’ll head north to New York City.
What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?
I know this has been said before, but it bears repeating: It’s not all umbrella drinks and sunshine! There are going to be those days where you’re stuck on the boat with rain and 30-knot winds. And it might not just be one day, but six or seven days in a row. I envisioned us hopping from island to island every few days and, at least in the Bahamas, it didn’t always work out that way. So plan accordingly! Bring lots of reading material and put movies and TV shows on your hard drive before you go (this last part was something we failed to do and I will definitely be working on stockpiling things to watch next time). On the plus side, we read tons of books, something we rarely had time to do back on land.
As you started cruising, what transitions did you find the most difficult?
Since we lived aboard for four years before we left, and made our way down the U.S. coast in stages, adjusting to cruising wasn’t all that hard for us. We did miss our family and friends, but we were able to keep in touch with phone and texts. It helped that a couple of friends came to visit! However, after a couple of months of rum drinks and beautiful beaches we did start to get antsy and feel weird about not having jobs and that sense of purpose and needing to be someplace every day. I also didn’t realize how difficult it would be to get enough exercise. When the wind is howling, it can be challenging to go ashore for a walk or do yoga or paddleboard. I know, our life is really rough, isn’t it??!!
What mistakes did you make as you started cruising?
We did run aground just as we were leaving Savannah and were really worried that we’d damaged our keel, but fortunately it was in soft mud and everything was fine. We also broke off our throttle lever in Florida, which was an excellent introduction to the concept of cruising being just fixing your boat in exotic locations. It was a very expensive oops! Of course we broke the lever on a Friday, so even with rush shipping, we still didn’t get the part until the following Wednesday. All of this meant we meant we spent a lot of time at a marina that we weren’t planning on being at racking up slip fees and wishing we were on our way to the Bahamas.
Also, we might’ve overdone it on the canned goods when we provisioned. We tried to strike a balance between bringing enough for a few months and buying fresh produce when we arrived. Overall, we did pretty well, but we still have some canned stuff that I’m frankly getting a little sick of. Next time, we’ll know better. I also planned to bake bread and pizza and bought a lot of flour, but I didn’t use as much as I thought I would. My pizza and bread game frankly isn’t great, but I’m working on it. Hoping to give this recipe from the New York Times that a cruiser friend shared with us a try soon. On the plus side, we did use the masa we brought for making corn tortillas. Homemade tortillas are surprisingly easy to make and delicious, especially when you’re making fish tacos with the mahi your husband just caught. Yum!
What do you find the most exciting about your cruising life?
The sheer delight of sailing your boat to another country will never get old. I also really enjoyed meeting locals and learning about the Bahamian culture and getting to know some of our fellow cruisers. Actually getting ourselves to the Bahamas after nearly five years of working on the boat and planning was the culmination of a lot of dreaming and it still blows my mind that we actually did it!
Also, the color of the water in the Bahamas is legendary for a reason. We couldn’t get enough of that bluer than blue water that you could see to the bottom of as if you were in a swimming pool. Looking at pictures now, I’m still amazed! Snorkeling was also pretty fantastic with that incredible visibility. After a lot of time at the dock back in New York, getting to play on our stand-up paddleboard and our kayak was a blast.
What do you dislike about cruising that surprised you?
We loved all the beautiful beaches, but you can get beautiful beach overload. It shouldn’t come as that much of a shock to me because I’m a total city person, but at times I needed a break from nature in the Bahamas. Don’t get me wrong, I loved our time in the Bahamas, but I’m also looking forward to sailing further south and visiting countries with more to do onshore. Rich loves cities and wilderness, but he’s a big nature boy. We always say that he could win Survivor if he was a contestant. Seriously, he’s the guy you want with you on that desert island.
What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you didn’t find to be true?
We’d heard that the cruising community is one big happy family, but we definitely didn’t become instant friends with everyone we met. Then again, we don’t get along with everyone back home so why should that be any different out there?
Also, everyone told us that food was crazy expensive in the Bahamas, which for the most part was true, but Bahamians gotta eat too! Some things, such as American packaged foods like crackers and tortilla chips were a luxury we rarely indulged in at three times the price back home, but produce and eggs were often only slightly more than we were used to paying or sometimes less. Everyone says pack for the apocalypse and while you do pay a premium for the imported goods in the Bahamas, the truth is you’re going to want to eat fresh stuff when it’s available and we were willing to pay a little bit more for it when we could get our hands on it. Next time, we’ll pack lighter.
What is something that you read or heard about cruising, that you found particularly accurate?
The cruising community is made up of people who’ve got your back when the going gets tough. For the most part, we found this to be true. A friend we’d met back in Savannah, Georgia, where we spent a year working after leaving New York, gave us a kayak when we ran into him in Miami. Just like in small-town America where you can knock on your neighbor’s door and borrow a cup of sugar, we were able to get on the VHF and borrow a couple of eggs from a friend when we ran out while waiting out some weather. Friends with a watermaker (something we don’t have) insisted on filling our jerry cans for us when they were making water for themselves. It was also nice to be able to give back too. Rich had a lot of tools on the boat and was able to repair someone else’s rudder, allowing him to safely complete a passage. He also had the knowledge to explain to another cruiser how to nurse his sickly engine well enough to get home.
Is there something you wish you had bought or installed before starting out?
A dog! I know that probably sounds crazy, but we had a dog before we started out on this adventure and we’re getting to the point where we really want another four-legged friend in our lives. Maybe not right now, but one day soon we’re hoping to adopt one. I know that opens up a whole new host of issues, but we’ll figure it all out when the time comes.
Meanwhile, I really wish we had a bimini. We had one when we bought the boat, but Rich gave it to a neighbor. We were planning on installing a solar arch before we left, but ran out of time and money. That shade would have been mighty nice for the tail end of our trip when we were crossing back to Florida and basically sitting in the cockpit sweating off all of our sunscreen. We wound up resorting to using umbrellas to keep cool! A solar arch and solar panels would also have been nice for off-the-grid living, but we did just fine charging our battery bank the old-fashioned way (running our engine every few days). I guess that’s the advantage of not having a lot of fancy systems on board. We mainly needed to keep the refrigerator cold, our anchor light on at night, and charge our iPads and computer, so our energy needs were pretty small.
On the plus side, our new Beta 38 engine is the best piece of gear we’ve invested in. Rich installed it himself before we left New York and I couldn’t be prouder of him. The peace of mind of hearing that engine fire up every time we’ve needed it was worth all the money (and blood, sweat—mostly Rich’s!—and tears—mine!).
Oh, and the refrigerator and freezer he built was worth its weight in gold. To have fresh food and ice in our drinks made being in paradise that much sweeter.
We also love the nesting dinghy Rich built. It’s pretty and practical. The smaller piece “nests” inside the bigger piece for easy stowing on the foredeck.
What piece(s) of gear would you leave on the dock next time? Why?
Maybe our sewing machine. We have a Sailirite and love it, but we didn’t really need it at any point in the trip. Otherwise, we don’t really have a ton of gear on our boat. We also had a lot of spare parts and materials, which we were fortunate enough not to have needed, though they did take up a lot of room. To paraphrase Clarence in True Romance, it’s better to have spares and not need them than need them and not have them.
What are your plans now? If they do not include cruising, tell us why.
We’re not independently wealthy so we’re heading back to New York City to find jobs. We’d like to get to the Caribbean next fall, but we will probably need to work a while to make enough money for another trip. I thought I wouldn’t like this part, but strangely, now that it’s happening I’m okay with breaking up our cruising into smaller bites. I love cruising but I also love being back on land in the city. It’s all about the contrasts!
What question do you wish I would have asked you besides the ones I’ve asked you and how would you answer it?
I’m always curious about how people fund their adventures. The answer to that question for us is simple: We work and save. But I’m always looking for a better way to do that, especially one that we can use to keep us out there longer. I write and edit books on a freelance basis, which I’m working on making a more viable means of supporting us while we’re out there next time. I did a few projects while we were in the Bahamas, but the Internet connectivity was too iffy at times for me to be able to reliably commit the whole time we were there. In addition to being an amazing sailor, Rich is a designer, but also pretty handy with everything from carpentry to diesel mechanics. For next time, we’re contemplating the possibility of stopping somewhere along the way down south where we can legally work and getting jobs to refill the cruising kitty. Working while you’re cruising seems to be a controversial topic for some, but we’d rather work while we’re out there than not go at all. Of course, there’s always the lottery!