A Year in Review

Here's a quick list of things that have worked for us and not worked for us over the course of our travels.  Loves and hates.  Hearts and bones.  Every crew and boat is different, but people preparing to go cruising themselves might find some of this useful.   Enjoy!

The Watermaker

This beautiful, beautiful machine has allowed us to live fully hydrated and hygienic lives.  Many cruising sailors we know have to take painstaking measures to preserve fresh water.  Bathing is the first “luxury” to go, and people make do with saltwater dunks or freshwater sponge baths.  They stock up on sodas and juices to drink instead of water.  They cook pasta and potatoes in seawater, and then wash the dishes with it. 

We listen to them trade water-saving tips and feel very, very blessed and a little guilty.  We have all the water we need for bathing, cooking, and cleaning, and all because SARABANDE’s previous owner installed a quality, high-capacity watermaker.  Having ample water for bathing and drinking is simple, cheap and effective for preventing health problems and feeling good.  If you’ve got the money and you’re wondering about whether a watermaker is worth it, trust us, people!  Buy a good one and it will be the best money you ever spent.

Yes, we have enough water to spare that even Lou Dog gets the occasional shower.  This image would make your average water-hoarding sailor gag.

Undersized or Even Merely Adequately Sized Anchors

We’re not talking about our anchors here.  SARABANDE has a huge primary anchor way bigger than she actually needs, and it’s attached to 300 feet of oversized chain.  Plus a hefty secondary anchor, and a giant danforth in reserve.  Because of this, we’ve never dragged into a cruise ship, or into a nasty, hull destroying coral head in the middle of the night (true stories - please knock some wood for us).  We’re talking about these other people’s too-small anchors. Possibly yours. 

Nothing ruins a good night’s sleep more than watching a new boat race into the anchorage, circle around and pick a spot right next to your boat, and casually drop a puny-looking anchor as the sun sets and the wind steadily builds.  After dark, the wind shifts direction and begins to howl and this new boat is now upwind of you.  Will their stupid, puny anchor keep its hold on the bottom, or will it twist out of the sand and let the wind send your new neighbor smashing right into your boat in the middle of the night?  It’s hard to sleep wondering if it will, and you’d feel just a little bit better if you’d seen them drop a huge anchor attached to lots of heavy chain. 

Get one like this if you can.

Do yourself and all the other boats around you and buy the heaviest-duty anchor you can afford and attach it to chain, not wimpy nylon rope.  Look at the little charts for boat length and weight in the catalogue and order the next biggest one that you need, or even the one heavier than that.  If not for yourself, do it for us in case we’re ever neighbors.  Please?

Two Dinghies

Specifically, one inflatable with an outboard and all the obvious advantages, and a small, hard rowing dinghy with lots of hidden advantages.  WHAT’S HER FACE is worth her weight in gold.  She’s tough and light, she rows straight and quick, and she doesn’t break down.  There will always come a time when your zippy outboard engine refuses to start, rendering the inflatable dinghy into little more than an expensive pool toy.  Trying to row most inflatable dinghies feels a lot like trying to push the last available shopping cart at the grocery store, the one with the busted wheel that won’t really turn.  After a few minutes, you’re so mad that you begin smashing your listing, useless vessel into promotional displays on purpose to feel better.

Beaching our granny cart on an uninhabited island.  Photo courtesy of our friend Alyssa Grinberg.

But if you have a little rowing dinghy and your outboard breaks, it’s like bringing your own little granny cart to the store.  Sure, she’s smaller and can’t hold as many things, but at least you can get your shopping done with a minimum of rage.

Other advantages: 

* for a really big provisioning trip when you’re at anchor, you can tow your rowing dinghy along with you and use her as a grocery barge on the way back.

* If you happen to be in a gorgeous, calm anchorage and you’ve got it all to yourself, firing up your loud, grease-dripping outboard engine can ruin the scene.  Fish scatter, birds fly away, and all of a sudden you feel like a real a**hole.  If you can take your rowing dinghy out instead, you’ll get to see more animals and you’ll feel less like the poster child for “Man:  Destroyer of Nature”.

* It’s not just your outboard that’s going to crap out.  Those belonging to your friends will, too.  And you’ll get to look swell and generous when you loan them your beloved rowing dinghy.  Wait until you see them out using it, and then do donuts around them in your inflatable with the working outboard! 

Expensive Foul Weather Gear

A couple can walk into a marine store and drop over $1,000 on head-to-toe protection from the elements to wear while braving out storms at the helm.  Buying “real” gear was one task that fell through the cracks when we were preparing to leave New York, and we’ve never gotten around to it.

This state-of-the-art mens' foul weather jacket costs $452.  And it's not even by Marc Jacobs. 

We left on our trip with the stuff we already had for weekend sailing:  two pairs of yellow rubber pants, the kind you can buy for $10 at a fishing store, and two lightweight waterproof jackets, all big enough for wearing layers underneath.  So far, we’ve done just fine with just these things.  We sail in warm places and pick our weather windows carefully, so usually we’re not out in weather you’d need much protection from.  When it’s time to cross an ocean, we’ll probably step up our gear a bit, but if you’re planning on leisurely island hopping in warm waters, all we’re saying is there’s no need to go nuts.  Spend your money instead on.......

Setting Up an SSB Radio!

This was something we were wavering on getting before we left, and got it only because we found a good model for a steal on eBay.  Tuning into the weather nets hosted by Chris Parker and Herb Hilgenberg has been the single most useful tool for planning passages. 

AMC yapping on the air.

Having a good SSB setup means that whether you’re all alone in the middle of the ocean, or holed up in an anchorage somewhere miles and miles away from an internet connection, you’ll be able to get an expert opinion on what sort of conditions are coming your way.  Plus, you can communicate with your cruising friends even if you’re hundreds of miles apart, such as the Awesome Balls Network, a project in progress with our friends from BEANNACHT!  Sure, there’s a lot that goes into calibrating all the elements of a working setup, but once you’re there, you’ll be so grateful to have this radio.


The Henrys are a really smart, cool couple who circumnavigated their own boat around the world.  We met them a few months before we left on our cruise, and Alicia mentioned in passing that she was getting ready to varnish all of SARABANDE’s exterior teak, an intensive and grueling labor of love.  Flawlessly varnished teak is the hallmark of a well-cared for classic sailboat, and we were excited about what the varnish would do to restore SARABANDE’s good looks. 

“Don’t do it,” they cautioned, suggesting that we abandon the idea of 12 beautiful coats of  Z-Spar Flagship Varnish and instead apply Cetol, a low-maintenance teak sealer much maligned for the orangey tint it imparts to wood. 

“The sun in the tropics will peel that varnish off so fast you’ll find yourself re-applying every three months, and you’ll hate it.  It’ll look like crap,” the Henrys warned. 

Wantonly, foolishly, we still chose to go with the varnish.  Well, guess what?  It’s peeling, it looks like crap, and there’s enough work to do maintaining an old cruising boat without sanding yourself silly under the hot sun all the time. This winter, we’re stripping off what’s left of it and slapping on some Cetol.  Apparently now there’s a formula that doesn’t look as orange.

dark side, here we come!

Pelican Cases

These are a bit pricey perhaps, but we have two pieces of equipment on board that are worth the spending the money to protect:  the computer and the camera.  Unfortunately, though these are two of the most expensive and fragile items we own, they’re also the ones that we carry off the boat with us the most often. 

When you’re looking at a splashy 10 minute ride in a dinghy through choppy waves, a simple ziploc bag doesn’t inspire the confidence that a big waterproof case with seals, floatation and built-in cushioning does.  Which one would you rather be using when you end up dropping your MacBook Pro right into the filthy water in Luperon, like Alicia did one night?  

Also, don’t underestimate what the pounding of a boat going to windward can do to delicate electronic items.  We lost a fairly new, expensive 500 gig external hard drive after vacuum sealing it to protect it from salt air, but failing to adequately cushion it.  Even though it had been securely wedged into place on a shelf, when we fired it up after a rough passage it could only muster an ominous scratching noise that meant it was gone forever.  Pelican cases have customizable foam cushion inserts, and we always make sure to put the Mac and the Nikon away in theirs before getting underway.  Protecting your stuff is way better and cost-efficient than trying to get it fixed or replaced in faraway places.  Ask us how we know.


There has been much debate on SARABANDE about the nature of mal de mer, being that one of us has been known to suffer from it now and then.   The other of us is able to hang upside down in an open bilge in pounding seas to change an oil filter, in a closed cabin that reeks of diesel fumes, and emerge hungry for Mexican food.  

There doesn’t seem to be one ‘best’ medicine that works for everyone.  What works for one sailor might leave another one stoned and sleepy, or worse, lunging for the leeward side.  The best medication we’ve found is called Stugeron, but unfortunately it’s not available in the US.  Again, works well for Alicia, but it might do nothing for you.  But besides medicine, there are a lot of other things you can do to help someone who’s feeling seasick.  Here’s what we’ve learned to do to prevent or minimize Alicia’s woes:

*Drink ginger tea, brewed strong with some honey.  Start drinking it several hours before starting off, and keep it up throughout the passage. 

*Stay in the fresh air.  Stick to the breeze out in the cockpit, look at the horizon and take deep breaths.  Don’t go below unless you absolutely have to.  When you do need to move around, do it slowly and let your body move with the boat.  Don’t fight the motion.

*Nibble dry, bland foods like saltines, animal crackers or pretzels to keep your stomach busy.  Even better, make some ginger snaps before you leave on your passage and snack on those.  Nausea seems worse on an empty stomach.

*Try a rolly anchorage before a passage that you know is going to be rough.  Sounds weird, but a slightly uncomfortable anchorage with a bit of an ocean swell seems to help take the edge off the next day’s seasickness. 

*Feel mentally prepared.  Being nervous about all the things that could break or go wrong on a passage seems to make feeling seasick underway much more likely.  Talk about what you’ll do as a team if this or that breaks and give the boat a once-over before setting off to make sure she’s ready.  Focus on the positive and work together to keep the mood onboard cheerful and stress to a minimum.   This has helped us immensely!

*Don’t head straight into the waves.  Alter your course, if you can, to take the waves on an angle, even if it means adding more time to your ETA.  And always put the mainsail up, even if you’re just motoring- it steadies the boat and really helps.  This is supposed to be fun, remember?  So forget your stupid rhumb line and go with comfort in mind.

*Don’t despair when it does happen.  People who have been badly seasick before can feel a horrible wave of fear and dread as soon as the first little wave of nausea comes, since they remember how awful things can get.  But worrying about it makes things worse, so occupy yourself with some calm music, lie down in the cockpit and try your best to stay loose and comfortable.   Remind yourself that it won’t last forever.  And tell the captain to zip it about the Mexican food. 

"No, darling.  An enchilada would definitely not hit the spot right now."

Traveling In Your Home

Cruising has one big advantage over other travel methods.  Sometimes you show up to a new destination that isn’t what you’d hoped it would be (cough- Nassau, Provodenciales, Samana -cough).  You wander around and just find very little to like about the people, or the scenery, or just the overall feel of the place.  This doesn’t happen to us very often, but when it does, the sight of our boat floating just beyond the reach of it all brings a flooding sense of relief.  We go back to SARABANDE, cook ourselves a nice dinner and play cards or watch a movie in the cockpit before turning in.  Then, in the morning, we hoist anchor and go somewhere better!  No booking tickets, no luggage carousels, no standing in long lines without shoes on, no sitting next to some stranger who hogs the armrest and snores.

Home sweet home awaits.

Living this way allows us to travel all over, and stay for as long as we choose, yet sleep in our own comfortable bed every night surrounded by all our own stuff.  The world around the boat might change, but the cabin is always our own safe, familiar place.  We can live near a bustling city or in the middle of nowhere, not another soul in sight, and in both places we're at home.  Sure, there are inconveniences, but there’s nothing like traveling this way.  Ever since we embarked on this adventure, there have been lots of good times and some bad, but life has been incredibly vivid and we’ve never regretted a single minute.  If you’re hedging over whether this is something you want to try, we say go for it!  It might just be the best thing you ever do.