We’re three months into our adventure, and I’d like to share some thoughts and observations regarding our boat and the lifestyle that comes along with it.
First, some background. Alsager is in her 50th year, but we trust her entirely. She is Dutch built in Corten steel, and co-designed by the late Frans Maas and Dick Carter. She is one of two sister ships to Rabbit II, which took second in class in the ’67 Fastnet. She has tens of thousands of sea miles under her belt. Her systems are very basic and just what is necessary – more on her later.
We are what I like to call ” upper class pikeys “. We own a couple of great old boats and vehicles and a small apartment in Canada, and beyond the small mortgage remaining on that, we have no debts. We currently have no income, and are using our savings to fund our cruise. We live aboard our 1972 motor yacht in Sausalito. I work as an independent contractor in the marine industry doing some boat work, but primarily as a captain on various yachts. I jump on deliveries when I get the chance, and up until the Kiwis won the AC in Bermuda last summer, I worked intermittently for ACRM as a mark layer since 2011. By industry standards I do well, but the income fluctuates with the work and we live in a very expensive place. Tanja quit working when Mats was born (who is three and a half now) and raises him full time. I wanted him shaped by his Mom, rather than a stranger. Whether by nature or nurture, he is an amazing little human who is a joy to have around – at least 95% of the time anyway! He spends days at sea without serious complainant, and has a very calm demeanor. Something necessary for what we do, both from enjoyment and safety perspectives. By SF Bay area standards we are poor – something I find quite amusing. How many raise a child there on one inconsistent income, and are free to take off on a great adventure of indeterminate length? By global standards I consider us to be very well off. Perhaps it’s because neither of care about acquiring shiny new things. I made a choice long ago to spend my days doing what I love while being responsible, rather than beat to someone else’s drum.
Why is this relevant? Because it speaks to our way of life, how we cruise, and how Alsager is equipped.
Back to Alsager and how she shapes our days. Being old, and made from steel and wood, she requires a fair share of maintenance, and I try to do whatever I can. Since we want our cruise to be about enjoying sailing, and the places we go and the things we do there, I have chosen to keep her very basic. This minimizes not only the time I spend fixing things, but also the costs.
Water usage – we have no watermaker, since they are expensive and require a lot of energy and maintenance. Instead, we carry 90 gallons of fresh water. This lasts four people and one large dog about two months. How do we do it? We use our salt water sink pump for washing dishes, and bathe on deck with buckets or in the ocean. We use a little fresh water for a quick rinse sometimes. The water in most places we are going is warm, crystal clear and teeming with sea life, so it is a great experience. Granted, if we were somewhere cooler with less inviting water, we’d use our portable propane shower.
Coming from life in a marina and working in the sailing industry, I’m used to rinsing a boat down with fresh water immediately after each use, so it was a bit hard to get used to the idea of washing Alsager in salt water. Yet after three months and 1800 miles, she doesn’t look any different than the day we left the dock. With all of the time we spend on beaches, it’s an effort to keep the sand out, but it’s quite simple and the boat looks great inside and out. I like to say that “ a little effort up front saves a lot of work on the back end “. It really makes me think about all of the freshwater I’ve used endlessly rinsing down the boats I work on back home, not to mention the harsh chemicals that are used to keep them looking shiny.
Refrigeration – we have none, plain and simple. We rely on a great icebox/cold storage, and while 40lbs of block ice tends to have us pulling ice cold beers out for ten days back in SF Bay, down south that doesn’t fly. Blocks are non existent, and with the warm air and water we aren’t so lucky. It works, but if we’re away from civilization for more than a few days, we usually live without it. It’s no big sacrifice as we catch fresh fish almost daily (typically Mahi Mahi and Yellowfin Tuna), and it just makes that ice cold beer or margherita when we get to a town that much more rewarding.
Cooking – we have a great propane stove, and Tanja does an awesome job of making fresh bread almost daily on the stove top with an ingenious device called an “ Omnia Oven “. Kruiser is an awesome cook, making things like seared Ahi and Ceviche. It helps that the fish has just come out of the sea only minutes prior!
Navigation – we have no built in plotter, and instead prefer Navionics and OpenCPN on an old notebook. We also have paper charts, and rely heavily on old school cruising guides for details on anchorages. That being said, we have ventured out of the typical cruising haunts in search of surf, fish, kiteboarding and plain old off the beaten path experiences and some time alone – really alone. The anchorages aren’t typically ideal, but most often beat a rough night spent at sea, and the rewards are great. Amazing starry nights, fires on the beach, wildlife, wavelets lapping on the hull – you name it and we have found it. Also contrary to most others, we do not have AIS. Instead, I rely heavily on radar and good watch keeping skills. Having spent many a night offshore onboard large motor yachts, I can tell you that you should always assume that you have not been seen until you confirm that you have been. We do this by radio, and most often larger vessels see us on their radar long before seeing our navigation lights. I installed a large flood light (like those by commercial fisherman) that we can turn on to really make us visible in times of doubt….it lights up our entire rig. Don’t get me wrong, as I see AIS as a useful tool, but it is certainly not necessary and it is my feeling that some mistakenly rely on it. This is a big deal as there are all sorts of boats and other things to hit out there that won’t show up on AIS…rule number one on Alsager when it comes to watchkeeping is “ keep your head out of the boat “ .
Other essential systems include our depth sounder for uncharted anchorages, backed up by a handheld unit and then lead line. We also rely heavily on our old Simrad autopilot (and spare parts!), as while I love sailing, I don’t like hand steering on long hauls and it makes shorthanded sail handling etc much easier. We have plenty of ground tackle on board, as we spend 99% of our nights at anchor. We back our primary anchor up with a large secondary Danforth, and if doubt, we set both off the bow. We also use our stern anchor frequently to keep us bow into the swell in what can often be rolly anchorages otherwise. Since our safety is at stake and the boat is not insured for loss, I take anchoring very seriously. That being said, done well I am not afraid to leave Alsager unattended for a night or two so we can go have fun elsewhere. Our foldling tender “ Gooey “ also plays a vital role, carrying all of us safely through many surf landings (except one!). Gooey stores easily on deck, and powers well with only a 6HP outboard. Unless we are making a passage, Gooey is used daily to get to shore and to go surfing, where we anchor her just outside the break.
Power usage – here we do extremely well, as our needs are minimal. At anchor we last several days without charging, as we use solar and kerosene lanterns for anchor lights and candles for cabin lighting. Away from city lights, the nights here are amazing and the sky and sea are phenomenal after dark, so we want to minimize artificial lighting anyway. We run the inverter to charge cell phones and computers, but try to do that on shore when possible. While sailing, our autopilot draws the most, followed by radar (on standby mode to minimize draw and checked periodically) and nav lights. Down below we use red headlamps. Typically we have to run the engine for about one hour total in twenty four hours of sailing to keep our batteries topped up (we have a high AMP alternator which is awesome!) and often the breeze dies late at night so we end up motoring for a few hours anyway. In the event that the diesel fails, we carry a cheap portable generator so we can charge our batteries via that, or run electric tools if necessary for a repair.
Auxiliary propulsion – our ancient and weepy but reliable Westerbeke 4-107, known as “ the British Tank “ does the job. She overheats in warm water if we run her beyond 1600 RPM or push into headwinds, so we don’t do either. In calm water we do about 5 knots, which conserves fuel, and if there is more than 6 or 7 knots of breeze we sail. Alsager was built for that, and goes very well to windward, and in fact in 1800 miles we have yet to see another cruising boat actually sail to weather. In fact, we come across some actually powering downwind…weird. At some point we’ll swap to a larger capacity heat exchanger, but then it will be tempting to motor faster. In total we have used about 90 gallons of diesel (1800 NM’s), and that includes meeting our charging needs.
Sails – we carry a storm trysail and 150% genoa, but so far have not used them. Instead, under working sails alone (main and 90% jib) Alsager sails well. This is on account of her tall rig, efficient hull design and deep fin. We typically sail wing on wing using her spinnaker pole, and in this fashion she is very balanced and we find that rolling is minimized. We have done passages along with newer boats using asymmetrical cruising chutes, and find that we get there just as fast (at least in 10 knots of breeze or more) as they do with much less effort since we don’t have to gybe. In a cruising monohull the goal is to get to as close to hull speed as possible on the rhumb line, and the additional speed gained flying the kite doesn’t offset the significant extra distance covered broad reaching. At least not from what we have observed to date. We understand that some modern cruisers are scared of spinnaker poles and crash gybes, but setting the pole is no big deal, and a simple preventer on the boom resolves the latter concern.
Toys – include kiteboarding gear, SUP, surfboards, fishing gear, spearfishing gear, bike for Mats, and toys for Mats (little cars and stuffed animals!). Alsager does not have a v berth, but instead has a great storage area upfront. We also have a little library on board, and since I’m such a sappy, sentimental type, albums of family and where we come from, along with many things I’ve had since I was a boy, including Gooey’s anchor, flags, sleeping bags, knives and all kinds of tools. I also have a small rock from the shores of a lake from my Dad’s home city in Germany, and some dried leaves from the tree we scattered his ashes under in Canada.
Is there anything I would change? Not really, though the old lady would look a little nicer with new topside paint (next haulout!) and I’ll be happier when we get the overheating issue sorted. Of course I’d love to repower, but when it came to deciding whether to use our funds for that or going cruising, it was an easy choice. The freedom is unbeatable, and ultimately, that’s why I’m out here doing it instead of reading and dreaming about like I have for years.
How long will we carry on? Perhaps another month or two, perhaps another year..time will tell. It’s great but we also really enjoy long camping trips in our old van and want to go to Germany again, so maybe we’ll put Alsager to bed for a while somewhere and come back to her next fall. And at some point, I’ll need to earn a few bucks again too. 🙂