This podcast is the first of many where I intend to search out people who have been or still are passionate enough about the sea to make it a big part of their life.
The goal is to help as many people as I can by sharing my knowledge and uncover the facts from others by asking good questions, helping those I interview recall their experiences.
My friends and relatives already know my story, the one where my whole life revolves around boats. If you don’t know me yet, you’ll find the story at ToSeeTheSea.com on my first blog post.
These podcasts are not about me. There are often dozens of ways to do virtually the same thing at sea and I’m keen to get other people’s thoughts on what works for them.
I figured what better place to start than with my wife?
When I interviewed her for this podcast I was a little surprized at some of the answers she gave.
And so, it begins.
Here is the interview followed by the transcript of the interview:
LINDSAY: Many people wonder about families going sailing. How to cope with small children aboard, psychological impacts of not seeing land for extended periods, learning to sail, and all the while learning to deal with seasickness.
Today I’m talking to my wife who considered all these issues and more as we planned our life at sea. I’m going to start with some background. Welcome to the interview Lynley.
LYNLEY: Thank you.
LINDSAY: What drew you to the sea and what got you interested in the cruising lifestyle?
LYNLEY: Well really, I had very little experience with boats but being a Kiwi growing up, you’re never far from sea or water, so I had had some experience with small boats sailing in my early twenties on Wellington Harbour. I really didn’t become interested in that lifestyle until I met you Lindsay.
What really attracted me was not so much the sailing, but rather the type of lifestyle, the self-sufficient style that cruising will provide you. I had been overseas and traveled doing my “Kiwi OE” as they say, and I’d been a backpacker. I took a year of traveling but I got very homesick, so the idea of traveling with your home was a really appealing idea to me.
LINDSAY: Yeah, it is certainly one of the benefits of cruising on a yacht.
What did you do to begin the transition to the cruising life that we started?
LYNLEY: Well there were two main areas that we really had to address straight up. One was the fact I had a lack of practical sailing experience and experience with boats in general. The other was sourcing an adequate boat for us. Both of those areas were really huge and ongoing for quite some time.
To deal with the first part – gain sailing experience, what I did was I went out as often as I could. I soon found that I really disliked the round the blue racing and sail boats. It was very tense and very, very stressful, and as I was a bit of a novice I didn’t like it at all. We did have a very old Moth which you owned when I first met you, and basically that taught me how to paint and how to varnish with marine paints and varnishes. But it didn’t teach me much else because as soon as we got it up and running, it broke. It wasn’t much help there.
Next when we bought the Captain’s Gig which is a twelve foot, we took that up estuaries and had some pretty good boating and sailing experiences. Just doing day stuff really and getting used to rigging up the boat and packing away at the end.
I think the next boat was a Laser which was too fast for my small frame. Is that the boat that we capsized?
LINDSAY: Yeah. Lasers are prone to that. They capsize pretty readily. We used to take it camping with us. We had a Laser and a Captain’s Gig when we went camping in the tent and up the coast a bit.
LYNLEY: As far as qualifications went, I did do some courses. I did do a yacht master day sailing certificate and later on there was a coastal first-aid course that I did. That was really probably the sum total of our experience as we were transitioning to the cruising life.
We did go out with some of our friends who owned larger boats. So there was a little bit of overnight cruising involved there and a few overnight races that we did together, which wasn’t so fraught as the road the bouy day races that were quite a few…You could easily get hold of them and get involved in them through various yacht clubs, but I sort of stayed away from that.
While we were doing all that, we were also out looking for that dream boat of ours. The sourcing of the adequate yacht. What we did was we made a list of what we wanted and realised that to achieve that, that boat never really existed because I soon found out, and I remember talking to you about it, that all boating is about compromise. What we had to decide is what we could live with and what we could live without.
Really our priorities we nailed down after a lot of thinking were: We wanted to have a boat that had three separate living and sleeping areas. We needed to be living in confined quarters so we needed to be able to separate them out so that if people needed their own space and quiet time, that they could get it.
We needed proper head room for you Lindsay because you were over six foot and I didn’t want you to have to spend your life with a crooked neck and hunched over. It wasn’t such a problem for me because I’m quite short. And we had through research decided that a boat between forty-two and about forty-five foot would be about the ideal length for us to be able to handle two-handed. Looking around when we looked at any boat smaller than that, around the forty foot mark, we thought were a little bit too small for long-term living.
The other part on our wish list was that it needed to be a fairly safe bluewater cruiser. We did consider a catamaran and we were quite keen on that for awhile, but there really wasn’t a lot around in our price range. We did have a look at one that was overseas and was affordable, but didn’t really fit in with what we wanted.
All up it took us about two and a half years before we found Blue Heron.
LINDSAY: Yeah, and we’ve had that since 2000 so still own Blue Heron and she’s a fine sea boat. Like all boats though, needed a bit of maintenance and the story goes on.
I’ll move onto the next question – what helped you with the transition into cruising lifestyle?
LYNLEY: Well I think the biggest help we got was when we had the opportunity to sail to Tonga with friends of ours on their thirty-eight foot yacht. They were setting off for their world cruise and wanted to have an extra pair of hands or two, and this meant that I had a chance to experience what it was like to be at sea. That gave me the confidence in myself that I could cope with watches and living at sea, and that I would have a realistic expectation of what to expect. That changed a little bit because it’s always different when you’re in your own boat, but it was good to have that opportunity really early on, so that I did know what I was getting myself into.
The other thing I did was, apart from continually getting as much experience as I could, I did actually seek out and read everything and anything that I could lay my hands on about sailing or boating and living at sea. There was no such things as blog posts in those days, but there was on the internet through setsail.com, there was cruisers diaries. I avidly read those and waited for them to be updated. My favourite ones were usually about the stories of families and things that they experienced. Their schooling, seasickness, all those sorts of things that were on my mind.
I also read as many books as I could about sailing experiences. Especially from female sailors. I followed people like Kate Cottee on her first lady. There was a book “Taming of the Crew” which was a New Zealand book written by Michael Brown which was quite amusing. There was Clare Francis and Lin Pardey, and many, many more. Everything and anything I could find I read about cruising and how to prepare yourself.
We also met and talked to lots of people. What I generally found – there’s two types of responses to our ambitions of sailing on our boat. One of them was “You’re crazy. Why are you doing that” and that usually shut down the comments. And others who were really supportive. They gave me books or information, or introduced me to other people and generally really supported us in what we were trying to do.
Moving on board and living on the marina meant that we were lucky enough to meet many people who were either trying to do the same as us, or had similar goals, or people who actually had been out there and done it, or even those who were in the process of their world trip. We met lots of people from all walks of life who were of similar minds to us. It was kind of like a bit of a community, so it was very positive. Everyone shared knowledge and no one had big egos about what they did and what they knew being the best and only. Everybody was fairly realistic but encouraged each other by sharing all their experiences. Especially those people who had families. We all got together to help with mixing the children together and just getting to know and swap ideas and thoughts.
LINDSAY: We did have quite a long build up to moving on board, but once we did move on board and we’d decided on our boat, and we’d moved on, how did you feel once we’d decided on our boat and later moving on board?
LYNLEY: Well I remember thinking that we’d spent all this money on this boat so we might as well be living on her and gaining experience, rather than sitting in a house and paying mortgage or rent on a house. We had that boat sitting there. Also, from whatever research or people that we’d talked to, most people recommended that you had to know your boat really well and that that would be a key safety aspect. Being able to live on board her provided that opportunity. We certainly got to know all the ins and outs about the boat and where to put things. We were able to experiment around setting things up the way we wanted it to be, and remembering where things all were. It was a sensible move I think, looking back now and at the time, moving on board was really exciting. I remember when we first moved on we were all sitting down in the saloon having a lunch and we were thinking and talking about how we could’ve been anywhere in the world at the time. It was really exciting.
It was also liberating because we were able to get rid of stuff. That getting rid of stuff taught us that what was really important in life. Was it the importance of things, or the importance of experiences. We also learnt that safety gear came first which meant that other things needed to be sacrificed. We couldn’t have anything particularly flash. We would go for the one that was the safest. I remember you saying to me how much you really enjoyed it as we moved aboard and we managed to take keys off our rings. We had such a more simple life to lead without all those keys and things that weren’t so important getting in our way.
LINDSAY: Yeah, I remember that. Gradually, as we got closer to our departure day the key got down to just one. It was definitely simple.
Okay, so you talked about money. Everyone needs money in this world. How did you feel about the costs of life at sea in relation to your income and how did this affect the choices that you made?
LYNLEY: Well, before we left I learnt quickly that I really needed to listen to you when it came to what to buy for the boat. For example, when we were planning the refit before we left, I didn’t believe that some of the things we were buying were actually worth it. Like, I didn’t think it was worth replacing the anchor winch. The one that was there was fine, it served the boat well. The boat had been all over the world and it was still fine, so I couldn’t see that there was any need to replace it. Yeah, it was a bit tricky. Did have a few quirks in it, but I didn’t think we really needed to spend the cost of a car in replacing it.
Well, when we dragged anchor during a storm in a crowded bay, you woke me in the middle of the night to say we had to move and the winching system required three people. Lindsay was at the helm, me in the bow and as the chain sometimes jammed at the capstan, and we needed someone inside the chain locker to make sure the chain lay flat and did not pile up. If it did that it would stop the flow and jam the system. So when we dragged anchor in the middle of the night, we had to wake up Hamish, who was about, just around five years old. He was woken from a deep sleep and I had to get him to 13MINS16XXXX(flag) the chain down below. It was really dark and the wind was really howling. You told me the speed of the wind was off the analogue wind gauge. It was really up there.
There was boats around us all clanging and we couldn’t see anything. They could’ve been dragging too, so it was a bit of a nerve-wracking experience. The boat was getting shoved around by the wind and we knew that we didn’t have much water below us. So Hamish was really frightened and there was no way he wanted to help. He was too scared, but I gave him no choice and told him that he had to do it. I was really proud of him for helping, and of course, what happened was the winch jammed half-way up.
As soon as we got settled down afterwards, I said to you, I remember saying, “Right, let’s go and buy that new winch.” Being on a very limited income really impacted on our choices a lot. We made some mistakes by not sticking to our plans and we had found that there was a few unexpected costs which we couldn’t plan for better. Money was always an issue and it always evolved around safety.
LINDSAY: What would be your ideal income source and how would that work to support the ideal life at sea?
LYNLEY: Well, when we were out traveling, we met lots of people who were on pensions and it was just about the same time as the global financial crisis came along. Those people had to pack up and go back to work in the States, so that was a bit of an issue for them. Those who seemed to be successful had a good mix. They’d rented out their houses like us – some of them. Usually one spouse was able to find ongoing work as a nurse, or could’ve been like me doing some teaching. The other spouse would usually be able to go and do peace work or some kind of delivery type work for a short term. They earned chunks of money.
Working was an issue even when it was legal though. For me to work in Australia took a lot of paperwork. I sent off about ten pages of information before I left, and that still wasn’t enough. During our trip we had to stop off somewhere and send some more. Then when I got to Australia there was another, about fifteen pages worth of information that I had to provide. It was not as easy as it sounded and I guess the ideal would be to have as many different income streams as possible, because there’s always those unforeseen circumstances. That definitely needs careful planning.
LINDSAY: Yeah, I would agree with that and in fact that’s one of my missions. To fix that problem and try and get a few other income streams happening.
We were both working in demanding jobs, had young children and we were planning this trip, how did you structure your life?
LYNLEY: Well you were actually traveling a bit so we certainly had to communicate well. We had to understand what our priorities were even as they changed, when time moved along. We had lots of plans. Lots of lists and lots of goals. Generally you were responsible for the outfit of the boat and for training me. I was responsible for food, for the storage, the varnishing, painting and some minor cosmetic work. We had routines set up, one of them in particular was for, as I mentioned, for anchoring which as Hamish grew up he ended up becoming a part of that.
At sea some of my roles included feeding the crew and educating the children. Before we left, I had to be able to retrieve people through man overboard drills, I had to be able to do all the engine checks, I needed to be able to sail to an anchorage and operate radios. As well as all the medical side of things as well.
We also did a safety sea course, which the whole family was involved with. One weekend we had to go along and jump into a lifeboat and they simulated storm conditions in a local wave pool.
LINDSAY: Yeah, that was a lot of fun. I remember the kids were really small and we had kids off another boat. The waves were leaping around in this pool and the kids were really brave. They jumped in, they held their life jacket and held their nose and the kids managed to right the life raft all by themselves, without any help, which surprised me. I didn’t think they’d be able to do that, but geez ….
LYNLEY: It was a really good experience for all of us actually to see how our life jackets worked, what it was like to swim with life jackets on that were inflated, climbing in and out of the life raft, what it was like inside the life raft is being tossed around. That was a really good experience that.
LINDSAY: Yeah, it’s good if you can get into something like that. It’s something that you hope you never have to do, but nice if you only have to do it for the first time in an emergency situation.
This is a question on everybody’s lips – no pun intended. Tell us about your experience with seasickness. How did you deal with it and did you actually get seasick?
LYNLEY: I think pretty much everyone gets seasick at some stage and it’s just really a matter of how much you let if affect you. Lindsay, you never seemed to get sick, but then you always were very busy and I think that’s how you dealt with it and you kept yourself so busy and thinking, and working with the boat that it didn’t really become an issue for you.
LINDSAY: I quite often felt sick but I just didn’t acknowledge it.
LYNLEY: Well I found that i was always crook for the first two days. I kind of knew that was going to happen and it meant that for me, tablets worked best for longer trips. We took Sea-legs which were just an off the counter and it was available from the chemist. If it was just a weekend sailing then I just used wristbands and coped as best as I could.
With the children, they always wore the wristbands and they weren’t so bad at seasickness, mainly because I think they were outside. For me, on short trips it was going down below and that would’ve been just to get food and things. On a shorter trip, seasick, we just had to manage it and cope as best as you can. With longer trips, knowing that it was only going to be a couple of days before I come right, is helpful. Sea-legs helped and being able to prepare for it. So, what I usually did was I would have food prepared, enough to get us through two-to-three days without cooking. On the longer trips I had our freezer full of easy to get out meals and easy to prepare meals. It was mostly just frozen casseroles and things like that which were fairly wholesome, full of everything we needed and quite filling. That seemed to work quite well.
Another idea that we had which was really yours Lindsay, you bought home about three or four little plastic paint buckets that had lids on them, so that when we went on our bigger trips and the inevitable happened, these little buckets with their lids on were very easy to clean out and keep the boat from smelling too much. They were very helpful.
LINDSAY: I’ll always remember the kids on their first day out, when we left on the back edge of a pretty active front and they were lying in the saloon – Hamish on the floor, Kate in the lowest bunk, both with their heads in their buckets. I felt really sorry for them, but they never really got seasick again after that.
LYNLEY: I’ve got a picture somewhere of Kate falling asleep with her head in the bucket.
LINDSAY: Yeah that’s right.
LYNLEY: …Which was quite funny.
Things that helped was anything ginger. So we had ginger ale on board and ginger cake, and ginger nuts, and some of the meals had ginger in them. Dealing with the children was actually quite good on that trip. It kept me busy even though I was seasick, I was busy and more worried about them than me and we all came right after two days, so it wasn’t too much of a problem.
Once we tried some ginger seasick tablets. That was a natural remedy which I’d bought, and unfortunately the instructions weren’t very clear, so I wasn’t sure whether we were supposed to swallow them or chew them or what. We tried chewing them and they were really disgusting. Obviously we were meant to swallow them. They had the worst taste and they made most of us throw up again.
I know seasickness can be very debilitating – that means all you want to do is lie down. It’s very tiring. It’s like having the flu I guess. So really, it just pays to know how it’s going to affect you early on so you can plan to work around it. Most people I know do exactly that. I think the best thing about seasickness is try to find out what it’s going to do to you, so you can actually deal with it, because everyone’s different. For instance, I remember you sailed with a guy who had spent thirteen years building his own yacht, and when they went out on their boat his wife got so badly seasick that she ended up severely dehydrated and had to get off her boat at Hawaii and fly to the next destination.
LINDSAY: I think a lot of it was nerves though. She wasn’t very comfortable with the idea of being at sea and that seemed to make the whole situation worse. She never really recovered.
LYNLEY: I know, a lot of people have said to me “Oh how did you cope with the fact that you can’t see land”, not being able to see land for long periods of time. Really, what I found after being at sea for awhile was that I didn’t feel it was a problem at all not being able to see land because I felt actually safer being away from the coastline. The sea state and around the coast can be pretty yucky and there’s all sorts of hazards that are associated with land, like hidden rocks and other boats. I didn’t really have a problem and didn’t feel too stressed about being away from land.
LINDSAY: Okay, what were some of the worst memories that you’ve got from our cruising days?
LYNLEY: I think the story about when we dragged anchor would’ve been up there as one of the potential bad memories. I remember, I must admit that I was really proud of Hamish at that young age being able to get up in the dark, in amongst all that noise and flake out a chain.
The other one, I think the scariest time was when we were sailing at night and I was up on watch by myself. I was watching an electric storm on the horizon and we were passing it by and I remember thinking, “I’m glad we’re over here and that storm is over there.” It was quite pleasant sailing, but then probably about half an hour after I’d seen the last flash of lightning on the horizon, there was this tremendous bang and flash right – probably about one centimetre, it felt like one centimetre away from the mast. It felt like the boat actually leapt out of the water and shuddered, because it was such a close call, clap of thunder and lightning.
LINDSAY: I’d just gone to bed and you were on watch by yourself in the cockpit and we had a little bit of rain following us. I had my eyes closed and I still saw the flash and heard the bang from down below. It flashed through my eyelids, through the companionway. Massive great lightning bolt and thunder. It was a nasty one that, it was the worst I’ve ever seen too.
LYNLEY: Well I remember I could smell it and I kind of like froze there for a minute because I thought there was going to be another one, and it didn’t. That was the only one that we struck, but at the same time I was thinking, “That could’ve just hit us and completely blown us out of the water. Nobody would know, we were miles away from anywhere, we would’ve gone straight down to the bottom.” Oh what a shock it was.
In actual fact, I had actually read other stories about boats who have been hit by lightning, so it was kind of just a shock reaction and we had prepared. It did have the earthing system. What would’ve happened, I don’t know, but it didn’t affect us. That would’ve been probably the scariest time that we were away.
LINDSAY: It’s not all bad about there, so some of the best memories that you have?
LYNLEY: Oh gosh, there’s lots of those. They’re mostly related to family things and being just together as a family and going out there and doing it. There’s definitely a feeling of freedom and that’s a really lovely feeling. The boat sailing nicely on the water and heading somewhere new was just wonderful. Some of our family experiences were always involved with any visitations of whales and dolphins. We had books onboard that let the children be able to decide which types of dolphins they were, or which types of whales, or what kind of birds that we were seeing.
I think probably the outstanding moment in our time would’ve been when we were on the Great Mercury Islands – just off the coast of New Zealand when friends of ours woke us up and told us there were some dolphins in the bay that we were anchored in. We all got up and got into the boat and ended up with Lindsay – you and Kate swimming amongst this huge pod, about fifty plus dolphins with their little babies, having a play in the bay. They were doing things like throwing seaweed away. It almost looked like a netball game. Hamish and I were rowing around in amongst them and they were coming up looking at us. It was just really special.
LINDSAY: I plugged up and they were throwing that piece of stalk seaweed around and one of them got bored with it, so he chucked it up on the rocks. That was the end of that game.
LYNLEY: I thought he was just scoring a goal.
LINDSAY: Oh maybe.
LYNLEY: One of the other ones was when we were in Fiji and we went swimming with those giant manta-rays. It was just awesome experience. Some of the land visits that we did when we were in the islands visiting villages in Vanuatu. It was a really good experience. Hamish remembers playing cricket with some of the locals. I don’t know whether or not they had proper bats and balls, but he still had a lot of fun with them.
LINDSAY: Yeah, I remember a soccer ball getting kicked around at one stage. That seemed like, it was one of two people started and then next thing you know the whole village is playing virtually. It was quite a big event. I think we lost.
Finally, what’s it really like on the sea from your perspective, living on the sea for extended periods, what’s it like?
LYNLEY: There’s always a destination so it meant that we were always going somewhere new and exciting. I think really what stands out was that feeling of freedom, to be able to go wherever you felt like going, as long as you’ve got the time to do that – so that you can pick and choose your weather windows. Being at sea was quite a safe feeling. If you have done your homework and chosen your best weather windows, just getting out there and doing it. There’s no worry for me about being at sea. I wasn’t worried about hitting rocks or other ships, because we were keeping our watches and though we’re still managing to be fairly relaxed about it.
As I said, I loved having my own home with me, so that when we actually did arrive at our destination after a longer trip, it didn’t take very long for us to recover. We were at our own home and we were at anchor, and we could do what we wanted to do.
LINDSAY: The world’s a big place, that’s for sure.
Okay if you could wave a magic wand and start again today, in today’s environment, knowing what you know now, what would you do different to maximise your enjoyment at sea?
LYNLEY: Probably take more books. Today I think the internet is much more accessible so blogs – I did keep a blog but it wasn’t easy to upload things onto it. Nowadays blogs are much easier to post, so I’d be looking at that. Any other way to keep those income streams active. I think really getting your income sorted before you go is important. Though, most people will tell you that you’re never going to have enough money to go cruising and that’s definitely true. There’s always more you can spend it on. You do need to have enough to be able to get yourself out of trouble. Some of the things we had on the boat may have not been quite as necessary, and we could’ve probably not had them. We could’ve done some things different, like now I think was the water maker really necessary, I don’t know.
LINDSAY: Having an income while you’re traveling is important. Some sort of automated income that you get when you’re away. And that’s just good investing or having something that you can sell online, you can set up in an automatic process. Yeah, I agree with that.
Is there anything more you can offer the listeners to help them get started, gain momentum and realise their hopes and dreams of living the life on the sea and becoming a competent marina?
LYNLEY: Well it was just a really amazing experience. I would recommend it to those who aspire to do it. If you think that you’d like to do it, and you can prepare yourself well, it’s great. As the least competent crew member – which I certainly was, being prepared and being able to trust your partner were the keys to it. I certainly had a lot of faith in your sailing ability Lindsay, and your ability to tell me how to do it. How to pass on that knowledge, so that we had some really good experiences. We built on that and were able to make our journey successful. If you trust each other that way, then you should just go for it.
LINDSAY: Yeah, a lot of that trust comes from just spending the time to practice things like the man overboard drills, and just sharing knowledge and practicing things – you know, learning knots, all that pretty basic stuff.
Very good. Thank you very much for going cruising with me. Not everybody does and we did have a good time and our kids got a good, solid foundation in life. Now Hamish is out on super yachts in the Caribbean and seems to be really enjoying himself. I wish he’d tell us more about that, but it’s his life now I guess. Who knows where it will lead for your kids if you do get away sailing.
LYNLEY: I think that probably Hamish got the most out of the trip of the two children. It was really his ideal lifestyle. When we were in the islands, his general day went something like – get up in the morning, throw yourself in the water and go for a swim, have your breakfast, do some of that horrible paperwork called school work. Then have lunch, out on the boats rowing around visiting friends, exploring places, swimming, eating and bed.
LINDSAY: That’s not quite how I remembered it. It was more like – get up, get in the dinghy and get out of there before school work was required. If we could catch him before that day, then you could pin him down and get some schoolwork done.
LYNLEY: The rule was you couldn’t go out in the afternoon if he hadn’t done his schoolwork. He did the barest minimum he could get before he could get away.
LINDSAY: Yeah, he wasn’t very good at correspondence. As opposed to Kate however who would get up and she’d get stuck into it and by ten o’clock all her school work was done. She had the rest of the day to do what she wanted. It was quite interesting the contrast between the two.
LYNLEY: That’s true.
LINDSAY: But anyway, they both came out alright.
Who knows, we might get out there again and do some more. Kids are starting to leave home now. More adventures to come I’m sure.
Thank you very much for the interview and we hope that by asking questions like this, it’s helped you guys planning on going out and living a cruising lifestyle with young kids, to avoid some of the pitfalls we did. Happy cruising!
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