Newly Salted Interview

When Scott proposed that we quit our jobs and go cruising, the site, Interview With A Cruiser, was an invaluable resource to both of us to understand the realities of cruising and to glean lessons learned from those who’ve done it (and, the previous owners of our boat were interviewed back in 2012).  Livia, who founded the Interview With A Cruiser project, also created Newly Salted, so when she reached out to us asking if we’d be interested in an interview, of course we said yes! Below is our interview.

Juniper at Bahia Coyote.

Juniper at 31 months

About Us

We’re Viviane and Scott. We’re in our mid-forties and we left San Francisco and our jobs in November 2015 to go cruising aboard Juniper, a 1999 Pacific Seacraft 40. We’ve sailed down to Mexico, where we’ve chosen to spend a few seasons exploring the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Mexico. We have some idea where we want to go next, but our long-term plans have yet to be determined. We’ve been blogging about our adventures on sailingjuniper.com.

At anchor in La Cruz

What (if anything) do you wish someone had told you before you started cruising?

Viv: That you don’t have to circumnavigate. The previous owners of our boat circumnavigated, I read a lot of blogs, read Interview with a Cruiser, and I thought circumnavigation was just what cruisers do. It’s certainly what our friends and family thought we had in mind when we told them what we were doing and it’s also what strangers assume is our long-term plan. However, it’s not what we’re planning.

Scott: When we left San Francisco, all we were committed to was sailing to Mexico and evaluating our next steps from there. It’s likely we’ll sail to the South Pacific, but planning to sail around the world is not our goal. It seems obvious, but there are a bunch of cruisers who don’t circumnavigate. It’s just not what books and popular blogs are about.

What do you enjoy about cruising that you didn’t expect to enjoy?

Viv: I discovered that I love passages. I love night watches and watching the moon rise, catching shooting stars. I love early mornings and watching the sunrise. I love being alone in the cockpit and observing marine life around the boat. It find it meditative and rejuvenating. I can’t get enough of it.

Is there something you wish you had bought or installed before starting out?

We would love to have more solar. Juniper came with two well-worn 80W solar panels. On a good day we might see 8 amps coming for a few hours which, with our refrigeration issues discussed below, means we’ve had to run our engine every day at anchor to top off our batteries. We’ve just replaced these with two 150W panels which should help and we’ll be looking to add more soon.

What do you dislike about cruising that surprised you?

We dislike going into marinas. At first, we disliked it because our boat is hard to back out of a slip, and we had too much stress and anxiety around it, but now we dislike marinas because it’s so easy to get stuck there. Projects start, we get comfortable, and next thing you know we’ve been there for a month. No bueno!

What mistakes did you make as you started cruising?

Viv: Buying and bringing a lot of provisions. It’s important to bring items that are your favorites and that are difficult to find where you’re going, but there’s no reason to go overboard on staples. Even within Mexico, I was over-provisioning as if I would never find rice or refried beans in the next town. I learned to provision for where we’re going for the next month or two, to have extra in case of emergency, and to stop hoarding food.

Scott: Not enough SF Bay Area cruising before we cast off the lines for good. We took Juniper out for day sails often in the years we had her in San Francisco but we always found our way back to our marina at the end of the day. We should have spent more time doing short cruises to the delta, Tomales Bay, etc., to practice our anchoring skills and test out the boat systems that you depend on at anchor. We learned the hard way that many of these systems don’t like to work when they’ve been unused for an extended period.

While cruising, what do you do about health & boat insurance, medical issues, banking and mail delivery?

Health insurance is by far our biggest monthly expense. We’re using our U.S. insurance via the Marketplace and while we’re healthy and would rather self-insure, we’re afraid of letting our U.S. insurance lapse due to the ambiguities surrounding pre-existing conditions, deductibles, and our current administration’s stance on healthcare. We are still trying to figure this one out.

Our mail is being handled by SBI. While our bills are paperless, we still receive paper mail and packages. In addition to receiving all our mail and forwarding packages, they have a service where they will scan our mail and share it with us online.  They also helped us establish residency in the state of Florida. We’re very happy with them.

What is the most difficult aspect of the cruising lifestyle?

Saying goodbye. We’ve met some truly fantastic people who were on different journeys and it’s tough to bond with someone and then have them set sail to French Polynesia or finish cruising! It’s especially hard because we seldom meet cruisers who are around our age and we’re so excited when we do! Thankfully, there’s Facebook and Instagram to keep in touch, but it’s bittersweet.

What are some of your favorite pieces of gear on your boat and why?

Fans. It gets incredibly hot in the Sea of Cortez during the summer and we were really physically uncomfortable our first year. We have several small Hella fans stationed around the boat, but it’s not enough. We recently added a few 12-volt Caframo fans we can clip anywhere, either in our cockpit or down below when the breezes go away, and they really help keep us cool.

Sam needed as many fans as he could get in the Baja summer heat.

What piece of gear seems to break the most often?

Viv: Our refrigeration unit. We haven’t had a proper working freezer since leaving San Francisco. It’s a holding plate system that never gets quite down to freezing even though the compressor runs constantly. It’s frustrating as we’ve been troubleshooting it for 3 years now and it’s forced us to provision differently. We eat mostly vegetarian on the boat, but with our refrigeration woes, I’ve had to get very creative in how we provision and how we eat. While I would rather have a working freezer, I love working within constraints and enjoyed meal planning without refrigeration.

Scott: The refrigeration issues have had the most impact, but we’ve also had a stream of problems with our electronics. The system has spent most of the past decade in the tropics and the wiring is starting to show its age. There’s nothing quite like the adrenaline you feel as you enter an unfamiliar anchorage and your depth sounder and chart plotter stop working! We’re planning on upgrading the system, wiring and all, in the next year.

How would you recommend that someone prepares to cruise?

Be prepared for things to not go as planned. Because if things unexpectedly come to a complete stop, sometimes for a lot longer than you expect, having a good perspective on your situation will make a difference.  We’ve been in a marina in small Mexican town for six months now.  And it’s not because of a lack of preparation or prevention. Sometimes things go wrong all at once. While we have an amazing and trustworthy boat that we carefully maintain along with carrying an overabundance of spares, Juniper is 19 years old and unexpected things need to be replaced and random things break and sometimes they happen in rapid succession. We also had relatives get sick and pass away that required one of us to leave the boat and go home for months. We had our beloved sailing kitty, Sam, get sick and eventually pass away, and we stayed put because there was a vet nearby while we managed his care. None of the things we experienced in 2018 could have been predicted and they really threw us for a loop. Going with the flow and making mental adjustments helps us not be miserable.

What is a tip or a trick you have picked up along the way?

We love our preventer setup. It was important for us to have something that ran from the end of the boom to the bow, was always set up, but didn’t have lines getting in the way when the preventer wasn’t in use. We ended up with something very similar to what’s rigged on Morgan’s Cloud. It’s basically a two part system, with a length of Dyneema running from a padeye at the end of the boom to a cleat near the gooseneck. We then have about 70 feet of Sta-Set running inboard from the cockpit to a block at the bow, then outboard and tied to a stantion. When we want to deploy it we just go up on deck, tie the outboard end of the the line to the end of the Dyneema that’s stored at the gooseneck and we’re all done. Takes about 1 minute.

Preventer detail on run into San Evaristo.

New Solar Panels

Power management on a cruising sailboat is a pretty important and sometimes frustrating topic. Since purchasing Juniper we’ve done what we can to reduce our energy usage (e.g. replaced all cabin lighting with LED, etc), but our primary issue has been generating enough power to replenish our batteries each night. We have a wind generator that is fantastic when there’s > 15 knots of wind. The problem is that there’s very little wind here in Baja and Pacific Mexico.

That takes us to solar which should be great since we do have tons and tons of sunlight. Juniper came with two well-used 80 watt solar panels, and that’s not nearly enough. At anchor, we usually have to run the engine at least an hour each day to make enough power.

With Viv flying back to the states for a month earlier this year and Sam being sick, we knew we’d be in La Cruz for a while.  We decided it would be a good time to upgrade our solar. Ordering the panels out of Querétaro City, refurbishing the wiring, and getting the solar panel mounts made and installed took a lot longer than we wanted it to, but we’re really happy with the outcome. We now have a total of 300 watts of solar, which still isn’t enough to support our electricity needs should really help.

Sail to San Evaristo and Ensenada El Cardonal

After having an amazing time in San Marte, it was time to move on and sail towards San Evaristo. We had a fantastic sail, sailing wing-on-wing most of the way there.

Scott pointing at the telltales.

Approaching San Evaristo

Sunset in San Evaristo

San Evaristo at sunrise

We only spent a day in San Evaristo as the town seemed to be completely empty. Both the restaurant and the tienda were closed. We woke up early and headed to Ensenada El Cardonal in Isla Partida.

Ensenada El Cardonal is a gigantic anchorage, one that seems to go on forever. We arrived to find one other boat there but they left early the next morning. We found ourselves in the position of being the only boat around and we breathed a sigh and soaked it in. We took the dinghy and explored and tried to snorkel, but were unable to anchor anywhere around the reef as it was too deep. Then when we got back we swam around the boat and lazed around. We saw a dorado chase a fish, leaping out of the water several times. Then watched as a sea turtle swam by our boat. We enjoyed our last bottle of wine and relaxed in this beautiful place. In the evening, we were privileged to watch the moon rise between the two hills that separate the west side of Isla Partida from the east.

Ensenada El Cardonal

Moonrise in Ensenada El Cardonal

Next stop, La Paz where we’ll fix our refrigeration!

One year ago: Finally moving – Half Moon Bay

Season 1 Photo Wrap-Up

These photos were taken during our first season cruising from San Francisco to Baja, September 2015 to September 2016.

Finally moving – Half Moon Bay

We spent the past two weeks staying at Marina Village Yacht Harbor in Alameda to finish up the last of our boat tasks: headsail repair, life raft service, getting a new dinghy, etc. The list of things to do never ends and at some point you just have to go.

We were at this point by early November but decided to hold out for better weather, especially since our first leg was meant to double as a shake-down cruise.
Leaving San FranciscoAfter patiently waiting for nice weather we finally checked out of Alameda and made our final passing underneath the Golden Gate Bridge on the morning of November 18. The forecast called for 5-15 knot winds and 6-8 foot swell. We motor-sailed all the way to the R2 SF shipping channel buoy so we’d avoid having to go over the SF bar.

The forecast held up pretty much except for a brief period of 20+ knot winds as we rounded R2 and headed south. We also ran into the marine layer and stuck with it most of the way to Half Moon Bay. We had about half a mile of visibility which gave us the excuse to play with our radar, looking for buoys that were on the chart, etc. The swell was right on our bow until we passed R2, then it was on our starboard beam for another two hours before we passed Colorado Reef and changed to a SE course. About that time the fog lifted and we had a really nice sail into the harbor with the swell on our stern.

Viviane got a little seasick, but nothing close to what Sam (our cat) experienced. He started throwing up as soon as we left our slip in Alameda and was having a horrible time all trip. The v-berth up in the bow is the most uncomfortable place to be on a boat underway yet that was Sam’s go-to spot. He didn’t want to leave for any reason, including bathroom breaks, so let’s just say we had to take all of our bedding down to the harbor laundry room as soon as we got in.

We had intended on anchoring in the outer harbor. After surveying for a good spot Viviane went up to the bow to drop the anchor. The windlass didn’t work which isn’t a good thing. We haven’t used the anchor for a while but this was still a surprising discovery. While we motored around buying time to call into the harbor for a slip and set up the fender and dock lines the wind started to build. By the time we went into the inner harbor to get to our slip it was blowing a solid 15 knots with gusts over 20 right on our port side. This made getting into our slip very difficult. Fortunately we were able to get in with minimal boat rash on our third attempt.

We expected to stay just one or maybe two nights in Half Moon Bay. It turned into four as we worked on our anchoring gear, cleaned up after Sam’s explosion, ran on a few errands, and met up with friends who live in the area. It’s a beautiful area and I wish we had more time to really enjoy it, but sometimes tasks just need to be done.

There’s some bad weather expected in a few days so we decided to get up at 5am for an early departure to Santa Cruz, about 7 hours away.