#62 - Dabbling in a Different League

Lifestyles Aboard Three Big Boats

It has come as a bit of shock to Don and me that our style of cruising aboard Tackless II might rank as rather middle class these days. When I do Women and Cruising boat-show seminars and stand with Pam Wall and Kathy Parsons, Pam has always represented older-style, purist cruising, Kathy a middle ground, and I the relatively cushy, gadgety way.

But these days it seems there is an increasingly sizable “upper class” of cruising, folks who’ve sunk a lot of money into really nice boats, state-of-the-art equipment, and lots of little luxuries. I’m not talking about the mega-yacht circle, the ones with professional crews, but folks who are making the same course and weather decisions, pulling the same lines and changing the same oil as the rest of us, just doing so with more comfort and élan…and electric winches!

Being dropped in as guest crew aboard three different big boats in a rally like Sail Indonesia has given us an unusual opportunity to compare styles — snapshots though they may be. First was Quantum Leap — the 50′ St. Francis catamaran I wrote about last month — American flagged and sailed by Tom and Bette, retired medical professionals from “Sweet Home Alabama” (as Tom likes to say). Second was Dedalus a 60′ power cat, custom-built in Chile for George and Melinda, her Euro-based owners. And third was the elegant Australian-built 57′ Perry Prestige cat Ivory Street, home to Kiwis Greg, Christine and 12-year-old Michael.

Our being on three big catamarans was self-selected by being boats that had space for us (and owners willing to invite us!), but, of 104 boats in the rally, twenty-five were over 50′. That’s nearly 25%! Only twenty-two were under forty feet, and even three of those were cats and one a trawler.

I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t confess that when invited to sail aboard Quantum Leap, a boat we considered big and luxurious, we’d been giddily tickled. Who would’ve thought she’d be the smallest boat we’d sail on!?

Quantum Leap in Komodo

Tom and Bette, veterans of three boats and nearly 40 years of sailing together, bring a southern graciousness to their cruising style, always ready to help others with parts or medical counsel or to invite new acquaintances over for cocktails. The boat is attentively decorated with items collected in their lifetime of travel, and Bette provisions for the apocalypse. The galley is crammed full with microwave, Vitamix blender, Soda Stream, spices and condiments, a full line of pots and silicone bakeware, plus nice china, glassware and tableware. They mostly serve sit-down meals, preceded by a quick grace. They have a spinner, but — egad! — laundry is hand-washed in the tub.

Quantum Leap’s inside nav station

Technologically, they have a chartplotter at the helm, but separate radar and AIS units inside, alongside an SSB, Iridium and two computers for weather, back-up navigation, email and Skype with grandchildren.

However they’re notorious for failing to listen to SSB Nets or having their VHF loud enough to hear. They had paper charts aboard, but rarely referenced them, yet planned from both applicable cruising guides (such as they are!) and material from internet travel blogs by former rally participants.

Raymarine’s emergency MOB alert wristband

They were casual about logging and using jack lines, but rigorous about watch-persons wearing a Raymarine MOB alarm wristband.

Above-deck, Tom is quick to get sail up, set a downwind pole, or accept an anchoring spot, while Bette Lee counterbalances him with more reflection — Is there too much wind for the full main? Is the wind steady enough from that quarter for the pole? Will we get sufficient breeze if we drop the hook here?

While it is Tom who checks engines and makes water, it was Bette who went up the mast to fix a steaming light and who diagnoses electrical problems.

We were aboard Dedalus with her owners for only one day’s voyage but yacht-sat the boat for a week, so our observations are less personal but still insightful.

Dedalus at Gili Aer

With no previous sailing background, Melinda met George in the midst of his building Dedalus, so plunged into bringing herself up to speed. They imported a woman 1600 Ton captain from the US for the dual role of overseeing electronics installation and teaching Melinda in particular how to be a good mariner.

Melinda on watch

As a result, Melinda is exacting and by the book. Every gauge, dial, screen or data resource is at the inside steering station: on, interfaced and duplicated.

Meticulous logs are kept — current, tide and weather references monitored, cruising guides tabbed with post-its — every switch is labelled, and a separate instrument keeps a 24-hour anchor watch.

George & Melinda with their engine and windlass remotes

George is just as precise in his engine room maintenance, and he left us pages of detailed instructions on every system.

My most lasting image of the two of them will be their standing on the foredeck, heads down over remotes for windlass and engine, push-buttoning the anchoring process!

Dedalus‘s decor is all wood and Euro black leather, with Panamanian molas the only souvenirs in sight.

Melinda’s galley is sleek and all-electric (including a dishwasher!), a common situation on power yachts, although underway there’s enough motion to make cooking on the infrared cooktop without gimbals dicey. Everything has a customized place, eg china in fitted drawers, and the fridge, freezer and pantry hold just what they’ll need for their careful diet for the season.

There’s a washer and drier aboard…and in a den a big flat screen TV!

For the last leg of the rally from Bali to Singapore we joined the McM- family on Ivory Street.

Ivory Street at Gili Aer

At a potluck aboard back in Darwin, Tom of Quantum Leap admitted rare “boat envy” of this sleek, new catamaran.

Ivory Street salon

It has an elegantly modern, yet practical cream and myrtle-wood decor, spacious accommodations, perfectly placed windows for peripheral sightlines and good ventilation and light, and a lovely cockpit.

The boat is equipped with Raytheon E series nav instruments at the outside helm, electronic controls for the engines and windlass, and a top notch sail suite with all control lines led to the cockpit. Nav data can repeat on flat-screen TVs inside, there’s a Bose stereo, an ice-maker in the bar, while out back there’s a 13′ dinghy w/ 30hp outboard and a dive compressor. Other domestic luxuries include a washer/drier, dishwasher, and even a pod espresso machine.

And yet, there’s a lean feeling about the boat: no wads of clothes, books, or stuff nor glut of provisioning or culinary indulgences. Generally they eat light and simply, and meal prep is sometimes make-your-own.

Interestingly, this beauty is Greg’s first boat. Greg is the calm, dry, determined characteristic Kiwi, self-educated in the waters of Australia and New Zealand on every detail and aspect of sailing and maintaining her. Chrissie and Michael enjoy the trip well enough, but they are here because Dad wants to be, and Greg essentially single hands the boat. We’re along simply to help with night watches for the busy approach to Singapore.

So here’s what we ask ourselves: have we merely stumbled fortuitously into a corner of cruising’s “Lifestyles of…”, or is this indicative of a seismic shift in what people expect of the cruising life? Despite the economy, I think it’s the latter, but perhaps these boats predate the downturn. Perhaps the cycle will turn again, and people who want to go badly enough will return to a simpler way. After all, there were those twenty-two boats under forty feet!

Either way, large or small, cushy or basic, we all share the same anchorages, winds, experiences, and beach bars, and, in the end, that is the democratic point of cruising!

This article was published in the January 2012 issue of Latitudes and Attitudes.

Related articles on this website
  • One Hull or Two? (Admiral’s Angle column #61)
    Two veteran monohullers make comparisons on a two-month catamaran cruise.
  • The Temptations and Realities of Size (Admiral’s Angle column #8):  Understanding some realities about boat size when determining what size boat to be shopping for.

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