When poeple think about life on a sailing boat, their first question is usually: “What do you do all day?” Lacking an answer, most of them imagine a laid back life of sailing and luxury that almost appears to be boring. Nothing could be further from the truth.
From Raja Ampat to Palau
I wouldn’t exactly consider myself a well-versed and highly experienced sailor, or cruiser as boat people often call themselves, but two weeks and 700 nautical miles across the pacific on a 44 foot catamaran did provide a very good taste of life on a sailing yacht.
Our route started from Sorong in West-Papua, the eastern and southern most province of Indonesia. Sorong is the capital and central hub of an area also known as Raja Ampat, a recently emerging and highly celebrated destination for diving. Situated in the centre of the so called “coral triangle”, it boosts a marine biodiversity that is hardly matched by any other place on this planet. The beauty and abundance of life falls nothing short of breathtaking.
However, the harbour of Sorong itself, is rather dirty and depressing – a great example of human ignorance to environmental protection and uncontrolled growth. For this reason, we kept the time of provisioning and preparations as short as possible. In three days we bought and organised everything from noodle soups to immigration, and were very glad to finally leave.
Maintaining a yacht
From Sorong the route went along the eastern coast of Weigeo, the largest island of the archipelago of Raja Ampat. The name is Papuan and means “four kings” and Weigeo being the largest of them. Already during the first days there was a lot of work to be done on the boat. Opposite to common believe, life on a boat does not mostly consist of relaxation and boredom, but maintenance. The amount of time, money and work that needs to be spent to keep a boat up (or afloat, for that matter) and running, is immense and caught me by surprise.
Consequentially, our first station and task was to beach the catamaran and overhaul its hulls and do maintenance on the propellers and other usually submerged parts on the outside.
However beaching a yacht is rather exceptional. The bulk of maintenance on a yacht is part of the crew’s daily routine. Before every start of the engines, for example, oil levels, tubes and fittings are checked for leaks and shortages of material. Moreover, every crew member is urged to keep a watchful eye on the entire equipment of the boat, be it ropes, clamps, toilettes, or simply dirt that needs to be cleaned up.
At the same time, you must consider water, energy and fuel supply, which all need to be cautiously gauged to not run out and into trouble. A shortage of drinking water can be life threatening, especially if you’re lacking a desalination plant. The latter, did exist on the “Soggy Paws” but wasn’t yet functioning and still had to be tested. The installation of such a device takes weeks and a whole lot of knowledge, unless you’re willing to pay somebody else to do it for you. On the other hand, being a cruiser, it is always favourable to be able to do everything by yourself rather than to rely on the expertise of technicians. This is especially important with regard to safety, as equipment usually fails you in the worst of moments in the middle of the ocean. For the same reason, it is of utmost importance to keep a well stocked supply of spare parts. But of course it also conserves your financial resources, if you can do it yourself.
Sailing a yacht
The actual manoeuvring of the boat, the sailing and navigation part, is surprisingly dull. The route is usually prepared the previous day and includes a number of considerations, such as weather, currents and of course wind speed. The wide spectrum of factors that need to be taken into account, make navigation such a difficult and important task that in our case was done by Sherry. Her vast experience in yacht race sailing made her the perfect navigator.
However, once the plan is laid out, the actual sailing resembles the simple task of following a line on a digital navigation aid. Especially as long as the auto-pilot is steering, this becomes a task as easy as sleeping… whereby, sleeping is the only thing you are not allowed to do.
Because supervising a nautical auto-pilot is exceptionally simple, you are free to do everything else. Unless of course you suffer from sea sickness, there are many things one can do on a boat. Starting with useful maintenance work (e.g. the desalination plant), over reading, writing, fishing, sunbathing (careful, dangerous and painful) and of course sleeping (best for those people that get sea sick), there is always something to do. Personally, I never felt bored on the Soggy Paws.
The interior of a 44-foot catamaran
Compared to mono hulls (“normal” yachts), catamarans have the major benefit of increased space. A normal catamaran has about 40% more storage capacity than a mono hull of the same length. The Soggy Paws featured four toilettes, four bed rooms, a pantry, a mix between library and workshop and of course a spacious living room, or saloon. The latter had a door to the head, the pilots area with the steering wheel, and additional sitting area, similar to a terrace, where we usually had our breakfast, lunch and dinners. The remainder of such a boat is the vast top deck area, on top of the saloon and the two hulls. Additionally, the hulls are connected with a trampoline that offer even more space.
Nevertheless, even on such a spacious boat, life can get difficult when you need some privacy. Retreating to your bunk is pretty much the only possibility you have. Any other area is accessible to everyone. Therefore, I consider your personal ability to find peace in yourself of major importance. But as mentioned earlier and with regard to the limited amount of stimuli, you need the ability to keep yourself busy with very little anyway. I read 5 books in two weeks!
The daily routine
Days on a sailing boat start rather early, around 6am. This is simply in order to keep some spare time, in case the wind doesn’t develop as predicted and planned. Before any breakfast, the first task is always to get the boat moving, unless you stay anchored of course. Once the boat is sailing, every crew member gets his bowl of oat flakes with bananas and/or cereals. The rest of a sailing day is keeping yourself busy.
Lunch usually consisted of highly sophisticated sandwiches, with pre-boiled and stripped pieces of chicken, fresh lettuce and a variety of sauces. Or, later on this trip when we slowly ran out of bread, just as sophisticated preparations of noodle soups.
The afternoon again, is spend on keeping yourself busy and maintaining the boat, which of course also includes the crew. A good part of this time is thus spent on dinner preparations. Depending on your stock, anything from fresh fish, over vegetables, to dried noodles, is possible. The kitchen was run with a gas stove that even featured an oven and a very well sorted supply of herbs and spices.
Dinner preparations are therefore a nice option to keep yourself occupied and helpful at the same time.
Once we reached our destination, we anchored, showered and usually had dinner quickly there after. However, the most anticipated part of the day, was always the sundowner. A fresh brew on the top deck and insight of a most spectacular display of clouds and sun rays. How could anyone ever get bored of that… 🙂