Interview: Sailing Around the World in Just Under 3 1/2 Years
I recently had the pleasure to meet this guy named Tim.
Tim is a PhD from MIT and he’s been sailing around the world for almost three years. His boat’s name is Slick and they have had quite the adventure together.
Check out the interview below and then go read some of his stories on his website: hardlyanythingworks.com.
How long have you been cruising?
I have been cruising for 2 years and 11 months now. But I took about 5 months of that for backpacking.
I started in Boston and worked my way down the East coast. From Ft Lauderdale we crossed into the Bahamas and then down through the windward passage between Cuba and Haiti to Jamaica. From there we crossed to Panama via San Andreas, Columbia. We went though the Panama Canal and made our way to the Galapagos. From the Galapagos boats cross to the Marquesas, We landed in Hiva OA, this took us 19 days. We spent about two and a half months in French Polynesia before heading to Rarotonga, Niue, Tonga Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. At this point we crossed back across the equator to YAP (FSM), then to Palau, Philippines, Borneo and then Singapore. We transited up Malaysia through the Straights of Malacca to Phuket, Thailand. At this point I shipped the boat to Turkey thanks to the pirate problem off Somalia. While the boat was shipping I backpacked from Thailand to Turkey through South East Asia, China, Mongolia, Russia and Eastern Europe. I picked up the boat in Turkey and after a winter refit have been sailing across the Mediterranean Sea via Greece, Malta, Italy and Spain. I am now in Gibraltar preparing to cross the Atlantic.
Where do you plan on settling down when the cruising life is over?
This is a tough one. A lot of this has to do with where I find work. However, I have four key areas I am exploring, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco and Hong Kong.
There are so many places that are so amazing. So I will try to categorize this a bit.
In terms of culture I would say Vanuatu. These people are the happiest people on earth but are completely native. Their attitude towards cruisers is very welcoming and curious and they are more that excited to show you the natural wonders that each of their islands hold, including the incredible volcano Tanna.
If I think about the most beautiful place, I would have to say the Marquesas and French Polynesia in general. There are three different ages of volcanic islands there. The Marquesas are relatively young, jagged and with no reefs. They are lush and covered in jungle. After spending 19 days at sea, arriving here you realize you are in paradise. The Tuomotos are atolls, so very old volcanic islands, and inside the atoll it is absolutely peaceful, even if there is a storm raging just outside. Then there are the Society Islands, these are somewhere in between. The peaks are less rugged but they have fringing reefs that usually are not as substantial as the atolls. This gives the best combination and aside from Tahiti, the rest of the region is stunning. As a plus, the hula shows, waterfalls and fantastic diving help distract you from the honey-mooners everywhere.
For fishing, I think the Bahamas have the best pelagic fishing of anywhere I have visited. You throw a line in and almost immediately catch a dorado or a tuna. Hopefully it can be sustained this way, but over fishing is already destroying their conk and lobster population.
Finally for diving, I would have to say Palau. It is a world renowned destination but to visit on your own boat is a different feeling. The local dive shop (Sams) is very accommodating to cruisers and there is so much diversity in terms of coral, reef life, wrecks and pelagics that it never gets old.
One last place, that is different that anywhere else would be Niue. This is a tiny isalnd that is really just a large limestone outcrop off a volcano that never made it to the surface. The water clarity here is absolutely amazing, you have a hundred feet of visibility. On the Island itself there are strange sea/land interface features that I have not seen anywhere else. Combine this with a steady stream of humpback whales and spinner dolphins and the place is pretty incredible.
There are so many other places though, Fiji has a lot to offer, its incredibly diverse, the Philippines too. Borneo has some strange wildlife and large peaks to hike. Thailand has incredible food, even some places in the Med have been interesting. The most important thing is getting off the boat and enjoying what each place has to offer, after all, you worked very hard to get there.
Most harrowing moment?
I have had a few. In terms of something short lived I would say once in Fiji (in the Blue Lagoon of Brook Shields Fame) a 3am thunderstorm rolled in and turned the wind. It was 50 knots for about 20 minutes, dragging us onto a lee shore in a crowded anchorage. There was sea and ground striking lighting and driving rain so we couldn’t even see. We motored up as best we could on the anchor but we almost were aground on shore reef. We managed, somehow and thought all was good when the storm had passed. We awoke the next morning though to find ourselves nowhere near where we thought we were.
I have also had some bad passages, the worst being from PNG to Yap we ended up in a developing cyclone, despite our best efforts to avoid it. The wind was about 45 knots for 18 hours with 35 knots on either side of that for 18 hours. The waves were enormous. After we managed to get out of that, or rather, it left us alone, we entered the very narrow pass through the fringing reef of Yap at midnight on Christmas with 20 knots behind us and huge waves from the storm. In hindsight this was probably the riskiest and stupidest thing I did the entire trip. When we left during the day we realized just how narrow it was and how lucky we were to make it through.
Good question, I actually don’t know. I suppose it was an escapist idea after a divorce. The prior five years though my life was pretty crappy. Both my parents died in addition to the divorce and things were not going so well. I finished a PhD and saw all the life long careers out there awaiting me, and anything like this would have to wait till retirement. My parents both died young and this shocked me a bit. And it was then that I decided that I have to do what I want to do now, while I am young and can enjoy it, but also because there is no guarantee that I will be able to in the future. Time is the currency of life so do you want to trade it for money or experience?
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned since you’ve begun cruising that isn’t written down anywhere for other cruisers? Another way to ask; what would you pass on to someone else looking to sail long distances short-handed?
Hmm, there are so many things I would have done differently. Most of the books out there are for armchair sailors who only dream but never do. And many of the companies that specialize in outfitting don’t have people working there who have cruised long term, and most of the manufactures aren’t really interested in what is best for you but instead their bottom line. So don’t trust any of them, they all screwed me as I didn’t really know what I was doing. Trust other cruisers, but only ones who have really made the journey.
I guess the big things are power management (solar), crew comfort, fishing gear and good ground tackle. I also wouldn’t cross the ocean without a big asymmetrical spinnaker and some gear that allows you to handle it on your own. But I don’t know if this question was really about equipment.
I guess the number one thing I would recommend is to take a break once and awhile. I have been traveling basically non-stop for the entire time. I am pretty over it. It would be nice to just leave the boat for six months and go back “home” and just hang out, see friends, family, whatever.
As far as short-handed goes, make sure you are doing it with someone you can handle for a long time. I originally started with my friend from the sub-service. We are still great friends and he has come back, but after 9 months on a 40 foot boat together we were starting to get sick of each other. So its important in terms of friendship to take a break.
What are your plans post-cruising?
I will either find work or start my own company. It is 8 or 9 months away and it is really one of the most pressing things on my mind. After the freedom of this trip I may find it hard to go back to having a “boss” other than the weather. There is a chance I won’t adapt back to life on land. But I have to make the effort and I have a lot of insight to bring to the next phase of my life.
You go fucking nuts, every single-hander does.
How have you handled the financial burden of cruising?
I was pretty lucky in that my entire education was paid for, so I had quite a bit of money left over from the GI Bill and some investments, this has financed most of the trip. But there are some really big unforeseen costs that come in in terms of repairs and things like that. I think you can get the costs down, but you don’t want to do it by sacrificing the experience.
What does a typical day at anchor/dock look like for you?
I sleep in, unless I have something going early in the morning, like a hike or something. Everyday has something, one day is hiking, one is diving, one is boat maintenance and shopping and one is just rest.
How about a typical day at sea?
At sea, we run watches a little differently than other boats. So I will start the day at sundown for the explanation, since that is a time when everyone is awake. Every sundown at sea we play “Sundown” by Gordon Lightfoot and have a little light cocktail. We don’t drink underway as that is how accidents happen but this is our little treat to our livers. Anyway, at that point we have a discussion about the night, how tired we are, how much we rested during the day, and how long the first guy can stay up. One of us will usually take the watch till midnight, then the other guy wakes up for 3-4 hours, whatever was agreed upon. And then he wakes up the first guy and they take it for another set time. If the sun rises then whoever is on watch usually stays there awhile and sets up the fishing gear which was taken down just after dark. When he is tired he wakes the other guy and goes and takes a nap. Then we alternate naps throughout the day but spend most of the time with both people awake. Cooking duties are shared as cooking in a big sea can really suck.
Most boats have a set watch schedule, 4 on 4 off or something. We only set the watch schedule at night, I find that works best.
The first concern is the weather. In the tropics you should be always going down wind down current, so that isn’t too bad. But in the doldrums you have to make sure there aren’t lots of storms lurking around and that you have enough fuel and food. Then you have to worry about the place you are arriving, is it protected, can you enter at night if you have to, is the holding good, are the local friendly, will I have to clear into a new country, etc.
A skippers life is really just a long string of concerns.