Greetings all, and welcome to the first blog of the 2015 season!
I am typing this from on an airplane. Roberta and I just left Seattle on our way to our boat, Sans Souci, in San Remo Italy! (On the French-Italian border).
During the off season we had a large number of new people sign up for the blog. To spin them up to speed I’ll start by doing a quick recap of who we are and what our background is.
This will be boring for those of you who’ve been reading the blog for several years, so you may want to skip ahead.
What is KensBlog about?
First off, I should answer the question of, “What is this blog about?”
The quick answer to the question is that my goal with the blog is to educate others about the realities of world cruising. My assumption is that there are thousands (perhaps millions) of boaters, and people who someday want to buy a boat, and this blog is focused on them.
Imagine a picture in a magazine of a boat sitting at anchor in some idyllic bay with a white sand beach and crystal clear water. That’s the image that sucks you in, that causes people like my wife Roberta and I to empty our bank accounts and buy a boat. Readers of my blog know that there is more to the story than you see in the picture. Real life world cruising involves lots of things that no one tells you about until after you buy a boat. My blog talks about the costs, problems, highlights, low-lights, miseries and joys, of world cruising on a small boat.
There are some things my blog is not. Many people assume that because we cruise so many countries that my blog is a travelogue. There is some of that, but generally speaking there are other sites that are better for that kind of information. I tend to write about things I care about, and I am generally not excited by doing traditional tourist stuff. You will not learn much about the museums in Prague reading my blog, but you could learn some things about their economy and immigration policies. Some travel related things interest me, but others don’t.
Similarly, because Roberta and I are usually alone on the boat, I need to keep the boat running. If we have a break down hundreds of miles at sea, you can’t call a tow truck. If it breaks I need to be able to fix it. That said, my blog is not a “how to” of boat repair. You are far more likely to read about ways to avoid fixing things than you are to read about how to fix things. My philosophy is that boating should be fun, and I am not someone who takes a lot of pleasure in fixing things. You will not read about how to adjust the valves on a diesel engine. But, you might read about how to ensure that the diesel engine won’t need a tune-up at sea. Once in a while my blog does get boat-geeky, and does get technical, but … truthfully, there are better blogs out there if you are seeking information on ultra-technical things.
The bottom line: My blog is a “how-to” manual for someone who dreams of someday exploring the world on a small boat. And, I’m using the word “manual” very loosely. I don’t think anyone reads manuals, as they are usually boring. My goal for the blog is that my readers feel like they are in the boat with Roberta and I. People learn by doing. I want the readers to vicariously experience all the highs and lows of real-world boating. My goal in writing is to make it an immersive experience. The blog is best read “in real time” as the events are happening.
Many of the readers of my blog have been reading it for more than a decade, and parts of the blog have been converted to four different books. There’s a lot to this boating thing!
Who are Ken and Roberta?
I remember seeing a sailboat as a child and thinking, “Someday, I want to retire and see the world. If I had a boat I could go anywhere.”
My wife Roberta and I met when we were in our teens and by our second date I had already told her of my intention to retire at thirty and explore the world. She thought I was crazy but married me anyhow. That was forty-two years ago, and I’m still crazy and we’re still married.
Saying you will retire early, and actually doing it are completely different things.
It probably wouldn’t have happened, except that I happened to be in college at the time that personal computers were invented, and it was love at first site (both with Roberta AND computers!)
When I saw my first personal computer I immediately knew that it held the key to my impossible dream of early retirement and world cruising.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to make money off of a computer, but was convinced personal computers held potential. Roberta and I bought one of the first Apple 2 computers sold. At the time Microsoft was just getting started and Apple was still a tiny company run by two hippies named Steve.
Mystery House, our company’s first game
I wanted to create serious software (a compiler) but Roberta thought we should try to make a game. She designed a game that she thought would be fun, and then talked me into coding her game. It was called Mystery House and was our first game. She did the design and art, while I did the programming. That game became the beginning of what would go on to be a very large company named Sierra On-Line (one thousand employees when we sold the company in 1996.)
Ken and Roberta Williams, Circa 1980
By the time Roberta and I were forty we had raised our children and sent them off to college. We had a non-compete, which precluded our going back into the game business. And after eighteen years making games, we were ready for a new challenge, but what? I had blown my goal of retiring by thirty, but better late than never.
Roberta and I love travel and we love boating. I don’t know how many different boats we owned over the years, but it was a long succession of larger and larger boats. Once we retired we started talking about the idea of buying an ocean-crossing capable boat, and “circumnavigating.” Although we said it and did buy an ocean-crossing boat, I don’t think we ever took seriously the idea of doing so. I know that sounds contradictory, and it was/is. It was like when I dreamed of retiring at thirty. There are some things in life that are goals you shoot for but know you are unlikely to achieve.
We were young, and not tied down, with lots of boating experience. But … we had never actually been out of sight of land. Crossing an ocean was an impossible dream.
The NAR (Nordhavn Atlantic Rally)
In 2004 we were living in Seattle and owned a Nordhavn 62 (meaning 62’ long.) For those not familiar with Nordhavn, they are a company who make ultra-rugged boats. Even though our boat had been mostly sitting at the dock, we wanted to own a boat capable of crossing oceans. Think about how many Jeeps and SUVs have been sold to people who like to think they could take their vehicle off-road, but never do. That was us.
Nordhavn 62, Grey Pearl
Even though Nordhavn touted their boat’s ability to cross oceans, only one of their boats had actually done so. Whereas sailboats have been regularly crossing the Atlantic for hundreds of years, privately owned power boats had not been considered reliable enough or to have enough range (fuel capacity.)
Nordhavn, in a brilliant marketing move, wanted to send a message to the world that their boats could easily cross oceans and announced that they would be conducting a rally (a chaperoned trip) across the Atlantic. It was a very bold idea. I saw their announcement, and within 24 hours Roberta and I sent Nordhavn an email saying, “We’re in!” Crossing the Atlantic alone would have been impossible for us, but in the company of other boats, we could do it!
To make a long story short (I wrote a book about the trip) seventy boats signed up and as reality sank in only eighteen showed up for departure. It was a journey that made the front cover of virtually every boating magazine and addicted Roberta and I to world cruising.
At the conclusion of the trip we starting talking about doing a slight remodel to the boat, and as these things go, we wound up selling our boat in Europe and ordering a new boat.
The GSSR (Great Siberian Sushi Run)
It never occurred to us that we’d do something that would top crossing the Atlantic.
However, in 2009 we were to make a journey that I honestly had doubts we’d complete. It was just too bizarre, and something I thought impossible.
L to R – Tina Jones, Braun Jones Roberta Williams, Carol Argosy, Steven Argosy, Ken Williams
We were at dinner with two other Nordhavn-owning couples when Braun Jones (who with his wife Tina had the Nordhavn 62 called Grey Pearl), brought up the idea of crossing the Pacific via the Bering Sea.
Braun could sell ice cubes to Eskimos. And given the suicidal nature of what Braun was suggesting I’m sure it would have been easier. But, never underestimate Braun. The other couple at dinner, Steven And Carol Argosy, also Nordhavn 62 owners, had just cruised Alaska. Steven was telling stories of freezing cold and icebergs. Steven said he was taking his boat somewhere warm and would never go near cold water again. Meanwhile, I was sharing my enthusiasm for warm water cruising and said I would never cruise Alaska. I really am on a quest to find the white sand beaches and crystal clear water.
Braun explained at dinner that we could make the trip in summer, when the weather would be warmer and island hop across the top of the world, via the Aleutian Islands. And, by going over the top, taking something called The Great Circle Route, we’d be trimming thousands of miles off a typical Pacific crossing. And, best of all we’d get to visit Russia and wind up in Japan!
The Eskimos weren’t buying. Steven and I never considered the trip. We had watched the TV show Deadliest Catch and knew the frozen hell that is the Bering Sea.
However, what Steven and I didn’t know was that at the other end of the table Tina, Braun’s wife, was selling our wives. After dinner, on the way to the car Roberta broke the news. We were going to Japan! I called Steven the next day, who had also gotten the news from Carol. We were [xxx]-ed.
We called the trip The Great Siberian Sushi Run (GSSR).
Once again, I won’t bore you with the details, but it was an eventful trip, and out popped another book, plus lots of attention from the nautical magazines around the world.
Map of GSSR route across the Bering Sea
Very few foreign boats visit Japan. We made headlines!
After Japan our group of three GSSR boats stayed together to cruise Taiwan and Hong Kong, but then the group split apart.
Seabird and Grey Pearl wanted to see Malaysia and Thailand, but Roberta and I decided to split from the pack and load our boat onto a freighter, headed directly to Turkey.
Roberta and I wanted to see Thailand, but we travel with two little dogs, and we are only on the boat a few months a year. We need to be able to fly back and forth to the boat, and the problems of getting the dogs back to our home in Seattle from Thailand felt insurmountable. Some parts of the world are dog-friendly, and some aren’t. I think we probably could have gotten the dogs in, but it wouldn’t have been easily, and the flights would have been hard on the dogs.
Roberta, with our pups Toundra and Keeley, at anchor in Croatia
Another factor was piracy. There isn’t a lot of piracy around Malaysia, but there is some, and the rate of piracy seemed to be accelerating. It just didn’t sound fun (or safe) to keep going, so Roberta and I decided to load our boat onto a freighter and go directly to Turkey, while our friends stayed behind to cruise Thailand.
Roberta and I cruised for a year in Turkey and then were joined by Steven and Carol on Seabird. Sadly, Braun and Tina (Grey Pearl) lost their boat in a fire at the dock in Thailand.
Seabird and Sans Souci (The Argosy’s boat and our boat) cruised together through the Eastern Med; Turkey, Greece, Croatia, Montenegro, Italy and more!
And, here we are, at the start of this year’s cruising!
I say each year that the blog is a bit of a tug-of-war between Roberta and I, and all of you. When things go wrong, when the seas are rough, when the sharks are circling, the blog is great fun to read. The readers win and we lose. Boating is worthwhile, or we wouldn’t be doing it. But, I wouldn’t be telling the truth not to admit there are bad days. And, usually they are interesting bad days. On the other hand, there are days when the sea is calm, the hot tub is hot, the wine is just the right temperature, the sea water is warm and clear, nothing is broken and our biggest challenge is deciding which restaurant ashore to dine at. Those days we score for ourselves and the blog-readers lose. The current cumulative score is heavily tilted towards blog readers, so Roberta and I have some catching up to do.
Sans Souci is currently in Italy, on the border with France. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I am a Francophile. By this I mean someone who is captivated by France. I’m also a Boat-a-phile and as regular readers of my blog know boating is not always perfect. Nor is France. Unlike many of the places Roberta and I have explored, France will be like “coming home.” We have been going to France for most of our married life. We have hiked, boated and driven most of the southern coast. Whereas in much of the world we’ve struggled to find moorage, to find safe places to hide from the winds, or struggled to communicate, in France we should have fewer problems. We will cherry pick the coast of France seeking our favorite places. I speak enough French to get us by.
There will be plenty of interesting things in the blog this year, but those will come later in the season. For the next few weeks, my goal is to make the blog as boring as possible.
For the next month we will be on the French border, and I could post daily blogs telling you what we had for dinner, but I suspect that would quickly become boring. There will not be many blog entries over the next month. But, if you do see a blog entry, it will be because something interesting happened. I will not waste your time (or, will try not to!)
And, the big news is….!
Our GSSR group will be reuniting! All three boats; Seabird, Sans Souci and Grey Pearl (actually – Braun and Tina have a new boat called Ocean Pearl) will be meeting in Mallorca Spain.
It isn’t clear when the three boats will be meeting. Ocean Pearl (Braun and Tina) spent the winter in London, Seabird (Steven and Carol) spent the winter on the southern end of Sicily, and Sans Souci (Roberta and I) had our boat on the French-Italian border.
The three GSSR boats, scattered around Europe, converging on Mallorca, then heading to the Caribbean for further adventures
Ocean Pearl is already moving south, and Seabird is headed north-west towards Spain. Sans Souci will start moving in the next few days. We have the least distance to cover, which was our plan. While Seabird and Ocean Pearl will be paddling as hard as they can, Sans Souci will be moseying across the French Riviera.
“Why would I care that the three boats unite?,” you might ask. Well.. longtime readers of my blog know that when you get these three boats together: Adventure happens. Braun and Tina crossed the Atlantic side-by-side with us in 2004 plus on the GSSR run in 2009. The three boats together seem to have a track record of doing fun things, and I doubt that will change.
And, whereas we normally cruise only four months a year, this will be an unusual year. The three boats will be loaded onto a freighter later this year, bound for the Caribbean. Starting in January we’ll cruise the Caribbean together. In short, we’ll be on the boat six or seven of the next nine months. The blog may get off to a slow start, but will gain momentum.
Roberta and I have never cruised the Caribbean. It will all be new to us (except the Bahamas which we cruised in 2005). And, we actually know virtually zero about where we’ll be cruising or where we’ll finish. Will we head north to Florida? Will we head south to the Panama Canal? Will we bring the boat back to Seattle, or make a decision to cruise somewhere else?
I am reminded of the one time I asked Steven where he thought we’d be cruising in the Caribbean. His answer, “You plan too much. Relax. We can figure out where to go when we get there.”
A look back at the off-season
Newbies to the blog may think that when Roberta and I leave the boat nothing happens. It just sits at the dock. Nope. The boat does occasionally sit quietly at the dock, but very often when Roberta and I aren’t on the boat, mechanics are. It’s like we take turns.
Boats our size and larger tend to have crew. Despite the blog and its many thousands of readers, Roberta and I are very private people. We can’t imagine living on a 68’ boat with a Ship Captain, engineer, chef, or even deck hand.
Boats can easily be a full-time job if you let them. There is always something to be fixed on a boat. Salt water is corrosive, and the sea is rarely flat. Imagine taking your home, hosing it down daily with salt water, then picking it up and slamming it side to side. Would it need maintenance? Nordhavn’s boats are rugged, but nothing can stand up to the abuse the ocean throws at us. Boating is sometimes best described as, “Fixing and cleaning your boat in exotic places.”
Roberta and I run the boat alone, but if all we were doing was constant cleaning and maintenance, the boat would be sold quickly. Our strategy, and it is not a cheap strategy, is to have a Seattle-based team of mechanics who travel to the boat wherever it is, and then they use the time when we’re not on the boat to make it perfect.
The off-season crew who care for Sans Souci: Jose Reyes, Doug Janes, Jeff Sanson, Cameron Stewart
I use Pacific Yacht Management (PYM) out of Seattle, who specialize in working with guys like me. Jeff Sanson at PYM knows my boat as well or better than I do, and at the end of each season I send Jeff a long list of things to fix. Jeff stays busy over the off-season ordering parts and getting them to wherever in the world the boat is. I also hire someone locally to watch over the boat day to day (This year it was Andrea Santore of All Services Inc, in San Remo Italy. Andrea is highly recommended!) A month before the start of each cruising season Jeff flies to the boat and spends weeks doing whatever needs to be done. He usually takes a crew with him of a couple other guys from Seattle (and, one from Mexico,) plus hire a local shipyard. It isn’t easy work. Jeff must have been a drill sergeant in some prior life. His guys work long days six days a week.
At one point in my very distant past I wrote software that manages maintenance and parts for airplanes. When an engine fails on an airplane it is somewhat comparable to what happens when you are in the middle of the ocean on a boat and lose an engine. If you need a part no one is going to bring it to you. At least I have access to my engine on the boat, but… I had better know how to get it going because calling for help is not an option. And, engines don’t fail on sunny calm days. They fail when you are being slammed by huge waves and wind. Airplanes have maintenance and parts replacement standards which are meant to solve problems before they occur. My message to Jeff is that he should go through everything on the boat, every season, and replace anything that is in the last 25% of its useful life. If a fan belt is good for four years, replace it in three. If generators normally last 10,000 hours, replace it at 7,500. Things failing on Sans Souci should be rare.
The system works. In 50,000 miles (literally years of time) at sea, I have never had to be towed to the dock. I haven’t escaped doing maintenance, or changing oil, but I attribute the success more to Jeff than anything I do.
I’ll close out this issue of the blog with a look back at a small sampling of what Jeff, his team, and Andrea did this off-season. This may seem like a lot, but it was actually MUCH more.
More than you really want to know about what Jeff did to my boat
Roberta and I are both computer-centric. We were getting tired of having cables strewn across the pilot house and had his/hers Ethernet jacks installed. There is wifi on the boat, but a wired connection tends to be faster.
Sans Souci has stabilizers (they look like airplane wings) that sit beneath the water. These pivot to help keep Sans Souci vertical as we move through waves.
Here you see one of my through-hulls completely clogged by crud
Sans Souci has stabilizers (they look like airplane wings) that sit beneath the water. These pivot to help keep Sans Souci vertical as we move through waves.
Here you see the stern lights on Sans Souci. They were completely covered by crud and had to be cleaned carefully, so as to not break the glass.
I probably should pretend I know what part Jeff is showing in this picture, but … I don’t. My best guess would be that it is the valve from one of my thru-hulls. Whatever it is … it is full of crud.
This is one of the giant through-hulls which brings cooling water into the boat. You can see that the inside of it is full of crud. It was removed from the boat, cleaned, and put back.
Some projects are not very sexy, but are still important. One of Jeff’s many projects was to fix the swim ladder.
Part of Jeff’s job was to look everywhere for leaks, corrosion, belts that are getting old, etc. This is one of many leaking valves he found.
That’s it for this edition of the blog.
Ken Williams (and, Roberta)
MV Sans Souci
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