Newlywed neophyte cruisers on a new Catana 50 learn as they go across the Med and the Atlantic. From our June 2011 issue.
Menudo marineros—which roughly translates to “crap sailors”—is what a local Spaniard called us during one of our first docking attempts aboard our new catamaran. This was less of an insult than a statement of fact, given that my wife, Veronique Bardach, and I had managed to drop two fenders and nearly impale our pristine hull on the corner of the pier while docking in heavy winds at Ibiza. To say that we knew little about sailing at the time would be to overstate our abilities by half.
Fast-forward nine months. Veronique and I have just set off on an Atlantic crossing with only our female dog, Ria, as crew. We’re reasonably confident that we’ll make it to the other side without significant damage to boat or body. The intervening nine months spent cruising around the Mediterranean were a nonstop learning experience that taught us more than we could’ve imagined—often the hard way—about cruising, about ourselves, and about human nature.
My part of the story began about five years before, when I was 35 years old: I suddenly became fascinated by the appeal of long-distance cruising. I knew next to nothing about sailing, but the intuitive draw of life at sea seemed irresistible. So I signed up for a weeklong liveaboard-sailing course in the Virgin Islands, which taught me just enough to be dangerous and somehow sufficed to establish my credentials with charter companies. Over the coming years, I chartered in the Caribbean on three occasions and borrowed a friend’s monohull to sail on the Chesapeake for a few weekends. But I was still very far from my goal of circumnavigating. Indeed, I hadn’t even found my partner in crime.
Veronique entered my life like a bolt of lightning. Born to French parents, raised on the island of Mallorca, and having pursued her career in the United States, she embodied the best of all three cultures in a way that continues to melt me. Yet I had my work cut out. Early on, Veronique announced unequivocally that she had no interest in marriage and that she’d never go sail around the world. Getting her to the altar took all the charm I could muster, but getting her interested in sailing, I found, required altogether more craftiness.
We began by chartering a monohull for a week in the Virgin Islands. Her objections to the constant heeling and cramped quarters led me quickly to suggest we try a catamaran next, a concession sufficient to win her approval of another warm-water charter the following year. In the meantime, I gently chipped away at Veronique’s resistance by appealing to her own deep-seated thirst for adventure—she’d worked as a venture capitalist, after all—and by reminding her that there’s no time like the present.
Our two weeks of Caribbean chartering fooled us into believing that life at sea is all fun and games. The typical charter experience can be wonderfully deceptive in this way, by concealing many of the challenges of full-time cruising. Blinded by our ignorance, we made the big decision early in 2007 to set off cruising as soon as possible. Still on the somewhat lengthy to-do list were to buy and equip the right boat, gracefully exit from the respective companies that we’d founded, sell our house, and, last but not least, find a worthy four-legged travel companion.
Roughly a year later, in March 2008, we arrived in Canet-en-Roussillon, France, to pick up our new Catana 50 catamaran. We had in tow 71 boxes and a fabulous bulldog we’d named Ria. We christened our new home Vérité, not because we have any particular claim on the truth but because of the play on the first two letters from our three names.
In our haste to prepare for our trip, we found little time to improve our distinctly subpar sailing skills. In our first weeks on board, Veronique provided near constant entertainment with such repeated inquiries as “What’s the boom?” and “What do you call the left and right sides again?” My knowledge wasn’t much more advanced. I had no experience sailing or anchoring in heavy weather, didn’t know what an impeller was, and had no idea how to fly a spinnaker. We took in as much as we could during one week of commissioning at the yard and a subsequent week of onboard training by an excellent skipper, who thankfully agreed to serve as our “boat coach by phone” thereafter. And then, suddenly, there we were, by ourselves aboard our new floating home—and clueless as could be.