Newlywed neophyte cruisers on a new Catana 50 learn as they go across the Med and the Atlantic. From our June 2011 issue.
Our trial by fire began immediately in the Balearics, with days on end of sustained winds over 45 knots and seas to match; these led in no time to a bent anchor shaft and a torn solent jib. I was pleased to see how well Vérité sailed upwind in 45 knots, thanks to her long daggerboards, but I was a little concerned when a very seasick Veronique threatened mutiny on the part of the female crew—which, as she pointed out, represented a two-thirds majority—unless we switched to different angles of sail. When we reached our destinations in those big winds, we couldn’t decide which frightened us more, the possibility that our anchor might drag in the middle of the night or the maneuvers required to back our 50-footer in a gale to tie stern to in a tight slip.
Over the coming months, we faced several close calls, including nearly hitting a car ferry in Montenegro, dragging anchor during 55-knot gusts in a very crowded anchorage in Mikonos, Greece, and hearing three of our four davit lines snap loudly at the same time, leaving our dinghy inverted and barely attached while we were under sail at night in heavy seas.
The more the miles slid by, the more we learned—and the more naïve many of our early assumptions proved to be. For instance, it took only our first long passage—from Mallorca to Tunisia—to disabuse us of the idea that Egypt would be our next stop and to hammer home the reality of how long and exhausting passages can be. We also learned the hard way that Mother Nature has a strong opinion about course selection and that trying to sail long distances upwind is a fool’s errand. Of all our misguided assumptions, however, the one most mercilessly debunked by reality was that buying a new boat would be much like buying a new car: Sure, we’d need to do some routine maintenance, but beyond that, we could count on relatively trouble-free operation for the first few years. How wrong we were.
Here’s a brief list of what needed fixing or replacing in our first months of sailing: the saildrives on both engines; the starboard spreader shroud supporting our mast; the primary motor on our desalinator; our dive compressor; our anchor, which bent; our catwalk; virtually every element of our marine electronics: chart plotter, radar, speedo, VHF; our BGAN sat-com system; one engine tachometer; our main halyard and topping lift; the drum plates on both roller-furlers; one of our gel batteries; our washer-dryer; and three leaks, one of which took months to diagnose. While all were covered under warranty, the challenge of finding the right parts and technicians in each new location was exhausting. Just try, for example, importing a gel battery into Tunisia.
Confronted with so many repairs from the get-go, the image that kept coming into my head was that of Sisyphus, the Greek mythological figure condemned to push a big bolder up a hill every day only to watch it roll back down each night. It was of no use to complain to our family and friends back home, as they had zero sympathy and were certain that our days consisted of little more than sipping martinis on sun-drenched beaches. Surely, we thought, our incessant boat problems must be an anomaly; we must be the victims of terrible luck. However, as we began meeting other long-distance cruisers, we discovered that our experiences were actually par for the course with a new boat and that several had it even worse. Still, these were dispiriting times aboard Vérité.
Our turning point came roughly four months into our cruising life. It certainly helped that we’d reached warmer waters, allowing us to swim and kiteboard regularly, and that we’d settled into a comfortable rhythm, no longer pushing ourselves so hard in terms of distance. The most important ingredient, however, was a certain mental reprogramming. For me, much of it came down to making peace with the never-ending list of repairs and maintenance by starting to see these less as nuisances and chores and more as challenges and a hobby. Necessity being a powerful motivator, I soon discovered that I could actually fix many of the problems myself—and that figuring out how could even be fun.
Our time at sea has also proved wonderful for our life as a couple, contrary to dire warnings from friends back home who feared that cohabitating 24/7 in a tight space could be too much, even for newlyweds. Back in Washington, D.C., we were consummate workaholics, too often dedicating our weekends and evenings to our careers rather than to each other. Our new life, in many ways, is the mirror opposite. Although we each still work part-time from the boat, the opportunities for play, intimacy, and mutual discovery abound. In addition to teaching us to function effectively as a team, life aboard provides something all too rare: the time and space to really enjoy each other. None of this is to say that arguments or disagreement don’t arise; they do. But the close quarters teach us to resolve differences far more rapidly. There is, however, one realm on which we’ve agreed that the normal rules of romance and civility shall remain suspended due to extenuating circumstances: anything said in anger during a docking maneuver.