How it all started Why, when, and how?
We have always been enthusiast of traveling. Our book shelves are loaded with travel stories, world maps, travel guides, and other world view expanding material and of course we have had our share of traveling ourselves.
Time has however always been a limiting factor. That is the consequence of owning a company, raising kids, and keeping animals. Journeys could never be allowed to take much time. For us, an ideal way to cope with this, was to get our pilot licenses and build our own airplane. With this airplane we could travel fast, for little money (actually it takes less fuel than a car!) and it was very suitable for short travels. Traveling was a matter of watching the weather, stuffing our back packs in the small baggage bay, hopping straight over mountains or seas, locating a nice little airfield (preferably a grass strip), putting up a tent next to the airplane, and exploring the local nature.
Islands quickly became our favorite destinations: we have roamed many islands in Scandinavia, the North Sea, the Mediterranean, etc. Islands are for non-pilots less accessible and therefor less crowded, and there is often a small local rarely used airfield close to the shore. And we like everything that has to do with water. Our destinations were often destinations that could also be reached by ship...
Unfortunately you can't go much beyond Europe with such a small airplane. After we had been flying around the North Cape we liked to go even further away but the low range of our airplane makes it necessary to make regular refueling stops. Further North was not possible. Further more to the West beyond the UK was also not possible. How about the South? Africa appeared bothersome: especially in the North of Africa there were lots of countries we didn't want to visit. Refueling in Libia? No thanks. So that leaves the East. In Russia you are not welcome with a small airplane. More to the South East? How about making a refueling stop in Syria? Or Afghanistan? Iran? Hmmm, also not very attractive. Apart from this there is also the fact that, despite having a very efficient airplane, going very far also means burning more fuel, something we are considering more and more as something inappropriate.
On a certain day my adolescent son was hanging around and entertaining himself with his smart phone. I couldn't resist to give him (again) a lecture about all these interesting things he could do instead which would add value to the rest of his life. "Go get your Vaarbewijs or something!" I said. (A "Vaarbewijs" is a Dutch certificate required to operate certain pleasure vessels.) I said it without thinking. Getting this license was something I had myself somewhere on my list of "things to do some day". It had increased a bit in priority recently after I tried to hire a powerboat on some Croatian island but was denied due to lack of necessary paperwork. During the ensuring discussion the question was raised why I had not started myself working on obtaining that license. Bad question, on which the only appropriate answer could be "very well then, shall we both enroll for an examination?" Ilona immediately added herself to the list, after which none of us three was in a position to withdraw again without loosing some credibility. Anyway, it couldn't be too hard, so we scheduled for an examination only the next month. And oh, you actually get a discount if you do the coastal navigation at the same time? Then let's do that!
Actually we obtained the licenses, despite the fact that mastering everything was more difficult than we thought. Especially all these lamp configurations, buoys, and other non determinable things were annoyances, and it was especially annoying we had to learn all kinds of exceptions for certain channels where we never intended to go sailing anyway. But we succeeded and to celebrate we went, without any obligations, to a large Dutch boating event. Ilona picked a day on which a few Dutch cruisers were giving a presentation. We already new that cruising was something we found interesting; we had already collected plenty of books about this subject for years. But after these presentations, after some more talking with the cruisers, and with a signed copy of the book of Ben Rutte in which he had written for us "Wegwezen!" ("Go!"), we really started thinking about it.
Shortly afterward my son made an important decision: He would not go to the university in Delft but instead to the university in Groningen. And Groningen is close to our home... actually so close that he wouldn't have to start living somewhere else. So maybe he could still live "on his own" but then in our house, enabling us to leave? Slowly a plan started to emerge.
Our situation was actually begging for a firm decision:
- I would reach the age of 50 this year, and together with the fact that the children were leaving the house, it was time to start thinking how to continue the rest of my life. Some events makes one think about possible changes, and this was certainly a time for me to consider my options.
- The past year we had had some people passing away around us, which had put the focus on our own mortality, and the focus on the fact that you can't keep on shoving things "you want to do some day" forward in time indefinitely.
- The worsening situation in the world, the climate change, the deterioration of the environment and nature; it all caused a feeling that if we ever wanted to undertake a world trip, then now would be the time to do it, while it is still possible and there is still something to enjoy.
- The study of my son in Groningen enabled us to leave the house for a while, but of course this period would be limited; after graduating he will start living his own live somewhere else and actually there would be a chance that he would leave anyway before his study was completely finished. There was no time no delay any further.
The desire was clear, but could we actually do it? It was time for some considerations, seeing how we would stand with "go's" and "no go's".
- We earn our income with the exploitation of our webshop. The interesting thing with a webshop is that you, once it has been setup and properly automated, can keep running it without investing much time. The only thing you have to do is to process the orders, which means someone has once a day to take the correct boxes from a shelf, put address labels on them, and make them ready for pickup by the mail company. This is something one can easily delegate to someone else. Managing the shop can be done via the internet from any place on the world as long as there is some internet access. It would be difficult sometimes, but not be a reason for a definite "no go".
- Caring for the house, company and animals
- My son could do this by living "on his own" in our own house. At least it would be a good exercise for him. We consider this a "go".
- Navigation shouldn't pose a problem. Navigation on the ocean is in principle equal to navigation in the sky and even a bit less complicated because it is only 2D instead of 3D. Also the things we had to learn for our coastal navigation proved very easy for us, giving us the confirmation that we would be able to manage navigating around the world without much problems. Definitely a "go".
- Meteorology is one of the more serious examinations for a pilot license. One has to be able to examine raw weather data and derive enough information out of it to work out tendencies and to be able to make correct weather predictions. It shouldn't be a problem for us to understand the weather situation on the ocean. Another "go"!
- In the past I had already obtained a HAM radio license. Never really used actually, but now it would prove to be very useful. It was annoying that I was not allowed to use the standard ship radio, especially since we also had obtained our radio license for piloting an aircraft, something which is much more difficult than obtaining a ship radio license. Even more annoying was that even if we got a basic ship radio license then we were still not allowed to use an epirb, for which you only have to know how to press a button. Fortunately there was a short cut by obtaining a foreign SRC license and then transforming it into a Dutch license, something which was easier and cheaper than going the official Dutch route. Actually we arranged it completely within a week, so it became a "go".
- Technical knowledge
- If you lack technical knowledge you will have a problem. Nobody is going to assist you on the middle of the ocean to repair your engine or electrical system. Fortunately we are quite technically proficient and we have all the knowledge and experience to repair engines, electronic systems, to work with metal, etc. No problem. Definitely a "go".
- Scuba diving
- We think being able to scuba dive is a real asset for such a world journey. Not only for inspecting the boat from below and to fix the anchor, but also to be able to explore the other half of the world, the half below the waterline. If we wouldn't have had a scuba license already we would definitely start working on it. But we both already have a scuba license so this is also an easy "go".
- Fortunately also on this area everything was fine. We would probably need some vaccinations and to undergo some preventive work at the dentist, but then we should be able to continue for a few years without medical attention. Of course we would have to be prepared for health problems but therefor we take a first aid course for cruisers and then we consider it a "go".
- How much fun would all this be if you can't communicate at all? Fortunately we both speak English quite well. French is also on our list of capabilities. But Spanish and Portuguese, two languages which are very common on our destinations, we don't understand at all. We enroll for an online course in Spanish and hope to learn enough from it to obtain some very basic knowledge. At least this wouldn't be a "no go".
- Sailing yacht
- This was the most obvious "no go": to start cruising the world you need a sailing yacht but we didn't have one. Even worse, we never researched much on the subject of sailing vessels. It would mean we had to educate ourselves very fast, to read a lot, read even more, and not only learn the differences between hull materials, rigging, sails, etc. but also enough about the advantages and disadvantages from all the options to be able to make a wish list and pick the right ship from the overwhelming amount of ships for sale.
- Sailing experience
- This was the second questionable obstacle, at this moment still a "no go". Ilona had hired a sailing yacht for one week once, which we used to sail on the Frisian lakes and channels, and that went surprisingly well. Well, after all a sail is actually a vertical wing, and being airplane builders we had enough aerodynamic insight to understand how to use a sail for propulsion. According to the renter of the vessel we had with our GPS recorded speed reached the maximum speed of that vessel, so it was actually quite convincing. But granted, one week on some lakes and channels doesn't really compare to undertaking a world travel. We definitely would have to work on our experience.
In summary we had plenty of "go's" except for owning a boat and the associated experience. Buying a boat would automatically start increasing our experience and once on the go we would have plenty of opportunity to learn mastering the act of sailing. We already learned that we wouldn't exactly be the first ones to start cruising without much previous experience. To be honest, to us it appeared more difficult to sail around the North Sea islands with all its currents, shallows, tides, traffic than on many other places we would encounter. And if an experienced North Sea skipper has to navigate around a coral reef, won't he be inexperienced for that situation as well? All in all, the major obstacle at the moment was the lack of a sailing yacht...
Searching a yacht
Despite our lack of experience we quickly got quite some idea how our ship would look like thanks to all the information and stories from cruisers. As fast as our wish list (and avoid list!) was growing, the amount of suitable vessels was decreasing. After a while, there were actually very few ships considered fit for our purpose! We started searching for the, for us, ideal sailing yacht. And she appeared difficult to find!
It didn't take very long before we asked ourselves why to limit our search to available ships in the Netherlands. We were looking for a yacht for cruising on the ocean, not for a vessel for which crossing the IJsselmeer would already be a challenge. And considering the overwhelming amount of sailing yachts for sale but the very limited amount of people with cruising experience it was actually not surprising that we were looking for a needle in a haystack. But then where do you find sailing yachts equipped for cruising? Of course on places where a lot of "cruisers" convert into "stayers"!
We already learned that many cruisers never come home anymore because they discover their paradise somewhere else. Many stay in the Caribbean, and a quick search on internet confirmed that there were many cruiser yachts for sale in these area's. Because of the mismatch in supply and demand they were actually very attractively priced! And why would we actually have to start our world trip in the Netherlands?
It didn't take long before we discovered the ideal sailing yacht, fully equipped for long term travels. The sellers had been cruising on this vessel for more than 10 years so all quirks had been ironed out. Strange enough we found this yacht for sale on a Caribbean site but she was actually located on Tenerife. Relatively close to home, ready for a trans Atlantic crossing, and quite affordable to visit with a low budget airliner. The sailing yacht appeared in perfect condition, the previous owner was also a sailing instructor and yacht technician and was willing to teach us how to sail this boat. It didn't take very long before the deal was sealed.