Here at Zizoo, we have the privilege of interviewing some of the most interesting full-time sailors out there. Some are couples, some are families, and some go solo, but they all have fascinating stories from the sea.
They don’t just do sailing holidays around the world, they live it, every day of their lives.
We know you guys love to read these travel blogger interviews. So, WATCH some of their Youtube videos, and read the latest interview in our sailing blogger series, with Dani and Tate from Sundowner Sails Again.
Hola! We are anchored in a place nicknamed the “Swimming Pool”. It’s 15 miles off the Caribbean coast of Panama, in the San Blas Islands (Holandes Cays). The water is crystal clear and looks very much like a 10-foot-deep swimming pool with a sandy bottom lined with starfish and conch. The outer reef has lots of fish and coral, and is a short dinghy ride away from the boat, so every day you can hear the constant roaring of the sea crashing over the reef. It’s very much paradise.
What sparked your passion for sailing, and what made you decide to adopt sailing as a lifestyle?
Tate had the dream to sail around the world after reading various accounts when he was a boy, and so he introduced the idea to me during our first few months dating. At the time, I didn’t even know of it being a possibility. My mom had lived on a boat in the Florida Keys, but I had no idea normal people like he and I could have a shot at actually sailing around the world.
We both come from outdoorsy type backgrounds. Tate progressed to be an Eagle Scout and eventually a guide in various National Parks. I grew up in the country, fishing, shrimping and camping, so this wasn’t such a change from the things we enjoy. We both love the outdoors.
Then we looked at our income and planned a budget over five years that allowed us to get out of debt, pay for and refit the boat, and then go sailing for five years. We looked around us, seeing people accumulate items and debt, and we didn’t want that. We also postponed having children to do this… though now we’ve pretty much decided we aren’t having any.
We own a 1974 Westsail 32 SV Sundowner. The Westsail company stopped making boats in the mid ‘80s, so all of these model boats are quite old and need a lot of work. We bought her over five years ago, and we had to do an extensive refit that took about five years, where we replaced pretty much all of the systems including the engine, rigging and electrical. Since leaving, we haven’t had any major issues with the boat, and she is very comfortable to sail and live on (though we are usually the smallest boat in the anchorage). So, I think the biggest challenge for us with the Westsails is the amount of refit needed to bring these old boats up to snuff for serious offshore sailing.
When we were leaving, there was a mix of emotions ranging from happiness to sadness. Mostly, however, I think we felt sheer joy from making our dream a reality. We miss our family and friends and now have no income, but we keep in touch through the blog and Skype, and will work after the trip is done. I suppose it’s a similar feeling to leaving home and moving for school or work. There is a bittersweetness to it, but mostly it’s sweet because it’s a positive change that is life-enriching.
1) The waves and winds offshore. Sailing your boat to be at one with nature — in its raw, wild self — is an art. Watching the motion of the waves and listening to their sounds is mesmerising. There is nothing else like it on earth, and the only way to experience it is to be out there doing it.
2) The destinations and traveling with your house. Sailing into a beautiful new country and anchorage after many days at sea is very exciting and utterly rewarding. The scenery is new, the local people are new, and it’s always a mystery what you’ll find in the grocery store. You just drop anchor and BAM, everything you need to live is right there. It’s much nicer than staying in hotels.
3) The cruising community. Hands down we have met more kind and interesting people out here in 10 months than we have in our whole lives. The life journeys of many of the sailors we’ve met is awe inspiring. It gives us a broader perspective on life and the many ways people choose to live it. We are becoming better people because of it. Not to mention they are always there to help if someone has a problem.
WATCH: Tate shooting a Hogfish, and a breathtaking video of their birthday celebrations on the boat.
Where are your three favourite sailing destinations and why?
Well, so far, since leaving 10 months ago, we’ve only sailed to five places: Key West, Cuba, Mexico, Providencia Colombia, and the San Blas Islands in Panama.
1) Our top pick of these five would have to be Providencia Colombia. 150 miles off the coast of Nicaragua, it sits pretty isolated in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. There is some commercial influence but not much due to its remote location. It has a rich history of pirates and gold and boasts a beautifully green mountainous landscape with Mango-tree-lined, secluded, white sand beaches. The locals are very friendly and live quaintly. You can explore the island by foot or rent a scooter, and you can swim and fish freely in the beautiful reefy waters while enjoying a constant breeze of 10-20 knots in the anchorage with no bugs. The USD is very strong there right now, and there is GREAT provisioning in the local grocery stores. There are also many places to go out to eat. Providencia is a place a cruiser could spend many months or years in tranquil peace. We spent three months there.
2) There is a strong tie between Cuba and the San Blas islands, but since we have to pick, we would rank Cuba at number two. Cuba, at least when we visited in early 2015, was very exotic to us, unspoiled by the influence of the United States. The people were very nice and the scenery was beautiful. I hope everyone gets to visit Cuba once in their life.
3) San Blas Islands. The scenery here is what comes to mind when people think “paradise”. Off the coast of Panama, the San Blas consists of hundreds of coconut palm tree islands with sandy beaches surrounded by reefs. The Kuna Indians live here and control the islands, so you do have to pay a bit to anchor here, but it’s reasonable. They are very nice and don’t bother you too much. The water is clear and very nice to swim in. There are many anchorages one can choose to stay at, each with its own personality. There isn’t much in the way of provisioning (so come stocked) except for a bit at Nargana, the Kuna dugouts with lobsters and fish, and the “Veggie Boat” that comes around every week or two bringing beer, wine, and TONNES of fruit and vegetables, along with eggs, milk and chicken directly to your boat at very reasonable prices. The reefs here are beautiful and varied and the fishing is superb. We’ve already been here a month and we don’t plan to leave for at least another two. We sometimes dream about staying here for years, like many of the boats here do.
DEFINITELY. Or at least do some real sailing before you even think about buying your own boat. We were lucky and lived on the water with friends who sailed, and so we had some experience with them before we bought our own boat. If not for that we would have chartered. Actually being on and sailing a boat can be a lot different than one envisions in their head. The motion of the boat, the amount of space for living, and other issues that come with sailing and living in such a small space need to be explored before making the huge commitment to buy a boat. We’ve spoken with many people who wish they had gotten either a different kind of boat (catamaran, motor etc) or a different size (bigger AND smaller) than the boat they bought. We’ve heard other stories of people selling everything to go sailing only to find out six months later that living and sailing on a boat didn’t line up with their fantasy. TRY BEFORE YOU BUY!
When we sailed from the north coast of Cuba to Isla Mujeres Mexico (roughly 300 miles), we had to cross the strongest part of the Gulf Stream. We were both up, but it was Tate’s watch, and we were over 100 miles from land in any direction. The seas were roughly eight feet and we were headed into the breeze, about 20 knots sustained with big gusts. The wind was coming from the south, as was the current, and the conditions were a bit rough (to put it lightly). We were making only three knots with the current against us and, out of nowhere, way out in the deep blue ocean, a DOVE — not a seagull or frigate bird but a DOVE — showed up and spent the next hour trying frantically to land on our boat. The conditions were so rough that the dove would have perished if he fell into the ocean.
In an attempt to land on the boat he had to fly hard into the wind to then be allowed to fall downwind and land on the boat. Many times he landed on our lifelines or rails only to slip right off, since everything was covered in salt. Eventually, after more than an hour, he landed in the cockpit on the teak and we were somehow able to get him to hop up to the companionway hatch where he was protected from the spray and wind by the dodger. There he slept exhausted for a few hours until we sighted a large cruise ship passing behind us. As soon as the ship was downwind of us, the dove took off like lightning… I suppose our little salt-soaked bathtub bobbing around in the mighty ocean wasn’t his cup of tea. He was onto bigger and better things.
It’s Tate’s quote and it’s on the back of our boat cards: “Let your heart tell you where to go, but let your brain tell you how to get there”.
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To see the other interviews in our travel blogger series, head here.
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