Spearfishing – A beginner’s Perspective

Isn’t it great how some hobbies lead into other hobbies you may have never found otherwise? Cruising is like that in a way. Sailing and anchoring in remote locals puts you in touch with all manner of water activities and sports. We’ve seen wind surfers, kite boarders, rowers, and more recently, spearfishers.

When we first arrived here, I went out with Steve (SV Tango) while he used his spear gun. It was exciting for me to watch this guy combining hunting and snorkeling and the fish were great to boot. So I knew I had to try spearfishing.

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I bought a little starter model gun off of another boat that didn’t use their’s and began the slow process of learning to shoot and dive. At first I didn’t even know which fish were edible and which weren’t. There was a period of intense research and looking into our fish guides and books. Most of them didn’t say which fish were good to eat. In fact, one of our reef guides basically said never eat anything. Its almost like it was written by a vegetarian. But then another cruiser gave us an “edible fish guide” and Steve continued to show me which fish could be gotten and eaten.

(Side note: The fishery here seems to have no limits, or at least none the locals will divulge and nothing turns up on google. The reef is extremely healthy and teeming with fish. So please, don’t attack me, I’m new. I’m not an environmentalist but I agree with conservation. I eat what I shoot and will continue to improve over time.)

The first few times I was terrible. Missing all kinds of shots. I adjusted the rubber bands many times learning the pains and pleasures of the double constrictor knots and how long I wanted the rubber bands. Even so, my effective range was very short and I consistently saw bigger fish that were close but my little gun could not land. I was determined to fix this problem.

As it turned out, we met some other cruisers that put us in touch with the owner of a Beuchat shop in San Andres. This guy rocks. He took our order and air mailed me a gun the next day. I also eventually bought some long fins from him.

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Long fins turned out to be something I had never seen, heard of, or considered until now. So much to learn. They afford you much more efficient kicking so you can stay underwater longer. Speaking of staying under, I tried to do the whole “test your breath while sitting still thing” and was surprised that I can hold my breath between 2.5-3 minutes. I’m hoping to up this over time and get it to where I can do a full 2 minute dive. Diving takes up a lot of oxygen and so my dive times are much shorter. Right now I think a “long” dive for me is probably 45 seconds to 1 minute (maybe less in current). I can swim down to around 20-25 feet now. I didn’t know this was possible because for years I’ve had problems popping my ears. But starting in Mexico I began popping my ears 10 times a day and finally I can equalize. Though I need a lower volume snorkel mask because I know its giving me issues.

I have been honing my technique and learning from locals. The bigger gun has given me a much greater range, but it is a lot more difficult to load than the little gun, well worth it though, as I was able to land some much bigger fish than I had previously. I’ve begun trying different approaches I read about online, such as just going to the bottom in the shallows and “waiting” for a the fish. I have also tried to confuse groupers by digging in the sand when I know one is hiding in a hole. Sometimes it works!

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Groupers, rock hinds, graysbys are my favorites, followed by a hogfish I got, and the snappers and jacks are good too. We have had all kinds of new dishes, from open fire fish roasts to chinese recipes I’ve been giving a try.
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By the way, beach dinners are great.
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Dani holding a grouper.
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The lone hogfish fed six people. I steamed him with garlic and onions, then poured soy sauce, vinegar, and water ontop of him on the tray. I put it on the table and ladled some searing hot oil over the top of the fish with some fresh ginger. It turned out to be GOOD. I suggest you give it a try. Click here for the recipe I used for the base of this dish.

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Hog heaven aboard SV Karl (White Spot Pirates)
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Here is a clip of what the diving looks like:

So in short, I’m loving life at the moment. I spearfish almost daily and eat fish in the evenings. I’ve lost 15lbs since I started! Dani was really giving me the stink eye in Isla Mujeres because I had promised when we started cruising I’d get back into shape and exercise a lot but in MX I just didn’t. Here, its hard to keep me out of the water!

I suspect that my knowledge of reef fishing will continue to grow as we travel because I’m hooked – or speared – if you will.
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(last photo credit: Nike aboard SV Karl)

It’s not a pretty sight is it? What’s even worse is that there are about fifteen more similar but much smaller tears all over the clew section of our Genoa. On the second day of our seven day passage from Isla Mujeres, MX to Providencia, CO the clew shackle on the jib broke in two pieces and while we were busy reefing the main a sharp piece of metal still on the clew worked like a dagger to slice and tear the sail as it flopped violently in the wind. Did I mention we were reefing the main…

The wind on our trip was forecast low so the small tears weren’t the end of the world. We continued to sail another five days with the sail as it was. When we arrived in Providencia we were able to see the magnitude of the damage and I have to admit it was a bit overwhelming to see how many places were going to need repairing. Especially since we have ZERO experience repairing sails.

Soon after we arrived the winds picked up to 20-25 knots with higher gusts and proceeded to stay that way for the next month. Since I’d be working on the deck the sail could wait…Besides there was so much fun to be had here!

During our fun month, void of most boat projects (except rebedding a leaking deck prism and fixing the muffler leak) I spent quite a lot of time on our precious internet researching the best way to repair the sail. There is not a dedicated sail maker in Providencia so the work was all on Tate and myself. Plus we are DIYers and cringe at the thought of paying someone to fix something that we might be able to instead.

After hours scouring the web I found a trick used by sail makers repairing old sails. Contact cement and sail tape. You contact cement both sides of the sail tear and after it’s dry you put the sail tape on top on both sides. You also stagger the sailtape on each side so you don’t create a “hard edge” making the tape more likely to peel up.

When dacron sails are old and UV damaged like ours sail tape doesn’t have much to stick to. What I’ve read is that the contact cement gives the sail tape a better base to hold on good, for the life of the sail even. Also a stroke of luck. Sewing wasn’t recommended to patch an old sail because the holes in the sail basically make a perforated edge that says “tear here”. No sewing is a TON less work for me so this was very good news indeed.

No matter how prepared you think you are when issues arise your inadequacies are magnified. When we left I bought a hand palm, lots of thread and needles and a bit of sail material. I also packed some sail tape that came with the boat. While I thought I had everything I needed to repair the sail a quick look at the sail tape proved otherwise. The labelling looked like it was from the 90’s and the tape wasn’t very sticky and had turned a brown color. Seeing how this island is a remote paradise no such items exist for sale and buying anything to get it shipped here is really just too complex and unreliable. Providencia does have contact cement though, lots of it!

Luckily some fellow cruisers here in the anchorage, Steve and Vicki on SV Tango had some spare sail tape that they happily offered us. It was like gold and in return, even though they asked for nothing, we gave them some good bug spray, tea tree oil and some computer help. Bartering is king in these parts…Money doesn’t fix a sail a paradise, sail tape does.

Then one day the unthinkable happened! The winds stopped and I wasted no time getting the sail back out to make use of a good few days. After washing the deck and then the sail on both sides with laundry detergent I let it dry in the sun.

The next day I used a puty knife to spread contact cement over the tears and generally where I was going to put the tape.

Then I measured and cut pieces of sail tape for each tear or group of tears and then rounded the edges to prevent peel up. I can’t say that I am proud of this repair. I mean lets be honest, it’s ugly as hell. BUT…I have faith in it and the tape is stuck like white on rice. AND…perhaps it’s just one more deterrent for a would be pirate looking through his telescope. It matches our flaky paint mast, what I lovingly refer to as our pirate stick. Not that pirates are a thing here, not since Captain Morgan in the 1600’s that is.

Here’s some close ups of the repair. (All of these photos have high contrast to show the repair. It is less visible in natural lighting)


Long gone are the days of pictures like these

So now the repair is done and there is nothing holding us back from progressing to Panama, except Providencia itself and all the fun times we have here. Just a few days ago You Tube blogger Nike (Neeka) and Matthieu from White Spot Pirate (maybe you’ve heard of them?) arrived. Nike picked up Matthieu in San Andres and they were sailing to the Rio Dulce in Guatemala when a lower shroud broke, forcing them to stop here for repairs. We’ve met up a few times for spearfishing and fun in town. They are super cool.

I’m pretty sure they have festivals and holidays every Monday. Instead of dreading Mondays the people of Providencia party. Seems like a smart idea.

It’s been fun to hang out with some other cruisers our age and in fact it’s becoming a trend as right before Karl (Nike’s boat) arrived we hung out with some other cool cats Austrians Gunther and Gerlinde on SV Muoza and Germans Jonathan and Claudia on SV Inti. Check out our Friends page for a list of boats we follow on various journeys.

With all of the boats from different places there is a mix of language that gets spoken. Most people from Europe we’ve met know English as well as either Spanish, French or German. Some don’t know English but know Spanish or French making it possible to communicate through a common language even if it isn’t your first.

The longer I’m away from the US the more important it seems to know multiple languages. I still study Spanish most days and am actually getting better. I want it to move quicker but learning a new language is really hard and slow for me. I hope I am turning a corner and it will be a bit easier now that I know a lot of the basics.

So when are we going to leave this place? We were set on leaving in a week or two but we’ve purchased some new water toys and really want to make the most of our time here and save some more money (to pay for said water toys). Our tourist visa is good until Sept 5th and we just might make the best of it.


Gear Review – A six month reflection

One of the most publicly and privately asked for pieces of writing from this blog is a gear review for “X”. I’ve been holding back for months because I feel that it is only fair to share our gear reviews that you’ve actually used and been using for some time to get a good feel for it. I can remember equipment from my camping days that I hated at first but after a week or so, you get into a groove with it and then you can’t be without it! Other gear needs time to self destruct and fall apart. But now six months have past and I feel that I will be able to honestly review many of the big ticket items that we’ve purchased and share with all you “how its going”.

I apologize in advance if this post ends up seemingly like the “old days” when all we did was work on the boat. It may be long, tedious for you lubbers, and read like something out of an encyclopedia, but hang on to your lee lines because its gonna see someone through out there. Lets dive right in.

Porta-bote

The porta-bote we use is the 10 foot model purchased in 2012, but only highly utilized in the last six months. It is an essential piece of gear that we have to depend on day in and day out. It is the equivalent to your family car out here in the cruising world.

PLUSES:

  • Folds up and fits neatly on side deck
  • Fast setup and take down – 10 minutes even doing it on deck
  • Light weight – Even Dani can drag it on shore
  • Dry – if you slow down, even in serious wind and waves we stay dry
  • Indestructible – We tie up at docks that inflatables fear to go
  • Rows very well

CONS:

  • Harder to climb in and out of than an inflatable
  • Less capacity than a larger inflatable
  • We have to be careful with it against the hull with fenders

Surprises:
In Florida we were ridiculed for out dingy by other cruisers. In Cuba, we didn’t use it. In Mexico it got strange looks but questions instead of sneers. In Colombia we met a cruising couple that had the same model! They have been cruising for 40+ years and they told me it was the best dink they’ve ever owned. Maybe when we get to Panama they’ll throw us a parade when they see it.

WOULD BUY AGAIN

Outboard – Tohatsu 3.5hp 4 stroke

To be absolutely clear, I’ll say it again, this is the 4 stroke 3.5hp, NOT the 2 stroke model. Funny little story about this outboard. I have a love hate relationship with it that is probably most likely not its making. I won’t go into a pro/con list with it but will explain.

I hate 4 stroke outboards. They are more heavy and they are more trouble. They take a lot more weight up in my dingy and my boat and they’re harder to source parts for outside the US. I’d have gotten a 2 stroke if I could have back in the US but they’ve been made illegal by the EPA.

Our motor kept dying. One day out of the blue, it just wouldn’t start. I broke a pull rope from trying so many times. As it turned out, water in the carb. Not once, not twice, not three times… More like eight times. I’ve gotten so good at tearing the little carb apart that I can have it fully disassembled in less than five minutes. I guess I will say this for the little guy, it is easy to work on.

Now the water in the gas… Long process to sort that out involving the seeking of leaks in many different jerry jugs and suspect gasoline sources. But finally we found that the gasket on the air vent on top of the motor was not sealing. There is a recess up under the button top and the gasket is supposed to seat into it and ours was not. So I had to crank down on it really hard to get a good seal.

All that said, now the little bastard runs like a top. Starts pretty easy and just goes and goes with good fuel economy. Like I said… I wish I had a lighter more powerful easier to work on 6hp 2stroke, but I have this guy, and he’ll do.

PROBABLY NOT AGAIN

Renogy 100 watt flexible solar panels

We bought five of these panels but I only installed three of them. Since we’ve left, I’ve run the motor on two occasions to charge up the batteries in six months. I would say that this is because of our power efficiency of devices, not the panels, but the point is that these panels have performed to spec, day in and day out in harsh environments and they seem to keep on trucking.

WOULD BUY AGAIN

Delorme Inreach Explorer

We’ve been using this device to send and receive text messages via satellite and also to track and plot our travels on the map you see when you go to the “Where is Sundowner?” page. It also lets us post messages to Facebook. IT CANNOT MAKE/RECEIVE PHONE CALLS. IT CANNOT ACCESS THE INTERNET. But it does all the rest at a 50 dollars a month price tag that we can live with. The battery life is good and we charge it every third day or so. Its been great on passages and its nice that it has a SOS function. We love it.

WOULD BUY AGAIN

Dickinson Caribbean 2-burner stove

The stove is great. Operates within spec and the oven does well. The gimble setup is great. The two burners are well sized and I have no problems using them both (and I cook a LOT). The pot holders work well. Basically everything about this stove is awesome except for two very small sticking points. Firstly, when we first got the stove I practically had to rewire the circuits for the spark starters. I mean truly shitty wiring. Everything else is great but they must have a monkey wiring the stoves. And two, the thing does need some work with the metal polish to keep it from rusting, but then again, that isn’t its fault.

WOULD BUY AGAIN

Airhead Composting Toilet

When we first bought the Airhead we were overjoyed to have a head that didn’t smell like 20 year old head plumbing. And it worked absolutely great. Now that we’ve put some miles on the old girl we’ve come to know both the ups and downs of composting heads.

The ups are many. It can’t clog, usually doesn’t stink, and doesn’t require plumbing. The downsides are that it does sometimes stink and you can get bugs in it if you’re not careful. And finally it must be emptied instead of just pumping out to sea.

So much has been written all over the Internet about composting heads that I have no compulsion to go into a deeper review unless asked. But I will say this, if I had it to do again, I’d install a computer vent fan instead of a solar fan and I’d set the vent up to be smaller, say 2″ to the outside and well protected from wind and water.

WOULD PROBABLY BUY AGAIN

Monitor Windvane

Oh how I love thee… Let me count the ways…

Nothing but great things to say about the Monitor. They built a rock solid product that does its job, was easy to install, and delivers what it says it will do. The modern tiller mounting setup is to use cam cleats on the tiller with the spectra line run through them. I’m considering going to real cleats or possibly back to a chain mount since after days of soaking in salt water those lines get slippery and tend to drift in the cam cleats some. But we love this windvane.

WOULD BUY AGAIN

Air-Only Dorades

I will say this for these little guys, they don’t let water in, then again they don’t really let air in either. It has to be blowing 15kts directly into the dorade scoop to feel even the slightest stir of air below deck. Now its good they don’t leak, but I wanted at least some air flow. So far it hasn’t been a big deal and they do provide “some” ventilation, but not enough.

WOULD NOT BUY AGAIN

I think that covers many of the big ticket or asked about items that we’ve put on Sundowner. If you have any questions feel free to play Q&A in the comments and Dani and I will try to make sure we answer fully. I believe we may have another post coming up about other “smaller” items that we use daily and find indispensable.

6 month cruising costs, Jan-Jun 2015

This week we surpassed the 6 month cruising mark! We have now been cruising on our beloved sailboat for over 180 days…and we are still alive and wanting to go farther. The cruising life has taken some getting used to but I think we are finally in the groove of things. Something we are always getting better at is saving money and I am happy to report that we are spending way less than we anticipated and realistically it’s possible to spend even less.

When we were still working and saving money to prepare for this trip we really didn’t know how much it would cost each month to live. We searched the internet and forums and decided that $3,000 a month would be a pretty conservative estimate so we aimed to save enough to go cruising for three years.

Also in our overall “trip budget”, which is separate from our “refit budget”, we saved $7k for the Panama Canal crossing which would cover a trip to a boatyard for a bottom job and minor refit work as well as the trip through and any provisioning or gear we needed to buy that was in excess of our monthly budget of $3,000. This put us saving over the course of 5 years $115,000 for the entire trip. We also ended up saving around $35,000 extra for emergencies but mainly to re-establish ourselves when the day will come for us to go back to work.

As the 5 years of working and saving for the boat progressed we kept up with other cruisers and found that we could could probably live on only $1,500 a month which would extend our cruising time to almost double. We then changed our monthly budget to $1,500 and have tried to stay within it or close.

The first two months of our trip were spent in Key West and then in Marina Hemingway in Cuba near Havana. We knew that our first two months would be more expensive than other places we would travel because 1) We really wanted to party and celebrate our departure and 2) While the anchoring is free in Key West everything else is expensive. In Cuba you are required to stay in a pay marina and doing anything outside the marina gates is pricey.

I don’t think that our 6 month cruising costs are an accurate reflection of what long term cruising actually costs per month. The real monthly cost of long term cruising will show itself I think sometime at the end of year two when we make it to New Zealand. There are lots of unforeseen conditions that can arise in the next 18 months like a major boat problem, a medical emergency or a marina stay.

As well we have sailed to places known to be cheap and have stayed away from the more expensive islands like in the Lesser Antilles. However if you take the route we did, have a sound boat capable of the passage and have similar spending (and drinking/smoking) habits then you can likely expect the same costs that we have incurred. Truthfully we feel we have a lot of money each month and get to go out to eat and to bars a couple to few times a week. We don’t feel like we are missing out on a lot. I think we could be a lot more frugal, cutting the budget in half, if we really wanted by drinking less, Tate not smoking and eating out less.

**A note about the watermaker. We did recently buy a Rainman Watermaker but back in the refit budget we had set aside money for a “guilt free watermaker”. We wanted to try cruising without one to see the real need. If we hadn’t purchased the WM the money saved from the refit budget would have gone into the overall trip budget and we could have either saved it completely or spent it on a few more months cruising. So far we can both say the watermaker was a great choice and we would have gladly sacrificed a few months cruising for YEARS of cruising without the worry about fresh, clean water.

Our monthly budget of $1,500 is fluid. Sometimes we don’t need the whole $1,500 and so we don’t spend money if it isn’t necessary. In fact we are getting to the point of trying to spend as little as possible while still being comfortable (“comfortable” is a really relative term). If there is something in particular we want to buy in the future, like snorkel gear, provisions, gifts or expensive checkin/out fees for the next destination, we “earmark” a certain amount of money to reserve it for that. I do that as soon as the want is identified so that our whole monthly budget is reduced and it’s as if we don’t have the money to spend.

The cost is so cheap here in Providencia that we were able to save $500 last month and are planning to save another $700 this month. This will help us pay for Panama’s high checkin fee of over $500 and also for some gear (wetsuit for me!) we’d like to buy once we are there.

*We cut the dock lines with about 6 months worth of provisions including alcohol. As we sail we try to provision the boat in little pieces to always keep her about 6 months cruising ready. We buy more if we have extra money and items are cheap. We are also so to speak “collecting” alcohol when possible to use in the Pacific where it’s expensive and hard to come by. Provisioning the boat in little pieces lets us take advantage of good prices and reduces the stress of a “huge provisioning trip”.

I use an app on my Andriod phone called “Spending Tracker”. In this app I have set up a core bunch of categories and allocate all of the costs among them. I don’t often carry my phone with me so while out spending money I keep receipts, write it down or just try to remember everything we spent that day for later when I input the costs in the app. I do this DAILY so that I don’t lose track. I also tally everything in the local currency but I input the costs into the app in USD based on the exchange rate for our credit card or cash while accounting for any transaction fees. So the costs you see below are what, IN TOTAL, we have spent in these foreign countries.

I tried to pick a variety of categories that would encompass anything we could spend money on and plan to keep these the same throughout the trip. They are sorted in a more logical order based on type instead of just alphabetically. I have added a few examples for each one to help give an idea of what is included:

  1. Alcohol – bars, grocery bought and sometimes restaurants if a large percentage
  2. Eating Out – restaurants
  3. Grocery – food or household items
  4. Books – kindle unlimited, ebooks, physical books
  5. Entertainment – tours, park entrance fees, horseback riding, movies
  6. Gifts – presents for family and friends
  7. Tobacco – Tate’s pipe tobacco and accessories
  8. Water Sports – snorkel gear, spearfishing gear, wetsuits
  9. Communication – Delorme InReach, internet, phone, postcards, blog hosting
  10. General – miscellaneous items for household
  11. Laundry – pay laundry service on shore
  12. Medical – doctor’s visits, dentist, medicine
  13. Travel – taxi’s, buses, ferries, planes, cars, hotels
  14. Cruising Fees – checkin/out fees, visas, permits, copies, insurance
  15. Fuel – diesel, gasoline, propane
  16. Maintenance – boat products, parts, labor fees, boatyards
  17. Marina/Anchoring – marina fees, mooring fees, dinghy docks

Cruising Costs from January to June 2015

Ports:
Jan-Key West, Feb-MH Cuba, Mar/Apr/May-Isla Mujeres MX, Jun-Providencia CO

Category 2015JanFebMarAprMayJunTotal
Alcohol34138114069168521,151
Eating Out6312933681733922252,082
Grocery180561783032901981,205
Books20101351011010295
Entertainment7113179---281
Gifts416--218-238
Tobacco150467--259-876
Water Sports360----152512
Communication1998461846385576
General20--973268217
Laundry--139--22
Medical---14--14
Travel-193136-29057676
Cruising Fees-143220-78142583
Fuel184310219-10300
Maintenance28-411247-191
Marina/Anchoring54280----334
2,0762,0971,3441,1811,8471,0089,553

I will post these costs every 6 months in a blog post but will also keep the tables at the bottom of our Cost page. Hopefully this will help all you penny watchers like myself out there and give a real basis to use in your budgeting. Happy Saving!