Scott Welty and Sue Budde started voyaging in Lake Michigan on board a 1978 Chrysler 22 with a swing keel. It was a less than auspicious start, however, as on the first sail with this boat Sue got violently seasick. With more experience Sue became more comfortable and the couple bought a 1978 Catalina 30 for wider exploration of the lake. After a six-week cruise in the summer of 2003, they knew they were ready to make a boat their home.
Bitten by the voyaging bug, they made plans to sell their house, buy a bigger boat and sail south. In June of 2005, having sold house and cars, they sailed out of Burnham Harbor, Chicago and made their way south via the Great Lakes, Erie Canal, Hudson River and ICW to the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Dominican Republic and now, Puerto Rico. While in Baltimore in 2005, they bought their present boat — a 1984 Endeavour 40 center cockpit named Enee Marie. They maintain a very active blog: www.scottsuesailaway.blogspot.com
and during the last year Scott wrote a book published by Burford Books, The Why Book of Sailing.
OV: What are the top skills voyagers need to know before going voyaging?
SW&SB: Patience. You might not get to go when you want due to weather or due to a mechanical problem. Waiting for weather is hard because you want to go and there is nothing you can do about it. Leaving because you are impatient when the weather is really telling you to stay is the source of many sad sailing stories. Mechanical problems are dangerous because if you’re not careful you can sometimes convince yourself that they are solved when they really are not. Patience when the wind is in your face and you just want to get there, but bearing off and finding a more comfortable point of sail even though the trip may be extended by a few hours.
Reading weather — you have to be able to decipher a synoptic chart, decode mind-numbing offshore reports and intelligently use any other sources of weather information you can get your hands on. You also have to learn to and not rely on the guy next to you at the bar who guarantees that it is fine to go. (By the way, this is a skill that we are still developing … slowly!)
Basic piloting skills — getting from point A to point B is easy with GPS but once in tight quarters you need to go slow, read the water and the waves and not just stare at the GPS/chartplotter. Upon entering an anchorage in Esperanza on the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico, our intended line should have taken us through at minimum 3 meters of water. Plenty for us. But the bar had shifted since the publication of that chart. An eye on the water and depth sounder had us in reverse pronto!
OV: How do you prepare before departing on a voyage? What is your planning routine?
SW&SB: The distance involved can make the planning somewhat different. We’ve gone from a 350-mile open-ocean run with hired crew to making small 20- to 30-mile hops. In any case the boat has to be ready the day before. Totally ready. Decks cleared. Everything stowed where it should be. The engine should be checked — meaning oil, belt tension, and the water strainer cleaned out. Also good to just sit and have a cup of coffee and stare at your engine for a while and see if anything is dripping or loose or looking different. In doing this one time on our Catalina, I found the engine mount bolts were loose!
We usually sit down and study the charts the day before. It’s good to have a mental image of the routes involved (we do not have a chartplotter). We’ll listen to the offshore report at night and again at 0545 on the SSB. We also enter the day’s waypoints into the GPS. These are also then labeled on our paper charts and double-checked! Departure time is dependent on when you want to arrive. Usually you want to arrive in daylight, which may require a nighttime departure. Can we do that from this anchorage? Do we need to stage somewhere nearby the day or night before? If it is a long voyage, what food do we want to prepare ahead of time? It’s important to eat regularly even if you happen to get into heavy seas. It’s much easier to grab a sandwich already made or quickly heat up a stew or soup. Nobody wants to stay below too long during a rough voyage making a meal from scratch.
OV: What is the most valuable skill you picked up while voyaging?
SW&SB: To not panic. Something always needs fixing or attention. Something may go wrong under way. One way to think of it is that 99 percent of this stuff is not disastrous and can be dealt with in a logical, methodical way. Early on in our voyaging, all problems were big problems. Recently we were just underway from Culebra to Vieques when I checked the dripless prop shaft gland. Well, it was spewing water pretty good and there was significant water in the bilge. I fooled with it a little and the water stopped coming in. We discussed what to do and Sue opined that if we go back or go ahead either way the boat is still sitting in the water so we might as well go on! We did. I think a couple of years ago we would have been on the radio to the Coast Guard!
We are constantly picking up more skills along the way. How could you not? If someone ever thought that they’d wait until they knew everything before they sailed away … well, we’d still be in Des Plaines!
OV: What skills do you most look for in a crewmember?
SW&SB: Scott Says: My crewmember is my wife, Sue, and the same traits that endeared her to me when we got married are the traits that make for good crew. To wit: She ignores me when I go off on some triviality. She listens when I try to explain. Her opinion is always reasonable and delivered calmly. A good crewmember, like Sue, anticipates (sometimes) what needs to be done. Anchoring in BVI one time on a charter, my daughter asked Sue what my various hand motions meant. Sue said, “I don’t really know. I just do what seems to be right at the time and let him think the motions are working!” A boat can have one temperamental crewmember but not two! Oh, and they need to be able to steer because I am lousy at it! We typically have certain jobs that we take on. For example I typically go to the mast to raise the main while Sue steers but we can do it the other way around as well and we feel it is important for all crew to know how to do all the jobs.
Sue Says: I look for the skills of experimentation, being flexible, and being interesting. Humor helps too. Luckily I’ve found all these and more in my crewmember. Scott is curious as to how things work and has enjoyed putting theory into practice while sailing (former physics teacher turned sailor). I’m constantly learning new things with him. It’s fun. Cruising means living together 24/7. It’s important that you like the people you cruise with. Of course we each have our quirks that annoy the hell out of the other but we accept these and learn to tolerate them. Interestingly, the most common question about this lifestyle is, “How can you stand to be with each other all the time?”
We’ve only taken on extra crew one time to make an outside run from Long Island to Portsmouth. It worked out okay and we think it did so because both guys were very experienced sailors. No sense taking on crew that want to help but don’t know how to sail. That just leads to more work.
OV: Do you find voyagers are more skilled or less skilled than in years past?
SW&SB: We have only been on this quest for going on three years so we don’t have the perspective of some more seasoned salts. However, in terms of sailing skills we suspect from talking with other cruisers and traveling with some for a bit that the advent of the chartplotter/GPS marriage has made for waypoint-to-waypoint motor sailors at the expense of honing one’s sailing skills. We typically enter in some waypoints for a day’s voyage but usually those are only a rough guide. We are willing to sail 30 or 40 degrees off of any rhumb line to gain speed or comfort or both. Let’s face it, when you get there you are still going to be living on your boat so what’s the hurry?
But there are other skills involved in living the voyaging life. It takes some skill to live in a closed system with limited resources. When you know you are going to have limited energy on a boat you can respond by either limiting what you need or get more resources. It seems more cruisers opt for the second solution and boats are littered with solar arrays, gensets, gas generators and wind generators while down below you find refrigerators, microwaves, ice makers, toasters, coffee makers and even washers and driers. All of this stuff will need repair at some point in time. All of it! (We’ve noticed zero correlation between the age or make of a boat to how much stuff needs repair!) To us this defeats the purpose of getting away. We have a wind generator and it usually supplies all we need for our few lights and charging the computer and camera. No refrigerator. When we are underway of course, the engine easily charges our two house batteries. Makes things much simpler. Of course everyone has a different level of comfort and if you have the will and the money to keep everything running, go for it! It is nice to have ice and we try to have friends who have icemakers.
Who or what most inspired you to go voyaging?
SW&SB: Two things and one has nothing to do with sailing. We used to take high school kids on wilderness canoeing/camping trips to Quetico Park in Ontario. For a week we would live with just the food we carried and our tents and canoes. We became enamored with how little it took to live and take care of ourselves — and be happy. This started the less-is-more philosophy by which we cruise. Secondly, we cruised and gunk-holed Lake Michigan for several years (starting in a Chrysler 22). For many of those years we moved aboard our boat from May to October living in Burnham Harbor, Chicago on our Catalina 30 and getting a real feel for living aboard which of course is a big part of cruising. As the chance of retirement approached Scott voiced the observation that the waters of Lake Michigan are actually connected to all the world’s oceans. This is the kind of thought that you just can’t unthink. So began the reading and studying and shopping for boats, which only fueled our desire to go to sea. We have fond memories of laying out Caribbean charts during the winter on our living room floor in Des Plaines, Ill., (nowhere near an ocean). Once it looked possible to sail away it was impossible to not do it. We sailed out of Chicago in our Catalina 30 a couple of years later in 2005. We’re now sailing our Endeavour 40 center cockpit.
What are your future voyaging plans?
SW&SB: We are currently in Culebra, Puerto Rico heading for the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. We plan to be down to Grenada/Trinidad by July and stay south of the hurricane belt for hurricane season. That’s about as far ahead as we can plan. When we left we thought we’d cruise for 10 years and then re-evaluate and see what we want to do. We have seven and a half to go! Will we stay in the Caribbean? Go through the Panama Canal? We don’t know but after following the windward course to the Caribbean from Florida, once we get sailing downwind we don’t know if we could ever stop!