Who better to run into as we start our around the world sailing trip than world cruising veterans, Jim and Carole aboard sailboat Nepenthe? After setting off on a early Oyster (late 80’s) for a 3 year around the world sailing trip in 1999, the inspirational pair are still gracing the sea due to their love of the lifestyle.
When asking Carole how their adventure started I was interested to hear that the duo didn’t originally set off to make Nepenthe their permanent long-term home.
Jim and Carole met each other at their local marina. Carole, a beautifully strong independent woman, was the first woman to captain a boat of her own within the marina. And Jim moored his boat nearby.
Not long after dating for a couple years, Jim was offered an early retirement package from his company, General Motors
Eager to start enjoying his love of sailing and newfound free time, Jim approached Carole and asked if she’d join him for a trip to the Caribbean. Carole’s response was, ‘I don’t want to go to the Caribbean! What if we go to the Caribbean, turn towards the Pacific and keep going?’ Jim’s response was, ‘If you’re happy to plan the route I’ll go wherever you want to go.’
They both sold their sailboats, purchased an Oyster together and set off for their around the world sailing trip
Fifteen years later, the amazing couple shows no signs of returning to land and I’m starting to understand why. We’ve only been sailing for a few months and I can’t imagine doing anything else. The sense of freedom, the connection with nature, the incredible sites, amazing new friends and the ability to move your home whenever you choose are just some of the benefits we’re already appreciating.
As you can imagine, Jim and Carole are a walking information desk for anything and everything to do with world cruising. If they haven’t experienced something they know someone who has. After 15 years, they’ve really learned the ropes but as Jim comments, ‘We’re still learning all the time and that’s what’s great about this lifestyle.’
Bumping into Jim and Carole while anchored outside of Corfu, Town
So, how did we find Jim and Carole? My husband and daughter were in our dingy motoring back to our boat after dropping my cousin and I off in town. Jim happen to be in his dingy too when the two dingys met in crossing. Jim asked if we owned the Oyster and when my husband replied yes, Jim responded that they owned the other Oyster. There was an immediate connection when Jim explained that the boat was the same make as ours. Both Nepenthe and Britican were built in the same reputable Landamores Yacht Builders in Norfolk, England however there are several years between them.
My husband was desperate for male company!
With a crew of three girls Simon wanted a bit of manly company and knowing about Jim’s experience he was eager to hear everything Jim could impart. A time was set for drinks that evening aboard Britican.
At 6pm Jim and Carole came over bringing a bag of popcorn. Very quickly the boys separated to leave us girls alone in the saloon. After 5 minutes of talking to Carole, I felt I knew her all my life. No – actually, I felt as if she was a part of the family. With her beautiful smile, eagerness to listen, share and enormous energy for life I wanted to sit by her and soak her up!
I couldn’t help but wonder how the journey has changed Carole
Being an ex-Type A workaholic, like me, I immediately felt an infinity. Carole traded in her job as a Nurse Practitioner and explained that it took her a good two years to start relaxing after she left the workplace. I thought, ‘so there’s hope for me yet!’
While transitioning from a workhorse to a full time sea goer, Carole related a story about finding her artistic side. She created something from textiles and a friend said, ‘Now that’s art.’ Carole replied, ‘What are you talking about? I don’t have a creative bone in my body.’ The friend then took a few moments to enlighten Carole to the fact that yes, she was creative and yes she had an artistic ability. Since then Carole seems to have relaxed her Type A behaviors and increased her more intuitive, artsy-side.
Are those scorpion body parts you’re wearing?
As Carole related her captivating stories, she mentioned the earrings she was wearing – one of her creations. Until she mentioned them I didn’t look close enough to notice that they were different from standard earrings. But when I did inspect them, I thought, ‘is that a bolt and is the other one a washer? And what’s that hanging off the bottom?’ Within seconds, Carole went on to tell the story of how she made her earrings out left over parts. The bottom component on each side was parts of a scorpion body she discovered during her travels.
When Carole spoke I just wanted her to carry on forever
I loved to hear about her journey and her transformation to a life on the sea. My daughter asked if we could visit Carole on her boat so the following morning we are able to take a tour on Nepenthe. What an experience! The boat is so homey – Carole has various creations around the boat – a seat cover here and a wall handing there. We noticed a skull and Carole picked it up explaining, ‘Now this is a turtle head. We found the skull and other bones just like you see it here.’ She then pointed out Jim’s didgeridoo, secured from Australia, and various other artifacts from their travels. There was also quite a large bookshelf. Compared to our boat that doesn’t have a personality (yet) it was great to see a real homey home on the sea.
And Jim – what a great person
At 71 he’s way to young to be my grandfather but his personality and amazing attitude to life reminded me of my grandpa. With a kind face, genuine smile and witty remarks I felt so happy to be in his presence. He’s the type of guy that you just can’t help but love.
When asking Jim about his experiences, he remarks, ‘The one consistent thing in all our travels is that everywhere we’ve been we’ve found incredibly nice people.’
My heart smiled when I heard him say that!
And it’s not like Jim and Carole have only sailed the Mediterranean! The couple have anchored off islands with no electricity where they had to make an offering to the local chief. They’ve sailed for 6 months without stopping at a marina. They’ve learned how to barter for items, receive gifts and the best way to give gifts. The two have even had encounters with possible robbers.
Lucky for us, we were able to see Jim and Carole for several days as both Nepenthe and Britican made their way south along the west side of Greece.
We were graced with Carole’s no-egg cake twice! The first time it had guava on the top and the second one was made with chocolate. (NOTE: I will add a link to Carole’s recipe here once I publish it!). And several times throughout the day we’d swim over to visit or they’d come see us. Every time we met I felt so honored to listen to their stories and feel the kinship that had been formed.
There’s such an amazing kinship that’s formed with other sailors
When anchored in a bay we wouldn’t think of going ashore without offering to take someone else’s trash or offering to collect milk or bread. Once you meet others you immediately have this strong feeling to look after them. Jim and Carole would stop by our boat and offer to pick us up something and we’d do the same. The picture above shows my cousin Loryn bringing a plate back to our boat – Carole sent a slice of her no-egg chocolate cake back for me to try out!
You just don’t have that kinship and kindness in a neighborhood
Well…you do, but you don’t. When your living in a house you might have one or two neighbors that you look out for but those two neighbors stay the same. With sailing, your neighbors change every day. Either someone is coming in or you’re leaving to a new destination. At every anchorage, however, a new kinship is possible to create and that’s so awesome.
Back to Jim and Carole… Over the course of several little conversations I made a list of all the things I learned or changed the way I thought. Things that I thought other newbie sailors would benefit from hearing, so here’s my list of the top 8 things I learned from world cruising veterans Jim and Carole aboard Nepenthe:
- When cruising for a long time in rocky weather if you get tired, just take a vacation. How? As long as you’re far away from land and not in a shipping lane, heave-to. Heaving-to is a way to keep your sails up but place them in a way where they become ineffective. By heaving to, the boat will essentially stop and so will the turbulent conditions. When in this position the boat will simply go up and down on the waves. You can chill out, take a nap and re-energize yourself. Once refreshed, sail back into the wind and progress on your journey. I’ve sailed in some terrible conditions and never once did I realize that I could take a break from them! This is such a top tip.
- You don’t have to go to a marina if you don’t want to. Okay, now this is my naivety coming out here. When sailing in America, England and doing our weekly Sun Sail flotilla holidays we always went from one marina to another. With our boat in England we never anchored – I was always too scared that the anchor wouldn’t hold. The day we met Jim and Carole, it was perhaps the 4th or 5th time we anchored so I was getting more comfortable with it. I didn’t, however, think of anchoring as the main way to moor. You don’t know what you don’t know. Both hubby and I were programmed to moor up in marinas – I just didn’t think that you could go around and rarely enter a marina. Anchoring full time wasn’t an option we even considered. After talking with Jim and Carole, who rarely visit a marina, my whole attitude to mooring has changed. (See number 8 for more on anchoring).
- Sailing is more relaxing if you don’t have to get anywhere. My husband and I had this mentality that we needed to get to our next destination quickly. If we weren’t going around 3 knots or higher we’d turn our engine on and motor-sail. We just had this need to get to somewhere – anywhere – as quickly as possible. Furthermore, if the wind died on us, instead of waiting for it to come back, we’d pull the headsail in and motor for a while. What we learned from Jim and Carole is that they rarely use their engine. They use it mainly to leave an anchor and approach a mooring. Overnight, my husband and I had a change in attitude regarding the use of our engine. We now plan on getting somewhere considering the conditions and if we don’t make it, we have another option lined up. We no longer feel this need to get anywhere quickly. Why hurry anyway? As Carole often says, ’there are no schedules on the sea!’ What’s wrong with drifting along waiting for wind? Perhaps you can start to see a theme going on here – hubby and I are learning how to relax a bit!
- When circumnavigating the world it’s very possible to go for several months without gaining access to food and water. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know it would be difficult to get provisions (food/water) for months at a time. I knew that crossing the Atlantic would take up to a month but I didn’t realize that there are far longer stretches! When cruising various parts of the world, Carole makes sure to stock 6 months worth of food and water. She buys things like beans dried and in bulk. And her system for eggs sounds crazy but drastically increases their use by date. Carole coats all the eggs in Vaseline, tapes the cartons together by stacking them and then every three days she flips them. When explaining how to handle eggs, Carole explains with a serious voice that ‘it’s imperative to get the eggs fresh and to make sure they have not been refrigerated.’ Once they’re chilled the system won’t work. Carole also discovered that it was too hot and took too much energy to use the oven. She’s learned how to cook everything on the stovetop – even bread!
- Laundry doesn’t have to be an issue if you create a system. After our weeklong maiden voyage on Britican it took about two weeks to do all our laundry and we have a washer! Thankfully, Carole told me about her system and now I’ve changed my thoughts about handling laundry. Carole keeps two buckets in the cockpit – one is the ‘Agitator’ and the other is the ‘Spin Cycle’. Every time she has enough for a load, she pops in the agitator with soap for a day or night. After then it goes in the spin cycle, fresh water, for a while. She repeats and then hangs the clothes out to dry. It’s an ongoing routine and the laundry never adds up. After meeting Carole, we’ve decided to do a load every day, or every other day, rather than store our dirty clothes up. It’s so much easier! It’s just a part of our new routine.
- Save plastic bottles for rubbish. It doesn’t take long to realize that trash is a big issue – especially on long voyages. It adds up quickly and it needs to be stored somewhere. Carole explained that the pair cut up everything into small pieces and put it into plastic bottles – large empty water bottles work well. Ideally, you want to use something with a large opening as it’s easier to cram stuff into it. Every time you add something you take a spoon and push it down. I suppose it’s a do-it-yourself compactor. I was amazed the first time I tried this trick. The amount that can fit into a bottle is mind-blowing! Carole also mentioned that they throw anything biodegradable overboard once they’re far out to sea.
- Cruising around the world gets easier with defined roles. Carole mentioned that it took quite a while for the pair to figure out exactly who’s doing what. Now that they’ve been on the seas for 15 years, they’re both very comfortable with their individual roles. Carole does all the planning, helming and customs clearing. Jim does all the maintenance and cooking. For us, a few months into our voyage, I can see that it makes sense to have very clear roles. At first hubby and I were going to trade on and off doing the engine checks but now it just works that hubby does it. You get to know the levels of oil and coolant, etcetera and when checking things you know what’s right and what isn’t. In fact, hubby does all the boat stuff and I do all the traditional woman stuff, which is quite a change from our old life. Back when we lived on land, hubby stayed home to look after our daughter and I went to work! Now I look after our daughter and the ‘home’ while Simon goes to ‘work.’
- General tips on anchoring and anchorages. While anchored in a bay on an island called Paxos, off the west side of Greece, we encountered our first anchoring scare. Surrounded by 20 to 30 other sailboats huge amounts of gusting wind quickly came upon us. It blew our whole boat sideways and it didn’t take long to realize that many boats lost their anchor holding. There were boats floating around unmanned, and we were getting closer to other boats. Several people were panicking (including me). It was a very scary experience. After the ordeal, I asked Carole what her tips were in regards to anchoring. She explained that they always anchor towards the outside of the bay allowing for an easy escape if things get too crazy. That tip alone seemed to make a lot of sense. When the wind hit we were close to shore and surrounded by loads of other boats. I felt trapped whereas if we were further out I wouldn’t have freaked out so much. Next Carole explained that before anchoring she always has an escape route. In other words, she has other places that she can sail to if the bay becomes too dangerous. And finally, Carole explained that if you’re afraid your anchor won’t hold or worried about the other boats around you, just leave. You can always sail out for several miles and heave-to if need be.
What are my overall thoughts on all these great tips?
In my old life I think that I became somewhat of a know-it-all. After spending 20+ years doing my craft I did know a thing or two. The problem with that is you get to a point where you fail to learn. You become rigid in your ways and closed to new concepts. In this new life of living on the sea, however, I’m not embarrassed to admit that I know nothing and by doing so I’ve opened myself up to learning from others.
After meeting Jim and Carole, my family and I felt so grateful to have made new friends. Life on the sea is a totally new experience for us and I’m often worried or concerned about the lack of things we know or the very little experience that we have. However, what I’m realizing is that there are Jim and Carole’s all over the world…and perhaps one day we’ll be a Jim and Carole to others.