Mark and Jennifer Ullmann – Starlet N46
Mark and Jennifer Ullmann
So, Jennifer, tell us why you became full time liveaboards?
Mark and I are xenophiles; we enjoy traveling and seeing new places. We like meeting the locals and understanding cultures and customs that are different from ours. Avid SCUBA divers, we also love exploring remote dive sites. We’ve always had an active plan to retire early. In May 2003, we are at a Thai restaurant after I had had a particularly bad day at work. I had recently reviewed the list of countries I wanted to visit and it occurred to me that most places we can get to by boat. So I just blurted it out without too much thought “I think we should buy a boat and go”. Mark says the heavens opened up and he heard the angels sing. Seriously, he was on it so fast it would make your head spin. A yacht was our best option for travel since it would allow us to take our beloved dogs with us. At this time we were seven and a half years away from retirement.
What did you do to prepare for the transition from land to sea?
Mark was already a USCG captain and had experience on both sailboats and powerboats. For many years we owned a 24 foot dive boat that we used in Florida and the Bahamas. I took a Power Squadron class. From 2004 to 2010 we attended six Passagemaker Trawlerfests (boat shows for fuel efficient powerboats) throughout the country, attending seminars and meeting cruisers. We devoured every book on cruising we could find. After all, you don’t really know if cruising is going to work out until you do it, but the books helped paint a picture. After reading “Jenny’s Journey”, we visited Jenny, a Nordhavn 46, and spent the day with the author David Schramm. We also spent most of a weekend on another Nordhavn 46, Four Seasons, in Anacortes Washington while attending a boat show. The owners travelled a couple German Sheppard’s and gave us tips on training dogs to live on a boat. We chartered a Mainship trawler in Miami and took it to the Exumas with friends. We stopped buying “stuff” for the house/yard/pool knowing that we would be getting rid of “stuff” soon. The decision felt good and it felt right.
Where have you been so far?
We bought Starlet late in 2010 and retired early 2011. Our maiden voyage was two months to the Bahamas exploring and diving. We kept things moving to get as much experience as possible. We returned to Jacksonville Florida to make some improvements then took our second trip up the US East coast to Maine and the Chesapeake for four months. While in Newport RI we spent time with Scott and Mary Flanders who just returned to the US after a circumnavigation on their Nordhavn 46 Egret. It was one of the happiest days of Mark’s life when Scott gave his stamp of approval on our aptitude to make it happen.
The Flanders recommended that we “practiced” crossing oceans with the Atlantic. This changed our plans of first heading to the Pacific. During the East Coast trip we attended our seventh Trawlerfest in Baltimore in our very own Nordhavn 46. It was time to give back for all the hours we spent on other peoples yachts. It was a dream that came true and a defining moment. We just had a ball in Baltimore. We returned to Jacksonville two more months for more enhancements including a new battery bank and new ceiling throughout. Starlet was well cared for and loved by her previous owners but she was ten years old when we purchased her. Our third and final practice trip was three months through the Bahamas to the Dominican Republic and the Virgin Islands. We returned to Jacksonville to make final preparations for our first ocean crossing. June 2012 we headed across the Atlantic – we were ready!
After an easy run to Bermuda, we dropped off a crew member and picked up another. The Azores was a longer haul, but it only took 11 days thanks to tropical storm Chris giving us a push with 20 foot following seas. After visiting seven of the eight islands in the Azores over two months we made a run to Porto Portugal. After exploring the Portuguese coast, we spent 90 days between Gibraltar and Morocco to satisfy Schengen visa requirements. Morocco was really special – we were adopted by a local family. We stayed in Marina Smir and made day trips via the community taxi to various cities. Some of our fondest memories are our experiences with locals in the taxi or bus. I had fun practicing Arabic.
Marina Smir, Morocco
We then took our time working our way up the Spanish coast to Barcelona. We were adopted once again in Marbella. We spend a month in the Balearics and a month in Sardinia. After picking up company in Rome, we visited the Italian coast and islands off the coast.
Jen and Mark in Marbella, Spain
Then on to the Aeolian Islands and Aegadian Islands off Sicily. Then down through the Messina strait to the east coast of Sicily. Taormina was a highlight along with Catania and Syracusa. We wintered in Marina di Ragusa which is a good story in itself. We took two trips to Malta, probably our favorite country so far. We made one trip for diving and another for sightseeing. In the spring, we ran along the boot of Italy to Albania, which was surprisingly welcoming. Next up, Ionian Greece where we had two sets of guests for three weeks of our 32 day stay.
Starlet in Assos, Greece
Like most cruisers, we fell in love with Greece but had previously committed to spend the summer in the Adriatic. We spent a week in Montenegro and filled the tanks with duty free fuel before checking out. In June we arrived in Croatia, where we also will have guests joining us.
Why did you choose a Nordhavn?
Committed to full time cruising, we needed a boat that would be comfortable throughout the year. The space and protection a trawler offers seemed to be the best solution for us. Besides Nordhavns, we considered Kady Krogens, Diesel Ducks and Selenes. Since traveling the world is our goal, the solid reputation and track record of circumnavigations sold us on the Nordhavn 46. This boat is the perfect fit for us along with our dogs.
What has been your cruising highlight so far?
We have so many highlights.
– Arriving at 10 PM in Flores Azores after 11 days at sea. We are sitting at a restaurant, we still have daylight, and we are in a shell shocked state. WE REALLY DID IT! Not just crossed an ocean but quit working, sold the house, sold the cars, sold the beloved dive boat, sold furniture and gave away a bunch stuff. Did I tell you I was a pack rat? That was all behind us now and nothing but new grounds to explore in our future.
– Buying lobsters for $4 each off of fishermen in Maine and keeping the lobsters alive in our cooler until dinner time.
$4 dollar lobsters!
– Harvesting and eating mussels on a private island in Maine with the island owner.
– Arriving back in Jacksonville and docking (free) at the downtown landing for the Florida-Georgia game weekend. Perfect timing!
– Watching the constant stream of white and black puffs of smoke at Stromboli. Note to self: we must return to see the night time volcanic show.
– Staying in New York City at the 79th street boat pier and riding bikes all over Manhattan. Mark’s wallet fell out of his pocket, but he got a call from a guy who found it. Mark rode to Harlem to retrieve it, nothing missing but the cash!
– Being invited to walk our dogs on a gorgeous private island in Bermuda where they were free to run.
– Diving in the outer islands of the Bahamas. We made a point to visit Hogsty Reef, an atoll 40 miles from anywhere in between Great Inagua and Long Island. Mark had noticed it when flying over on an airliner and had vowed to return someday.
– Touring a beautiful longline fishing boat name Destiny in the middle of the night in Nantucket.
– Diving at night in St Croix looking for seahorses.
Ok so this is a day time shot in Malta but you get the idea!
– Anchoring near the wineries on Long Island then taking the dinghy to shore with our bikes to do wine tastings.
– Cruising Starlet from the Chesapeake to Jacksonville in November, feeling very cozy in our pilothouse as we passed sailboats with shivering crew.
– Attending the five day Fallas event in Valencia Spain. On the final day they burn about 300 hundred huge papier mache figures at midnight. Fire trucks on hand at the burnings to spray the buildings.
– Anchoring for three days in the megayacht marina Porto Cervo in Sardinia and watching the show from the flybridge.
– Dancing and singing with our cruising community in Marina di Ragusa Sicily.
Marina di Ragusa Sicily
– Wondering through the ruins in Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy.
– Touring temples in Malta that were built in 2,700 BC.
– Setting anchors in North Haven Maine to sit out tropical storm Irene while entertaining a guest on board. We watched the crews on the megayacht next to us windsurf and kitesurf.
– Going out for drinks in Cascias Portugal and spending 2 Euro per round! We ended up leaving after three weeks though we only planned to stay one night. Great place for day trips to Lisbon on the train.
– Eating Limpets in Velas on the island of Sao Jorge in the Azores that locals cooked for us on Starlet. Oh, yes, we got in trouble for prying limpets of the dock!
– Being invited up to a village on Sao Jorge for their “bull on a rope” festival.
– Hopping from castle to castle in Sintra Portugal.
– Biking across the border to from Gibraltar to La Linea Spain to celebrate New Years with cruising friends.
– Mountain climbing with locals in Marbella Spain.
– Scootering in Barcelona and surrounding area with cruising friends from Sweden.
– Exploring bat caves in Greece and Italy.
Do you travel with animals on board?
We travel with our beloved dogs. Both dogs are senior citizens. Mitchell is seventeen and Tori is fourteen. They easily made the transition to cruising and enjoy being with “the pack” all day. When it is rough underway they get a little concerned, but then settle down for a nap. Thankfully they have never been seasick. We were easily able to locate vets when needed in the Bahamas and in Syracusa Sicily. They now have their own passports (the EU pet passport)! They love going on walks in new places in 14 countries so far. Mitchell loves making new dog friends and Tori is warming up to it in her senior years. Someone recently asked me why we have dogs on Starlet. They thought it was for protection. My answer was unconditional love. If they protect the boat, that’s just a bonus.
Mitchell & Tori Ullmann out for a day of shopping!
In your past life what did you and Mark do?
I was a manager with a international bank, a mortgage banking consultant with a software company and an IT Project Manager with a health insurance company. Mark has always been an engineer, but he took a break and owned and operated two dive shops. He retired from a major health products company.
Jennifer, if there is one thing Mark does that irritates you while under-way what would that be?
The quick answer is when Mark turns the engine on before I am ready. I usually need ten more minutes to stow things like wine glasses or get things ready like loading the washing machine. Okay maybe finish one more email or Facebook post.
Hang on Mark! This will look great on Facebook!
And it’s only fair I ask Mark the same question, so Mark, if there was one thing Jennifer does that irritates you what would that be?
Jennifer forgets and leaves the toilet seat up. I know this is a bit of a role reversal, but if a hand towel drops in there and plugs the head up, guess who gets the job of sorting things out …
Onto irritating things, have you ever run out of something while at sea that has caused problems?
Thankfully No! Our guest stateroom is dedicated to spare parts, supplies and tools. Left over space is devoted to good cheap wine and dog food (we carry a six month supply of dog food, not quite that much wine). Things we have imported via visiting guests from the States are Crystal Light, vacuum cleaner filters, cartridges for the printer, peanut butter, low fat coffee creamer, facial moisturizers, dog meds, and US specific boat supplies and spares. In fact, our guests often bring a bag just for Starlet. We call it their ticket to ride. Thankfully we found a large container of Italian herbs in Malta. Italian herbs in a single shaker are nowhere to be found in Sicily.
Would you describe yourselves as more hunters or more gathers?
We both like to hunt places to go and things to see. We both like to gather friends and family on Starlet. We do it in completely different ways. Besides hunting and gathering, Mark could easily do all boat tasks by himself. Including pink jobs; cooking, cleaning, provisioning and laundry. I on the other hand I would not fare so well on the blue jobs. Except for the time when Mark went to the States for a wedding and my girlfriend flew in to celebrate a milestone birthday while we were docked in Catania Italy. The stars were aligned, knock on wood, we didn’t have any boat problems. He left me a short list of boat tasks such as flush the water maker. My greatest victory was replacing a defective AC control panel (Tori was so excited to see Christy arrive that she had splashed her bowl of water on the panel and shorted it out). Mark emailed where the spare panel was stowed and installation instructions. Piece of cake and A/C back on in the middle of summer!!! At $144 per night at the dock we needed the A/C.
Why did you name your vessel MV Starlet?
Mark wanted a female name. I came up with Christina, Alexandria, and thirty other names including Pocahontas. After two months of name rejecting he threw out Scarlett. Without much thought at all I instantly said I like Starlet better than Scarlett. We let that settle for a few days, and it grew on us.
MV Starlet looking picture perfect!
What other names did you consider?
Go2See, which turned out to be the name of our LLC. I wanted it to be clear that we were not going to sea. We were going to sea in order to see land.
What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened to you while at sea?
Mark’s brother Paul crewed with us from Bermuda to the Azores (11 days). He told us on day one that he wanted to go on other long passages with us. A couple days later after experiencing 20 foot seas he asked Mark if we were going to be okay. Three days later he said he was done making passages with us.
What’s the biggest mistake you have ever made on the water?
There were two deep wrecks in Malta that we wanted to dive on. Thinking we only had 300′ of anchor chain out, we realized our mistake when we reached the line that secures the end of the chain to the boat, almost losing 400′ of chain and the anchor. We have since added many colorful wire ties to the chain indicating that we are near the end!
Tell us a little something about MV Starlet?
She has two staterooms, two heads, and four living spaces including the flybridge, pilothouse, salon and master stateroom. In a pinch, the boat deck works out well too. We have a laundry room which is really a hallway but inside the cabinet we have washer and dryer! Starlet is a “serious” boat capable of crossing oceans and taking what Mother Nature has to dish out. She has paravanes that minimizing side to side movement at sea. She averages 6.5 knots and carries 1,000 gallon/3,800 liters of diesel fuel. As of June 2014 we have traveled 18,500 miles on her in just over three years.
Are you scared of spiders?
Spiders and snakes, no! Extremists and pirates, YES! I read abduction books to learn how people survived. I am also scared that something bad could happen to our “dream come true” liveaboard lifestyle. For example a disaster such as fire, waterspout, lightening or taking on water. While we are currently in perfect health, I’m also scared of medical issues taking us down.
What’s your favorite photo ever taken while at sea and why?
We have lots of photos that we have taken at sea. Mostly of sunrises and sunsets and big following seas. Plus we have great photos with the dogs wagging their tails and looking over the rail at porpoise playing in our bow wake. Occasionally we’ll troll a line on passage. When someone hears the fishing rod scream we yell “fish on!”, I slow down Starlet and get the belt out and strap it on Mark. When he has the fish close to the boat he gives the rod to me while he gaffs the fish. Then he cleans it and grills it. It’s all good!
What would you never leave behind (besides each other) when heading out to sea?
Of course we could never leave our dogs. Mark also moved every tool possible on to Starlet. He still misses some of his larger tools he left behind. I have small and cherished knick knacks that I brought on board to make Starlet a little homey. Candles substitute for a fireplace.
Mark checking his list!
Jennifer, tell us something about yourselves that nobody knows?
My life is an open book and I have few secrets. Some little known facts that only my family knows are my greatest fear in life was to be a bag lady. (I am finally over that one!) I get dental work done without Novocain (including crowns). Finally, while being in the Girl Scouts from ages 6 to 16 I earned ALL the badges.
Jennifer visiting the Trevi Fountain in Rome.
And finally, where to next?
Our intentions change daily. We thought we would only be in the Med for a couple of years. We intend on cruising in Aegean Greece this fall and spending the winter in the Red Sea. Next spring visit Turkey. We hope to visit friends in the Baltic before heading to the Panama Canal to begin our west bound circumnavigation.
Thank you very much for your time, will be watching this year’s progress closely.
By the way, did I mention there are also some very large sharks around the Australian coast?
We generally don’t mind diving with sharks we saw sharks on every dive in Palau. We are looking forward meeting you James! Australian has always been very high on our list. We will look forward to getting new four legged crew when we arrive.
Thank you Mark and Jennifer for your time and good luck with your travels around the Med!
Mark and Jennifer’s Facebook page can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/jennif
Their blog while in the Azores:http://n46starlet.blogspot.com/2012/07/azores-lajes-da-pico.html
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