Nordhavn Pendana GUEST INTERVIEW – The Besemer Family, Three at Sea N43, April 2015
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Pete’s Pub, Abacos, The Bahamas (April 2012)
So, David, tell us a little something about your cruising to date and where you have been so far?
We have been living aboard and cruising for 6-1/2 years. We cruised the east and west coasts of North and Central America, from the Canadian Maritimes, to the Panama Canal, to Glacier Bay, Alaska; and we also cruised the Great Lakes, The Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and The Virgin Islands (U.S. and British). We have voyaged about 30,000 nm, so far (route map below).
Ayla shivers while visiting the Margerie Glacier, Glacier Bay, Alaska, USA.
We conceived of this adventure as an educational opportunity for Ayla, and we intended to cruise for 1-3 years during her middle-school years. We home-schooled her for the first three years, and then she enrolled in Stanford University Online High School, from which she will graduate this June. Each year we have a family meeting to decide whether to continue to live aboard and cruise, and it has always been a unanimous decision to continue.
Ayla working on her chemistry lab assignment in Three@Sea’s Galley.
Some of our favourite places we’ve visited on Three@Sea include Beaufort (South Carolina), Cumberland Island (Georgia), the Exumas (The Bahamas), Cuttyhunk (Massachusetts), Benjamin Islands (Ontario, Canada), Prince Edward Island (Canada), Culebra (Puerto Rico), Virgin Gorda (British Virgin Islands), Quepos (Costa Rica), Espiritu Santo (Mexico), Catalina Island (California), Port Townsend (Washington), Vancouver (British Columbia, Canada), and Glacier Bay (Alaska). Our favorite times aboard Three@Sea are (a.) swinging on the hook in a secluded anchorage, and (b.) overnight passages with favourable sea conditions and clear skies.
Now, I understand you bought Three@Sea one day then moved aboard full time the next – wow that must have taken some adjusting to i.e. learning a new boat and living in a smaller space all at the same time?
That’s pretty close to how it happened: We sold our house in July, then bought and moved aboard Three@Sea on August, 2nd. When we decide to go on an adventure, we tend to jump in with both feet! Having said that, we had been mentally preparing for that day for about eight years, including chartering trawlers in The Bahamas and the Greek Islands in each of the two years prior. But it was still a pretty big leap-of-faith to sell our house and move aboard.
Moving aboard Three@Sea, Stuart, Florida, August 2, 2008
It took us about a month to get used to the smaller space, and about six months to get comfortable handling the boat in a variety of conditions. And of course, after more than six years aboard, we continue to learn new things almost every day.
David standing watch, Atlantic coast USA.
So Kathryn, what were your memories of this time (first three months)?
Excitement! We were literally beginning to live our dream—how cool is that? Everything was new, and filled with possibility. Where would we go? How do marine toilets work? Wow, the moon really does significantly influence tides! With such a tiny refrigerator, how do we eat healthy on the boat? Can the boat really fit all the items we shipped from home? How do you run errands with no car? Everything was new, and needed to be figured out. I remember feeling very alive. Each day I was connected to the weather in a way I had never been before—we lived in the very sunrise and sunset of each day. Exhilarating! There was sooooo much learning to be done. I still have my notebook from that first week aboard, and laugh at what I took notes on. It definitely took a few months just to learn how to move on a boat. I kept bending over to pick something up (like I used to do at home) but would end up with a cleat, handle, or corner of something on my backside—lots of bruises those first three months. When we’d arrive in a new port, I would be out on deck for an hour trying to figure out how to rig the fenders, or prep lines for arrival. Lots of nerves and questions. Was I doing it right? You don’t want to have such a beautiful boat and look like an idiot. What I learned is that the boating community is very supportive: most everyone is just glad you are out there doing it, and are happy to help you learn.
Kathryn prepares fresh, local lobster for dinner. Prince Edward Island, Canada.
I loved the quiet of the mornings, sitting on the flybridge having coffee as the sun rose, and watching the sunset each night, taking pride in all that we had learned or accomplished that day.
First sunrise on the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, August 2008
And I have to ask Ayla what was it like to go from regular land living to living on a boat?
Because we started planning our boat journey when I was 4-years-old, the move always seemed inevitable to me. The idea of transitioning from land-based life and regular school to consistent travel was quite natural, so when our plans finally worked out, I was thrilled! Learning to consolidate my life into a tiny stateroom (with no more than three feet of floor space) was a challenge, but a fun one. Home school took some adjusting, but I quickly developed a sense of independence due to the fact that I was using a self-driven curriculum. Though I had never felt peer pressure at regular school, boat life nonetheless afforded a great sense of freedom. I was at absolute liberty to be whomever I wanted without peers supressing or mocking those interests (my absolute geekiness really developed during this time). Furthermore, any concerns that I would somehow be lonely were quickly replaced by joy at meeting fellow cruising kids. The community of cruisers is adventurous, relaxed, and extremely tight-knit, something that is often difficult to find in the middle school years. From the moment we cast off our lines, it was a wonderful journey that I felt (and continue to feel) privileged to be a part of.
Ayla the day her new school books arrived in August 2008.
Kathryn and Ayla returning from their latest adventure. Vieques, Puerto Rico.
So David, why did you choose a Nordhavn?
Safety and the world-cruising capability were our primary reasons. We wanted to be able to go anywhere in the world, and do so as safely as possible. Although we have not yet crossed an ocean, we have spent many consecutive days and nights at sea in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Pacific, and we’ve always been glad we chose a Nordhavn. We also wanted a production boat (versus a custom boat), which narrowed the choice to just a handful of world-capable builders. We felt that owning a production boat would give us easier access to parts and assistance from both the manufacturer and community of owners. And speaking of that… The amazing Nordhavn cruising community was a factor into our choice. Given our inexperience, we liked the idea that there were many other people out there cruising on the same platform, who would be willing to share their knowledge and experience. This special community has proven to be an invaluable resource for our adventure.
Dilly surveys the charts for a cruise to the Bahamas.
What has been your cruising highlight so far?
It’s impossible to choose a single highlight—there have been so many. Our cruise in Glacier Bay last summer was a recent highlight, about which Kathryn wrote these words in her blog entry:
There is no one superlative that captures the experience. No catchy phrase, or playful alliteration. Not even a litany of adjectives can do justice to the enormity of beauty and power that lives in this land. This is the most heart-stoppingly beautiful place we’ve visited. Spectacular!
Do you travel with an animal/s on board?
Yes, we have an 8-year-old tabby cat named Piccadilly (“Dilly” for short). Because Dilly is not one of the “three at sea”, we named the dinghy after her: “Dilly Too”. She has been a good sport about cruising, but she still hides whenever the instruments get powered up, as she anticipates a cruise of unknown length, with seas of unknown height. She is so happy whenever we drop the hook at the end of a day.
David and Kathryn in your past lives what did you or do you still do for work?
We’ve both had careers in the high-tech industry of Silicon Valley, Kathryn in marketing, and I in software engineering. We met when we were both working at NeXT Computer in the late 1980’s. Since Ayla was born in 1996, Kathryn has been a stay-at-home mom. I still work full-time, and I am currently the CTO for data virtualization at Cisco (via acquisition in 2013). My work is the main reason we have stayed close to North America on our cruising itinerary.
Kathryn and David prepare to clean Three@Sea’s bottom (a very different office!). Puerto Rico.
Kathryn, if there is one thing David does that irritates you while underway what would that be?
Trying to get him to relinquish the captain’s chair! He LOVES being at the helm, and would be there all day, everyday while we are underway, but he must learn to share. ? When I finally pry him out of the chair, he is prone to sitting in the pilothouse offering helpful comments. The only person harder to get out of the captain’s chair than David is Dilly (and yes, Dilly has no doubt she is a person). On a more serious note, although David is an excellent captain, and is extremely focused when we are underway, there are times when I wish he would be lighter (i.e., not so anal about every detail). But of course the flip-side of this trait is that we have cruised more than 30,000 nautical miles without significant incident. That is a testament to his focus and skill.
And it’s only fair I ask David the same question, so David, if there was one thing Kathryn does that irritates you what would that be?
As a computer scientist, my thinking tends to be very logical. As a magical creature (and possibly a being from another planet) Kathryn is not bound by such limiting logic. This can be both irritating and inspiring, depending on what mood I’m in. The abundant richness in our life is due primarily to Kathryn’s out-of-the-box thinking; but it is also a contributing factor to my increasingly grey hair.
And to be totally democratic I will leave Ayla with the last word, so Ayla what is that they both do that irritates you?
First of all, I feel like this adventure has provided me an opportunity to get incredibly close with my parents during years where I might otherwise have drifted away. Very little of the traditional parent/teenager tension has existed during our travels, and I have loved having the chance to get to know my folks as friends and people, not simply as parents. Of course, conflict exists—I am an American teenager, it’s inevitable! These conflicts aren’t actually specific to boat life; they’re just necessary parts of growing up (hating school, not doing chores, wanting to hang out with friends). If anything, the boat has made these conflicts easier because the small space demands absolute, honest communication at all times. I vividly remember arguing with my mom one evening, and even though it was something trivial, we were both fairly worked up. My mom turned to walk away, and I yelled “Where are you going?!” She responded in an exasperated tone, “Nowhere! I can’t go anywhere! We live on a BOAT!” With that, we both burst into laughter, and the conflict was forgotten.
No conflict here! Ayla jumps for joy during a beach walk. Espiritu Santo, Sea of Cortez, Mexico.
So, continuing the irritating things subject, have you ever run out of something while at sea that has caused problems?
Half-and-half for our coffee. And, yes, that caused big problems! Kathryn does an amazing job provisioning for our passages, but on a couple occasions the dairy we bought in some sketchy port ended up being spoiled, so we had to improvise other ways to make our coffee tan. It’s a rough life out here!
Would you describe yourselves as more hunters or more gathers?
I’m mostly hunter, and Kathryn is mostly gatherer (Kathryn here: I am all gatherer). It’s in our respective DNA, after all. This mix of approaches has actually been beneficial to this kind of journey—you need both, just at different times. It’s not clear yet whether Ayla is more hunter or gatherer.
Ayla here: If I were to say right now, I’d identify categorize myself as both hunter and gatherer, leaning more towards hunter. Whether that is inspired by the kick-ass women from literature I admire (here’s looking at you, Katniss Everdeen) or my innate personality is yet to be seen.
Why did you name your vessel Three@Sea?
Our vision was to cruise for 1-3 years with Ayla while she was in middle-school, so we were going to be “three at sea” for a few years—it seemed to fit our situation. Being from the computer industry, we also liked the loose reference to an e-mail address that the at-sign evoked. Of course, now that Ayla is about to go off to college, the name isn’t going to fit as well. Maybe Dilly should get a promotion?
What other names did you consider?
“Magic Carpet”, “iBoat”, “TARDIS”, “One World”, “Sea Change”, and “sAylaway” (which is what Ayla ended up naming her Laser Pico).
What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened to you while at sea?
One Christmas season Three@Sea and crew had a wickedly rough crossing of the Caribbean Sea from Jamaica to Panama. When preparing for a rough multi-day passage, in addition to securing all items on the boat, we also move Dilly’s litter box from our stateroom shower to the back of the salon (to make it easier for her to use underway). On this particular passage we were dealing with 12-foot beam seas, which occasionally delivered a 16-foot wave that would give Three@Sea a good roll (even with our stabilizers). One such roll shook a few items loose, and when we checked to make sure everything was okay, we found our little Christmas tree upside down in Dilly’s litter box—it seemed to perfectly sum-up the voyage we were having.
Christmas aboard Three@Sea, complete with a faux fire on the TV. Bahamas.
What’s the biggest mistake you have ever made on the water?
Cruising in the ocean with a 3-day-old weather report. This was a few months into our adventure, during our first trip to The Bahamas, and we didn’t yet own satellite communications equipment for receiving up-do-date weather. We waited nine days in Ft. Lauderdale before crossing the Gulf Stream in good conditions, and the next several days looked good too. But then we spent two nights in Bimini, and one night anchored near Cat Cay, before proceeding to cross the Bahama bank and transiting the Tongue of the Ocean to Nassau, without getting an updated weather report! We endured the worst head seas we have had during our entire cruising adventure crossing the Tongue that day—lots of green water over the bow and pilothouse. Lesson learned. Upon arriving in Nassau, we immediately ordered a satellite phone, which caught up with us in Georgetown, and we’ve had up-to-the-minute weather reports ever since. Close behind was misreading the units on GRIB files, not realizing sea-state was being given in meters not feet—typical American assumption. There’s a big difference between 2-3 foot seas and 2-3 meter seas!
Tell us a little something about MV Three at Sea?
She is a wonderful home and vessel, and we have all established quite a bond with her. She’s a 2006 N43 (hull #19) with a flybridge, and we bought her from the original owner (through Nordhavn brokerage) when she was 2-years-old. In addition to an 11’ AB RIB, we also carry a glass-bottom kayak, a Laser Pico sailboat, a surfboard, SCUBA gear, and a few other toys. We do much of the maintenance ourselves, and she has also been to James Knight / Yacht Tech several times to maintain and improve her.
Are any of you scared of spiders?
YES, I am! Isn’t everybody? We had so many spiders aboard when we cruised the Great Lakes because they thrive in the freshwater environment. Kathryn is more scared of snakes than spiders. Ayla’s not crazy about either of them. Needless to say, Australia poses some challenges in this regard.
David, what lesson do you believe every boater should learn through reading rather than experience?
How to mix a proper cocktail. The balance between strong, weak, sour, bitter, and sweet is more difficult to achieve than most people appreciate. On a more serious note, I’ll keep what could be a long list to just two things:
1. The rules of the road. Some boaters seem to do okay “driving” their vessel until they encounter another vessel, at which point they have no idea how to proceed safely (we’ve even seen this with fishing boat captains). Knowing the rules is one of the big differences between simply driving and actually piloting.
2. Recommended anchoring techniques. That’s not to say that reading doesn’t also need to be augmented with experience, but unless you begin with the conceptual framework, you will have a hard time being safe and effective with the hook(s).
This question reminds me of the first time we picked up a mooring ball (Warderick Wells, The Bahamas), after which a fellow cruiser came over and explained to us how to do it better—thank you! He also gave us a phrase that we’ve used many times during our adventure: “Good judgement comes from experience; and experience comes from poor judgement.” Amen to that!
Ayla what has been the best thing about living on a boat for the past five years?
I mentioned this briefly earlier, but being able to develop as an individual independent from peer pressure and the constraints of traditional school. Whenever I became interested in something, I could pursue it with abandon, reading voraciously, and getting involved with people or organizations that held similar interests. One day I could be a geek parading about in my Star Trek uniform (yes, I have a Star Trek uniform), and the next I could be an aspiring novelist, lost in my imagination. This freedom to pursue my interests without fear of isolation translates well into high school and beyond, for I feel absolutely comfortable standing on my own two feet, secure in my interests and passions.
Ayla plays her violin at sunset. Cuttyhunk, Massachusetts, United States
The responsibility I have developed by living on the boat is also extremely valuable. When you take the helm, you carry your lives and the lives of everyone at sea on your shoulders—that is a BIG feeling for a thirteen year old. I quickly had to learn the enormity of what we deal with at sea, everything from mechanics, to radio communications, to rules of the road. My sailing friends will tell you that this has made me a little intense about things like right-of-way (okay, really intense), but that’s exactly as it should be! This comfort developed with the sea and cruising life defines me; being able to read a chart, navigate new waters, or change engine oil are skills I never would have developed on land. Finally, my biggest takeaway from boat life is a critical engagement with what defines “home.” Since I was 11, I have been perpetually on the move. Many people define home by one place, but I have never had that option. As a result, I adopted the sea as my home, identifying my sense of self with the smell of low tide in the evening, sound of chattering gulls and popping shrimp in the morning, and the ability to look at the same stars under a different sky every night. Our GPS never reads the same location, yet I am always at home, both on Three@Sea and on the ocean itself.
And, what has been the worst thing?
Being a teenager is tough, it just is. Juggling rigorous school, the hormonal craziness of growing up, and adolescent drama (yes, it exists, even in an online high school) is challenging under normal circumstances. Add perpetual movement, responsibilities to boat chores, and oftentimes uncomfortable or uncertain situations (new countries, weather at sea), and it can at times feel overwhelming. Thankfully, my parents have helped me handle that, and the boat has actually provided tremendous relief to what could otherwise have been dreadful. The boat became such a pivotal part of who I am that giving her up for a “normal” life barely ever crossed my mind: I could not have imagined a better way to spend my teenage years, and I am thankful for it everyday.
What’s your favourite photo ever taken while at sea and why?
It is always inspiring when a pod of dolphins choose to surf our bow wake. We’ve had many different kinds of dolphins and porpoise visit us while underway, and this is one of our favourite photos of this phenomenon.
What would you never leave behind (besides each other) when heading out to sea?
Satellite phone and AIS. The satellite phone for current weather and emergency communications. AIS to help us safely encounter large commercial vessels at night and in the fog. Oh, and unspoiled half-and-half!
Ayla: To be more romantic and less pragmatic, I’d say a set of good books (bonus points if they’re about wilderness adventure; Walden is my go-to watch book, though I’m always up for a good Harry Potter re-read), a thoughtful soundtrack (the right song can make a lonely evening at sea feel like a movie-moment), and an assortment of delightful movies (the ickiness of bad seas is partially alleviated by a good film or TV show—binge watching West Wing got me through our Caribbean Sea crossing).
Ayla reading while tending lines in the Trent-Severn Waterway, Ontario, Canada
Also, a sense of adventure. Never leave home—and especially never leave port—without it. Unexpected things happen when you take risks like ocean voyaging, so the ability to be flexible, thoughtful, and aware of the situation is essential. And may I, finally, reiterate the importance of coffee and half-and-half to making everyone’s lives better.
Kathryn, tell us something about yourself or David that nobody knows?
David and I read the charts on our navigation system completely differently. David always has the chart oriented “north up” and I always orient it “course up”. There are times when David does an engine room check or boat project, and when he returns to the helm is completely befuddled by our course, until of course he realizes that I re-oriented the charts in his absence.
Kathryn cleans the produce from her provisioning trip. Exumas, Bahamas
In five words or less how would you sum up the last five years?
Kathryn: Wonder. Alive. Intense. Family. Awe.
Ayla: Enlightening. Independent. Intense. Thoughtful. Expansive.
David: Fun. Inspiring. Adventurous. Surprising. Humbling.
The family goes on a dinghy excursion somewhere in the Inside Passage to Alaska. British Columbia, Canada.
And finally, where to next?
We’re not sure: our cruising plans are etched in sand at low tide. We’re currently in the Pacific Northwest after cruising Alaska last summer, so we’ll probably head down the West Coast this summer, arriving in Mexico in the Fall. Ayla will then disembark Three@Sea to head off to college, so Kathryn and I will make a plan for cruising without Ayla for the first time. A whole new chapter awaits! Thank you very much for your time, will be watching this year’s progress closely.
Good luck with your travels!
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