Portrait of a Cruiser – Barb and Con Sprenger

The fourth in our “Portrait of a Cruiser” series, this time we are profiling a Canadian couple who have spent several years cruising the Mediterranean after buying their boat in Northern Europe. Con and Barb have been diligent contributors to noonsite and rarely miss sending us updates from the port they have just visited.

Published 6 years ago, updated 4 years ago

Portrait of a Cruiser – www.noonsite.com

Names of Owners:

Con and Barb Sprenger



Boat Name: 


Boat Type/Model and Size: 

Nauticat 515

Big Sky

Your Home Port: 

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Describe what sort of cruiser you are: 

We are live-a-boards

How did you start cruising?

Con held onto the dream to sail in his retirement for 40 years. When he was 61, he finally did it! I met Con later in life and on our third date, he shared with me, his dream to sail in retirement. I never thought at that moment that his dream would become my reality just four years later. Eleven years ago, we bought our Nauticat in Finland and began cruising just as the ice was melting in the Baltic Sea. Con had sailed most of his life in chartered boats, but I was a greenhorn. After a few sailing courses, I learned as we began cruising, together clocking nearly 25,000 NM.

What type of cruising are you doing currently?

We cruise the Mediterranean’s turquoise waters, enjoying different foods and cultures. Generally, we sail for about three hours at a time from one fabulous anchorage or picturesque town to another.

What were the key reasons you selected your current boat?

We searched the world for the “Just Right” boat always believing it would be a Nauticat. For us, a pilot house was important, letting the outside in through the big windows and having the ability to navigate from inside at night or in foul weather.  We didn’t like the concept of our living space below deck, as we believed it would feel like living in a basement. Con and I love seeing the big sky above us, (hence our boat’s name). Also, you cannot beat the beautifully detailed finished teak work inside. The Nauticat is a sturdy boat, a class “A” structure, meaning it could survive the worst conditions and weighing (fully loaded) close to 30 tons, she doesn’t rock and roll so much in adverse conditions. Big Sky was an easy decision for us. Con had decided before we saw the boat in person, and when I opened the companionway doors to take my first look, I fell in love.

What other boats have you owned?


What changes have you made to your current boat?

Beyond the on-going maintenance, Big Sky is 18 years old this fall and is just like new. We changed the cockpit Bimini structure to allow more shade and a larger winter house, updated some of the electronics, added an inverter, lengthened our Bruce anchor’s chain to a 100 meters.

Most useful equipment fitted:

Our new Bimini / Winter house. It added another level to our boat allowing us to enjoy the cockpit during the heaviest rain or coolish evenings, and with the innovative construction, it provides a large shaded area during the hottest months.

Equipment regrets, or things you would do differently:

Haha, probably it’s not building the Bimini / Winter house sooner.

List the countries you have cruised:

Finland, Sweden, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Germany, Denmark, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Tunisia, Italy, Malta, Monaco, Turkey, Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovenia, and Montenegro.

Future cruising plans:

Possibly The Canary Islands, maybe Algeria, but quite likely, you’ll find us playing in the Med and wintering in Cartagena, Spain next year.

List the oceans/seas you have crossed:

Baltic Sea, North Sea, Atlantic east coast, Bay of Biscay, Black Sea and The Mediterranean.

Approximate sea miles: 25,000 NM

Scariest day on the water:

Well, now you’ve opened a can of worms.

The scariest day had our adrenalin working overtime. We were caught in really nasty weather seeking shelter up a river, realizing as we neared the entrance, that the combination of the wind pushing the river out and the massive waves, would plant our keel a meter deep in mud. We turned back to sea through enormous waves with green water washing over the cockpit. We anticipated a knockdown but managed to reach safety intact.

But the scariest day should have been the day we almost died. Our rigging took down a telephone wire in the Danube, just 50 meters before hitting electrical wires. We backed out to safety and said to each other, “Oops.” Probably the scariest moments are the ones you can’t control. While attempting to cross the Atlantic, we had 30-knot winds pounding on our bow and six-meter high waves sandwiching us in the trough. At the eighteenth hour, we realized that our brother (my in-law) was nearly comatose with seasickness. We turned around.

For every scary day, there are hundreds of fabulous days.

Best cruising moment:

Definitely, those moments when the sea’s habitants come to visit us. In Turkey, a  dozen dolphins played and jumped at our bow for our then three-year-old granddaughter. On our way to Tunisia, an enormous whale slowly circled our boat and then flashed his tail before submerging. But for the sailor in us, it was when we sailed passed Tarifa, Spain heading to Gibraltar and put the rail in the sea. For the love of the sun and sea in us, it’s the crystal clear waters at anchor off Corsica and Greece. In retrospect though, it’s when we share all of this with family, our four daughters, son-in-laws and five grandkids, my then 83-year-old mom, and Con’s then 91-year-old mom who took the helm navigating us down the North Sea Canal to Amsterdam, dodging freighters.

Favourite cruising area and why:

Without a doubt, our favourite cruising area is Greece with the warm clear-blue waters and the thousands of coves and bays to anchor. The Greek people are incredibly friendly and honest. We’ve never felt unsafe.

This photo – Big Sky is the only visiting boat in our favourite Greek town, Kastellorizo. Turkey is 2 km away in the background.

Favourite anchorage:

Oh boy, that question is too hard. A favourite anchorage is never the same a second time, so it’s likely best found in the next anchorage.

Favourite cruising apps:

We use Windfinder Pro as our favourite weather app and the Navionics app for charting. However, we still use the hand-held 276C Garmins, despite the Map Source which is now obsolete.

Favourite cruising website:

We reference Noonsite first, followed by Google Earth, and word of mouth info from friends.

Favourite cruising books:

Imray Pilot books for cruising, Nigel Calder for maintenance, and a variety of sailing books like the Smeetons, Slocum, and many others.

What advice or message would you want to pass on to anyone new to cruising or thinking about casting off the dock lines?

If you really want to set sail, just do it! The most difficult thing is the first step. Don’t waste time dreaming and over planning. Make a plan, set out your objectives and goals, create a realistic budget, and follow through with your strategies until you’re living your dream. In our opinion, you’ll never regret it. Don’t ever catch yourself saying, “I wish I had done that.”

What is it that inspires you to keep cruising?

The adventure.

Exploring sites as old as dust.

Freedom to set our own destiny.

Learning about the world and the people around us.

Despite what you read and see in the news, the world is a beautiful place. We have witnessed more kindness and generosity than we could ever have imagined, from people we didn’t even know.

SY Big Sky’s website: www.sailbigsky.com

SY Big Sky’s Book: Sailing Through Life, by Barb Radu Sprenger

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