Portrait of a Cruiser – Julian Calder and Family

The Calder family are starting their liveaboard life cruising in the Caribbean, the perfect place to get to know their 1980 blue water cruiser and prepare her for more demanding offshore voyages ahead. Father Julian Calder started life on the water working on superyachts. Having transferred to cruising he gives some great details here about the considerations when moving your family on board a boat, the type of boat they selected and pace of cruising that works for a young family.

Published 6 years ago, updated 5 years ago

Names of Owners (and crew): Owner / Skipper Julian Calder (45), Owner / Purser Fiona Calder (43), Mate Chloe Calder (9) and Bosun Poppy Calder (6).

Nationality: British

Boat Name: SV Lasgair

Boat Type/Model and Size: Whitby / Brewer 42 Built in 1980 by Fort Meyers Ship Yard in Florida. She is an old-fashioned girl, heavy displacement with a long lead encapsulated keel and fully integrated rudder. She has a center cockpit and is ketch rigged with twin headsails and a strong sheer line.

Your Home Port: Cowes, UK.

Blog/website/facebook etc.: Facebook – Julian CA, Instagram – Jonthewater.

Apparently I haven’t really had time to be active with this yet, but we plan a blog coming soon….!

How did you start cruising?

It was almost inevitable that I would end up Cruising at some point. I have been dreaming about living on a boat since I was a child. Treasure Island first fired my imagination and I had visions of myself voyaging through the South Pacific on a square rigged wooden pirate ship! (One of our “buddy boats” is ACTUALLY a square rigged wooden pirate ship, so that dream may come true yet!) It’s cliché, but the fascination with boats and the lure of the sea has been lifelong in me.

Before cruising with my family, I was fortunate enough to travel extensively in the Indian Ocean, Med, and Caribbean. I worked on private yachts in various positions, before coming ashore to start a family and made the shift to a land based career. With a house, a mortgage, a wife and 2 kids I was pretty well anchored, but in my journals from 2012 and 2013, I first wrote down that boat ownership and world cruising was my 5-7 year goal. At this point it was really just a dream, but I began to think about it more seriously in 2014. It is a good habit to ask yourself some big questions regularly, and at this point my question was this – “If I try and make a go of the cruising life with my family and it all goes pear shaped, will I regret trying”? And the answer, obviously, was “No”. So I started to act as if we were really doing it. I started to write down a planned timetable for the cruise, including more detail every time I re-visited the plan.

In 2015 I cancelled our TV package and instead I started spending 2 -3 hours per night researching boats and prices and ways we could finance a voyage. I found that it was possible to buy a boat that was fit for Blue Water Cruising for much less than I initially assumed. At the end of 2015 satisfied I had a workable plan, I finally had “the talk” with my wife! After some initial resistance my wife decided that we should research it more fully together before making any commitment.

Once my wife was convinced, we made some renovations to and then put our family home up for sale. This caused considerable heartache and was by far the hardest things we had to do get afloat. We then bought a cheaper property with a much better rental yield and used the difference to pay off our mortgage and buy the boat. We moved into my wife’s parents home for a couple of months before joining the boat in St. Lucia. We arrived on 5th September 2017, literally minutes before Hurricane Irma!!

Describe what sort of cruisers you are:

We are a liveaboard family, hoping to be cruising for at least another couple of years. We  make our routing decisions based on the weather and what other kid boats are around. We have just spent a wonderful 6 weeks at the end of the Caribbean season in Prickly Bay in Grenada which was packed with kid boats. Currently, I am single handing as Fiona and the girls are back in the UK catching up with friends and family while I work on the boat and get her ready for next season.

What type of cruising are you doing currently?

For our first season we were really just getting to know the boat. We have had her 10 months now and it has taken time to understand what she is capable of and where we really need to invest time and money to make her safe for blue water cruising. For this reason, we have restricted ourselves to inter-island hops in the Caribbean up to now.

Most of our passages have been of between 6 and 8 hours duration. We have only spent 2 nights at sea so far. I personally have done 100’s of night watches, but that was on private vessels, crewed with 4-6 other professional seamen. Cruising with a young family on an old boat that is new to you, necessitates the provision of much larger safety margins. You must explore your safe limits much more cautiously. Having said that one shouldn’t imagine that heading out across the island channels is a slight undertaking. As I will relate in several instances later, no venture out on the ocean is to be underestimated or is without risk or incident!

The Caribbean waters and weather are not entirely predictable and local conditions can vary enormously from the forecast or general weather. We have occasionally experienced 40 knot winds and 10 – 12 feet seas which was quite testing. A single passage in the Caribbean, crossing a channel or cruising down a coast, can often necessitate many more changes to the sail plan and course, than I have made crossing entire seas previously. You really need to be wind aware and quick and efficient with your reefing or you will very quickly be either, in trouble or going nowhere fast!

What were the key reasons you selected your current boat?

Location, sail and hull configuration, a “sea worthy” design and a sheer line I could appreciate. Price was obviously also a factor. In my initial plan, I imagined that as a family, we’d buy a boat in the UK, get to know it for 6 months in my home waters on the South Coast and get her in Bristol Condition there. Visiting the South Coast regularly, it slowly dawned on me that if I wanted my family (literally) to get onboard, I’d be better starting off somewhere a bit more exotic! I realised that warm clear water, beautiful beaches more sun and less rain were essential to the enjoyment of the trip for the family.

So, I started looking at boats in the Caribbean and found Lasgair in St. Lucia. A Whitby 42 was on my short list of possibilities, the age makes them affordable and the style of boat appealed to me. The center cockpit design was our very strong preference as it seemed to keep the kids a safe distance from the water. In a heavy sea it feels to me like the central cockpit is a secure place to be. It also has the benefit of allowing a large aft cabin, very important when selling the idea of living on a boat to your wife! The ketch rig with twin headsails is a very versatile and manageable sail plan with much lighter loads than on sloops or cats of the same size. To my mind, this reduced risk levels and that was important to me. The long keel and heavy displacement gives us an incredibly sea kindly motion under sail in most conditions apart from a heavy following sea. She can take the ground with minimal damage and will always come back from (God Forbid!) a knock down. She is heavily built and very strong with much redundancy.

The rig strength and reduced loads are evident in the hull stepped mast, the 12 chain plates, plus the 2 forestays, the triatic stay, 2 back stays and 2 running back stays. The hull is solid fiberglass and is super thick and no sign whatsoever of the dreaded, osmosis. She has a surprising ability to pack her canvas though. Even with the ancient and poorly cut sails she came with, we make 7.5knts in 15 knts true on a beam reach and have reached 9.3knts on several occasions. Yesterday I was super excited to manage 7 knts in 10 knts true, while goose winging all three sails dead downwind. While the condition of the yacht ended up being quite a disappointment, the design has far surpassed my expectations. Her major flaw is that she simply cannot motor backwards in a safe or predictable manner. I have spoken to a number of Whitby 42 owners and they all say the same, it is not just my handling skills! She is not great upwind either, but I hope a well cut new headsail will improve that as soon as we can afford it!

What other boats have you owned?

This is my first, but when I was about 7, my father bought a 30ft cuddy cabin cruiser called the Miss Cris which we kept at the local beach club in Biltmore Shores, Long Island, NY. I loved that boat and it had a powerful effect on me, introducing me to the reality of life on the water. I think the most excited I have ever been in my life (excepting getting married and the birth of my children obviously!!) was when my Dad agreed to take me fishing on it for the first time, just me and him. I woke him at 04.00 the next morning raring and ready to go. He wasn’t quite so raring and I ended up having to lie on the floor by the side of his bed for another 2 hours until it was actually time to get ready and go. I still remember it like it was yesterday!

What changes have you made to your current boat?

It’s an old boat, but we have worked hard, and our “done” list is long. Most astonishingly, there was a through hull fitting that was on the waterline, with neither a non-return valve, nor fitted with adequate anti-siphon loops or gate valves to close them! Consequently, when heeled more than 15 degrees on port tack, water simply poured into the bilges. We took on over 100 gallons of water on the first occasion before we figured out what the problem was. I raised the anti-siphon loops, put a gate valve on the through hull, disconnected the hose from the shower drain and clamped a wooden bung in it for good measure!

The rig was in poor shape and not well set up. We have replaced the outer forestay, foil and furler, re-built the inner foil and furler, shortened the back stays and re-swaged them, replaced all 12 chain plates, replaced 3 of the gussets which attach the chain plates to the hull, re-sealed the decks where the chain plates pass through the hull and re-tuned the rig so the mast now has aft rake. We replaced all the running rigging except the sheets which we end to ended.

We ripped out an old A/C unit and water maker, both beyond economical repair and we have no intention of replacing them. All the hatches were leaking and needed re-sealing as were most of the through deck fittings, we have gone through a lot of Sika 4000! We replaced, re-sized and re-situated the batteries, replaced the regulator, water pump and elbow sensor on the generator, re-wired the main engine and replaced and simplified all the fuel lines, removed the dodgy old fuel pumps and replaced them with the hand squeeze bulb type pumps. We have ripped out about 50-60 runs of redundant cabling in total and replaced another dozen wiring runs with new, replaced all the water hoses, opened, cleaned and re-sealed the fuel and water tanks. I was covered in diesel for days!

The refrigeration system was an old Grunert 110 AC system which was costing a fortune to keep going, so we ripped it out and replaced it with a 12v system which we are exceedingly happy with. We installed 400w of solar panels and are in the process of re-wiring the wind generator. Several wood panels and bulk heads needed replacing and we are part way through that. The remaining ones are cosmetic only, so way down on the list! I still need to re-wire much of the electrics as many runs are original and the switchboard still looks like spaghetti junction despite having dozens and dozens of wires already removed from it. All in all we are pretty happy with where we have got to with Lasgair and have got to know her very well over the season.

Most useful equipment fitted, and reasons for this choice:

12v fridge / freezer and the solar panels to run it! We lived without a fridge at all for 3 months and it could easily have ended our marriage, let alone our cruising plans! Luckily my wife is made of stern stuff. This really was a game changer for us and we were all super excited to have a fridge. You can’t imagine how nice it is to be able to have ice cold drinks out her! Even the girls were asking to measure the battery voltage and amps going in from the solar panels and check how much the fridge was drawing. For the first month the girls would say to me at least once a day, “look Daddy the sun is cooling your beers!”

Equipment regrets, or things you would do differently:

I wish I had ripped out and replaced the old fridge and installed solar on day one! I should also have serviced the winches at the start of the season instead of waiting until the end. My port primary (a Lewmar 55 the same age as the boat) failed when I was single handing recently. Luckily, I also have a back-up 44 which I was able to use without any problems. When I stripped it, it was clear it had not been done for many, many years. The corrosion was astonishing. It took a couple of days to remove the corrosion, but in fact, servicing a winch is really not a particularly difficult job.

List the countries you have cruised:

Eastern Seaboard of the USA and the Bahamas as a kid. North of France and UK were home waters for a time. Later, I worked on a number of large private yachts, and was fortunate enough to cruise the Indian Ocean including Tanzania, The Comoros, Zanzibar, Madagascar, Mafia and Pemba and most of The Seychelles, and then Florida and the Bahamas again, Aruba, Antigua, Puerto Rico, Azores, Spain, Southern France, Italy, including Sardinia.

We chartered a Cat with another family in Lefakada in Greece which was amazing.

On Lasgair, as a family, we have visited St. Lucia, Martinique, Dominca, Guadaloupe, Montserrat, St. Vincent and Genadines and we are currently in Grenada.

Future cruising plans:

The best advice I have heard regarding cruising plans is to write them at low tide in the sand!

After a relatively successful first season in the Caribbean, (boat still floating / family still all onboard / still solvent), I think we plan to make our way back up to Martinique after hurricane season, head West to ABC’s from there, or maybe go straight on to Colombia and Panama. We are seriously considering heading up to Belize and if all goes well and we are in good shape, then through the Canal in 2019 and then either down to Peru and Ecuador or straight on to the South Pacific and then New Zealand.

I guess by that point we’ll know if we want to continue and head up in to Indonesia and potentially a circumnavigation. Or we may just decide to stop in NZ for a while and spend a couple of seasons in and out of the South Pacific and sell the boat there. The kids, my wife, or the requirement to stop and work, could call either a temporary or permanent halt at any point though. I‘ll just be thankful to get as far as we get!

List the oceans/seas you have crossed:

The English Channel (not to be underestimated!) The Caribbean Sea (Florida to Aruba and back), The Mediterranean East to West, Atlantic West to East, Bay of Biscay, Indian Ocean, up the Red Sea and through the Suez canal, up and down the Lesser Antilles.

Approximate sea miles:

Not sure, since 1995 maybe 15,000 – 20,000? At a rough guess…?

Scariest day on the water:

So many it’s hard to choose, the sea demands your respect whether you are swimming off the beach, surfing waist high waves, coastal cruising or sailing offshore.

My first experience of death in fact, was seeing a body pulled from the water on a busy beach in a sheltered bay in Bandol, in the South of France. A woman had got in to difficulties and drowned within 20ft of the shore and thousands of people.

Whilst crewing on the 40m MV Welsh Liberty in 1995, our vessel simultaneously lost steering due to water ingress and the engines failed due to dodgy fuel whilst in restricted waters off the coast of Somalia. There was a war going on at the time and fire fight broke out over head. We were bailing with buckets round the clock in shifts for nearly 24 hours. I don’t remember being scared, in the heat of the moment focus was 100% on keeping us afloat and getting the engines back. That was quite surreal.

Also on the Welsh Liberty, I remember being on “Pirate Watch” in the Seychelles, patrolling the decks with a stout iron bar. I was feeling pretty tough and ready for anything, until suddenly, several search lights blinded me completely and I heard 3 or 4 powerful outboards screaming towards our vessel. Within seconds I could make out 4 open motor launches each crammed with a dozen or so men, all armed with rifles, all pointed at me. Needless to say, I was pretty terrified. This was not the few locals in a pirogue I had imagined successfully seeing off! They were screaming at me and I made out that they wanted to speak to the Captain. As it turned out, they were not pirates at all, but the police!! Apparently, our Captain had failed to follow proscribed check in procedures and they were convinced WE were pirates!

On another occasion, on the 40m SV Twirlybird, we were hit by a hurricane (steady 60 – 70knts, gusting 80knts and 20 meter seas) while crossing the Atlantic. The first mate went overboard and was saved by the fact he was clipped on, we hauled him back onboard, but he was in shock and out of it for 24 hours. A deckhand broke his hand trying to collect a sheet and the waves were up to the second spreaders on this 40m vessel. That was definitely quite interesting.

In an altogether different category however was Monday 20th November 2017.  I was crossing the Martinique / St. Lucia channel with Fiona, Chloe and Poppy on our current boat, the SV Lasgair. It was blowing 20/25knts and the sea state was moderate. We were half way across when my wife discovered water in the passageway outside the engine room. On investigation, I found we had over 100 gallons of water in the bilges half way up to the sole boards. I had only checked 45 mins or so before, so I knew water was coming in fast. I was convinced a generator water hose had failed and that we were pumping sea water in to the boat. Unfortunately, 10 minutes, after killing the generator and despite bailing with buckets and running the bilge pumps, the water level was still rising or at least, was not going down, it was hard to tell in the swell. Due to the level of water, I could not find where it was coming in. At this point, by coincidence, 2 hydraulic steering hoses failed in the steering pedestal, and we had hydraulic fluid, mixed with sea water sloshing around inside the boat. With all the sole boards up, it was quite dangerous down below and my wife slipped and badly gashed her shin. Now we added blood to the mix of oil and water. I was still sailing toward St. Lucia, hoping we could keep the water level from rising long enough to make it to land and maybe beach her.

At this point my wife sensibly suggested we issue a PAN PAN, and I agreed. The French Coast Guard responded immediately. I answered their questions regarding crew onboard, level of water, steering situation, water still rising despite bailing efforts. Their assessment was that I should immediately prepare the life raft and prepare to abandon ship. They told me a helicopter would be on the scene in 7 minutes, and it duly was. I informed Coastguard that I was not prepared to abandon the vessel, but that I would be most glad if they picked up my terrified wife and kids. After several attempts, due to the sea state, the helicopter informed us it could not make a pick up while we were still onboard. We either had to launch the life raft or jump in the sea if we wanted rescuing. Neither was an appealing prospect. I have had it drilled in to me for decades that one only ever steps UP into a liferaft and was in no mood to break this old saw.

Fortunately, at this point, a passing catamaran that had heard the “Pan Pan”, stopped to help. The skipper was an very experienced seaman called Ivan from Guadaloupe and he supervised his crew to launch their dinghy in the considerable swell. At no small risk to themselves, they came across to take Fiona and the girls to their boat. Once my family were off the boat, I was able to better assess and take care of the situation. Not only was I able to concentrate more fully on the task in hand but the situation had improved considerably by the fact that the steering failure meant that we were no longer heeled over. Consequently (I realised later) this caused the water ingress to stop, as the anti-siphon loop was no longer under the heeled waterline! Once the danger of sinking had passed, I simply had to start the engine (having bailed the bilge under it and checked all hoses and sea cocks first!) install the emergency steering gear (thankfully previously practiced) and follow the catamaran which had my wife and kids onboard back to Martinique. I was lucky that a catamaran with a very experienced skipper and brave crew onboard stopped and assisted us and that the French Coast Guard were on standby throughout, offering comfort to my wife. I can’t thank any of them enough!

Unfortunately, the drama wasn’t quite over. Ivan was understandably in a hurry to get anchored before dark and he insisted on throwing me a line for a tow behind his faster more powerful cat. I hate towing and being towed equally. It puts a huge strain on the vessels involved, so I resisted hard. But as my “rescuer” and with my family on his boat, I eventually deferred to him. This was a mistake as his line promptly snagged in my prop! With a considerable swell running, I had to go over the side, knife in hand, to remove the line and check there was no damage to my shaft seal or cutlass bearing.

That moment – submerged in the crystal clear blue sea, knife between my teeth, feet braced against the rudder and hull, and hauling for all I was worth on the snagged line, was one of those snapshots that stays in your memory like a photograph forever! I learned a stark lesson that day. It is one thing sailing and managing a vessel with fellow professional sailors, it is quite another to manage a vessel in that situation alone, when you have the people you love the most relying on you. I wasn’t exactly scared, I didn’t think for a minute that the boat would sink or that we would die, but even writing about it 6 months later makes tears well up. Having a tough day on the water is one thing, being scared for the well-being of your family is quite another. I had put them in a position where the risks were very real and they were VERY scared. The responsibility I felt for putting them through that, was much worse than any feeling of fear I have ever experienced. I received some pretty robust feedback in the following days, concerning the continuation of our cruising plans.

Thankfully we got through it. It helped that we ended up back in an anchorage with our first buddy boat, “Marie des Iles”, the square rigged pirate ship. Cruiser’s generosity to other cruisers in trouble is legendary and Captain Lee got stuck into the clean-up with me the next day, while the rest of the Marie des Iles crew looked after my family.  Another cruiser buddy had heard the incident on the VHF and located some hydraulic hoses and drove me to an industrial estate in the middle of no-where to pick them up. My wife and I installed the hydraulic hoses and we were up and running again within a week. We are still out here (always keeping an eye on the bilges!) and our enjoyment of cruising as a family increases as our experience together increases. We know there will be further tough times ahead, but I hope we are mentally prepared to cope with almost anything.

Best cruising moment:

Dropping the anchor in Martinique after that incident and re-uniting with my family was obviously pretty special, but not exactly my “best” cruising moment!

We have had some magical times since, the whole family swimming with huge friendly turtles in the Tobago Cays was incredible and the snorkeling in the Jaques Cousteau Marine Park in Guadaloupe was awesome. My daughters were pretty excited to be fishing and while we were in Bequia, Chloe drove the dinghy while I trolled behind us. The excitement on their faces when we hooked a jack and reeled it in was priceless. We have had some pretty good parties onboard and the girls had a particularly special time when the son of one of our cruising buddies decided it was time to dress up in the girl’s clothes. You meet some pretty awesome characters out here, of all ages!

But probably my best moment overall was the first time we undertook a passage that would require us to sail overnight. We set of from the Jacques Cousteau Marine Park in Guadaloupe, heading directly for Martinique and missing out Dominca where we’d spent a week previously. We planned to head to Les Saintes to overnight there and leave early the next day. We had to change that plan due to a huge squall, the sea was simply too rough to make any Easting. We ended up turning back and stopping in a beautiful sheltered bay just North of the lighthouse at Pointe Vieux Fort. We would never have discovered this delightful anchorage but for the vagaries of the weather. We all jumped off the rocks by the light house along with 50 or more locals and then had a drink at a super cute bar by the old fishing Port. The next morning we set off and made good time and we were past Dominca and into the Martinique channel by 18.30. The wind picked up to 20/25knots, but the sea state was OK and the wind was dead on the beam, Lasgair LOVES the wind on the beam! We were flying along and hit 9.3 knots, our top speed so far. The feeling of rushing headlong through the darkness is intoxicating and exhilarating. It reminded me of “Space Mountain” at Disney world when I was a kid. Fiona was in the cockpit with me and apparently loving it as much as I was. We were both able to stay up together through until 11.30 when we arrived in St. Pierre. The anchoring was tricky as a squall blew in and torrential rain almost blinded us coming in to the anchorage. After an hour we were finally able to take off our wet clothes and crack open a beer. There is nothing quite like the feeling of overcoming a challenge like that, with your partner.

Favourite cruising area and why:

The Indian Ocean still has an air of yesterday about it that I love. It’s probably changed a lot since I was in the Seychelles, but I was in Zanzibar a couple of years ago and the locals were still harvesting and drying seaweed by hand, fishing from dugout canoes with outriggers, pulling in sharks by hand on the most primitive fishing gear. The nearest chandleries are 1000’s of miles away, there are very few cruisers around and you know the ones that are there have worked damn hard to get there. I guess what I am saying is that it is mostly unspoiled!

Favourite anchorage: Always the next one…

Favourite cruising apps: Isailor – I don’t use many, but I find this one intuitive and easy to use.

Favourite cruising websites:

Noonsite is obviously the go to site for any information on new destinations, planned passages and investigating routing options. We also look at NOAA and Passageweather quite a lot! I don’t look at many others, occasionally Cruiser Facebook groups or other weather sites for specific information. We don’t like to spend too much time online while we are onboard, so just the essential ones really. Before moving onboard, we followed SV Delos for 3 years on their Youtube channel. By coincidence they are parked up in Grenada too, we are super excited to meet them when they get back!

Favourite cruising books:

“Voyaging with Kids” by Behan Gifford et al, this was a crucial tool to help persuade my wife and her family that this was at all possible. I still read it now to remind myself of strategies to get the most out of cruising with kids. My wife was absolutely delighted to finally meet Behan in Martinique.

“Buy, Outfit and Sail” by Fatty Goodlander has some great tips and is a fun read.

“Typee” and “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville, and “Sailing Alone around the World” – Joshua Slocum are essential classics, “Capable Cruiser” Lynn and Larry Pardey is a must read. “The Wanderer” by Stirling Hayden is a great story.

But probably the most consulted book onboard is Nigel Calder’s Boat Owner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual.

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

Go slowly, but just go and then go slowly. You won’t ever be “ready” until you’ve been out here a while!

Why cruise? What is it that inspires you to keep cruising?

There are as many different reasons to cruise as there are people I think. For me, it is to try and live without the social blinkers imposed by one’s locale, to choose my “socialization”. I want to experience the beauty of this whole world and all it’s people. I also think there is no better way to test your mettle or to learn to be truly self-reliant. It is the easiest way to really live in a simple and healthy way, in tune with nature and your own nature. Once you are cruising you can’t help it! I thrive on the day to day physicality, and the balance between challenge and reward, rest and real test. All of these things are even more important for the kids to experience, especially since we have now largely engineered any “normal” risk out of the childhood years. If you do not learn how to manage risk growing up, how can you function properly as an adult? If you do not experience the whole world, how can you possibly expect to have any real understanding or appreciation of it? I am as inspired to teach my kids about the world and the peoples on it as I am to carry on learning myself.

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