We are Darren and Amanda on Sailing Panda. We’re a couple of new liveaboard sailors who saved our pennies and left a comfortable life on land to explore this great world by sea. It wasn’t easy making that decision, leaving behind family, friends, and all the comforts of land life — but that type of life-altering decision is rarely regrettable.
We have a strong appetite for adventure with a special emphasis on SCUBA diving. In fact, this entire Sailing Panda ordeal began with a usual night slumbering on the couch after an exhausting day at the office, perusing YouTube, the giant video wormhole. We were itching to go on a diving adventure of sorts, and really wanted to experience the South Pacific; but the travel costs and time away (precious vacation) were the deal breakers. Then, we stumbled upon the sailing channel SV Delos, where they simply brought their own dive compressor with them! We were super impressed and intrigued – “You can SCUBA from your sailboat?! People sail boats across oceans?! ORDINARY people can cross oceans?!” Instantly we both dove into the research.
Once we crunched the numbers and figured if we sell most of our worldly possessions, a journey to the South Pacific and beyond was very possible. Just like that, a dangerous idea was born, and we became very goal-driven to save our money, sell every item, and learn how to sail. Oh yes, we knew nothing about sailing. On the fast track, in only four months the house was sold, and an offer on our dream boat, an older 1980 Amel, Sharki, was made. Kid you not, our very first sailing experience was as the boat sailed out of the harbor with broker, captain, surveyor on board for the sea trial — we were in love.
Now you might be asking yourself how did these monkeys figure everything out? Well, we didn’t, and still haven’t; but we devoured all the sailing content we could find – books, articles, podcasts, and practice. Our plan included live-aboard for two reasons: 1. it saves so much money, and 2. we could sail on weekends, even in the confines of Florida’s Intercoastal Waterway’s (ICW). I would like to say, the plan has more or less worked. We have sailed over 3,000 nm thus far without major fault. We sail very cautiously and conservatively; we are keen on safe weather and sea conditions.
On the topic of “not having everything figured out,” UK Sailmakers came to the rescue. Our lovely ketch came with an oversized headsail, about a 190% Genoa as calculated by Mark Wood at UK Sailmakers in Miami. In our passagemaking from US mainland to Bahamas, we beat into prevailing South Easterlies that averaged 20-25kts. Panda Lesson’s Learned —a big ol’ Genoa just doesn’t reef well for beating in heavy winds! Who knew?! After an arduous upwind passage, making more leeway than headway, we called UK Sailmakers. Mark kindly informed us that he only recommends headsails in the 120-130% range maximum for those Bahama battles. I dug into the confines of the ancient ship’s literature to find a sail plan drawing from Amel – sure enough they specified four (originally hank-on) headsails – 190% Genoa, 125% Genoa, Working Jib, and Storm Jib. We had the other three, but lacked the smaller Genoa.
Our next issue was timing. We needed this sail prior to a bigger crossing we planned on doing through the Caribbean Sea, a notably windy passage. Mark Wood informed us that he could have a sail ready to ship in just two weeks. We had called other sailmakers to find lead times in the six to eight-week range. Not only was the lead time superb, the pricing exceptional. Sold!
The measurement process was much easier than expected with Mark offering assistance along the way. Luckily, we had one of those 100′ tape measures on board, perfect for this! However, we were in an anchorage with constant 20kt SE trade winds, not allowing us to roll-out our existing Genoa and get a good measurement. No problem, we set sail on a broad reach and strung the tape up the headsail using a spinnaker halyard. With all measurements sent, it was time to wait, giddy for Panda’s new headsail which was now in production.
Stay tuned for more articles from Darren and Amanda about their journey to the South Pacific.