Ken and Roberta Williams

GUEST INTERVIEW

 

Ken and Roberta Williams - San Souci N68

June 2014

 

Nordhavn pendana on youtube
Nordhavn pendana on youtube

Ken & Roberta

So, Ken, Roberta, you’ve crossed many oceans over the past decade or so, how have you found it so far?

I’m not sure of the exact definition of an ocean. We crossed the Atlantic fair and square in 2004, but then cheated in crossing the Pacific, and went via the Bering Sea. We crossed the Pacific without ever actually touching it. Does that count? Sure it does Ken!

As to how we’ve found it so far… I always say, “I like everything about boating, except fixing the boat, and the boating itself.” There are some owners/captains who just love being at sea, but I’m not one of them. At the end of the Atlantic crossing I swore I’d never cross another ocean. I can think of lots of adjectives for why NOT to cross an ocean, like: “Dangerous, boring, uncomfortable and claustrophobic” .. and, when I try to think of adjectives for why TO cross an ocean, I can’t think of any adjectives. The best I can come up with for a reason is: “To get to the other side.”

Personally, I’m a fan of day trips on flat seas in good weather. And the interesting thing about it is that if you: a) Pick where you want to cruise, and, b) Pick when you want to cruise – smooth water cruising is possible. We’ve cruised over 40,000 miles and 95% of it has been calm seas and short rides. The other 5% was mostly the Bering Sea and the Atlantic.  

How was the crossing of the Bering Sea?

We had the easiest trip across the Bering Sea that any boat could ever imagine. We picked the best month and then got lucky with the weather.  Of course we still got our tails kicked a few times, but .. nothing like what we deserved!

The real violence started before the trip. I convinced myself before the trip that it was sure-death. Roberta felt we would probably live. Thus, in the months leading up to the trip, it truly was a life/death battle between her and I.

I made her watch several episodes of “Deadliest Catch” and she reminded me that we would be crossing in August when the storms would be less (not gone – but, lessened). I explained that it was like entering a lion’s cage on a day when he is in a good mood. He probably won’t eat you, but the decision will be in his hands, not mine and, if he suddenly gets grumpy, I’ll quickly be lion-poop, whether I like it or not.

As with all battles, Roberta won, and we had the best trip of our lives. Roberta points out often that I describe it as the high point of our cruising careers, implying I was wrong to have whined about the trip so much. I, on the other hand, point out that, “We lived!”

What has been your cruising highlight so far?

There are two answers to this question:

1) What was the most exciting? 

Which of course would be the trip across the Bering Sea and through Japan. It was absolutely, positively, the trip of a lifetime.

Or, answer 2) What trip would you want to do again?

My personal favourite cruising ground would be Turkey. The tricky bit is that I’m not sure the Turkey I cruised still exists. There has been a shift away from secularism that may mean that things have changed. I’m not sure. Personally, I could happily cruise Greece and Turkey for the rest of my life. An amazing area! I’m also looking forward to repeating our cruising in France and Spain. St Tropez! Ibiza! Formentera! Mallorca! Marbella!

Sans Souci, anchored in front of Bodrum Castle in 2012.

We would love to cruise “down under” or whatever you Aussies call your part of the world, but are locked out due to our dogs. Our cruising universe is limited to places which will accept our dogs without quarantine, and both Australia and New Zealand are closed to us for that reason.

I understand this year’s trip started off where last years ended in, (some say, your favourite place in the world, Croatia).  What was your first impression of Croatia and the people?

Croatia is a paradise for cruisers. Our boats are a little too big for some of the best spots, but we still found plenty of places to have fun. If you look at a picture of Croatia you’ll see why. Croatia claims to have nearly 1,000 islands running along its coast. These islands provide plenty of anchoring possibilities and short distances between anchorages.

 

The Croatian Islands

As for the people… I can’t say we bonded with the locals. They weren’t unfriendly, but very few seemed ultra-friendly or particularly happy. Croatia was at war in this generation. We saw many bombed out buildings. The economy is struggling, and we encountered people who are struggling to just to earn an income, and who weren’t yet convinced that this whole capitalism thing is a good idea. I’d say that Croatia is in a transition phase, and with change sometimes comes pain. They have gone through war, political upheaval, and now the transition in joining the EU.

All of this said, I strongly recommend Croatia to anyone thinking to cruise there or considering a charter in Croatia. It’s a wonderful place. The food is not always great, but you can always eat before going.   

What did you like most about Croatia?

The islands are incredible! Lots of anchorage, short distances and I’ll confess that I like the liberal dress code. Croatia has embraced nudity as a way of driving tourism. The German tourists in particular love it. (Ken where are the photos?) It is essentially impossible to drop anchor without naked people somewhere in the anchorage. Some views are better than others .. but, the good ones are sometimes very good!

What didn’t you like about Croatia?

Croatia is prone to strong winds that appear out of nowhere, often not in the forecast, that can last for days. A sunny day can become a nightmare in minutes. We spent three full days at anchor in one bay with 25-40 knot winds non-stop. The bays are loaded with charter boats, which are sometimes rented by groups of rookies who haven’t the vaguest idea how to drop an anchor. They tend to be loud, drink too much, anchor inside our swing circle, and then become a serious danger as their anchors drag when the wind comes up.

Also, my battles with getting parts into the country are well documented (http://www.kensblog.com/2014/05/31/KensBlog-2014-01--Preparing-For-The-Season). Croatia is new to the EU and the systems are still evolving. The locals don’t seem particularly excited about the introduction of the VAT tax, and see it as a problem to be overcome. I’m certainly no fan of taxes .. but, also don’t like confusion. Shipping parts into Croatia was a mess. The people were great, but they were dealing with a system they didn’t seem to have fully embraced. Rules seemed haphazardly enforced. I would not recommend trying to ship parts into Croatia until things calm down. Croatia has been part of the EU for less than a year, and is still in a transition phase. Things are confused.

Ken enjoying special attention from those in charge!

How old are Toundra and Keeley?

Toundra is 3, and Keeley is only about … thinking … eighteen months! We still think of her as our baby. We constantly think that we have the most spoiled dogs in the world. They have their own passports and have probably been to a dozen countries. That said, my sense is that they wish they had “normal” parents. We are constantly on the move, and dogs like routine. There is no such thing as “routine” around Roberta and I.

 

Toundra and Keeley dressed to impress for a night out!

Did Toundra and Keeley like Croatia?

We tried to teach them to swim! I would dive in the water, and Roberta would hand me a dog, wearing a life jacket, and I’d swim 50 feet from the boat and turn the dog loose. They’d dog paddle for their life back to Roberta on the swim step. Whenever we’d get out the life jackets the dogs would hide under the furniture and force us to drag them out to the swim step. I suspect they will now hate water forever. 

Ken, perhaps they need goggles!

Roberta, if there is one thing Ken does that irritates you while underway what would that be? 

“Ken refuses to go down and sleep in our stateroom when we are underway. I take it as a sign that he doesn’t trust me to drive the boat without bumping into anything.”

[And, Ken’s side of the story]

“We have a perfectly good pilothouse bunk. I don’t care who is driving the boat, I like to be where I can be at the helm in an instant. Let’s say we hit a whale in the middle of the night. Would I be safer in our stateroom below decks, or close to the life rafts and the helm? Plus: As much as others may know how to drive the boat, no one knows it like I do. If there is something strange happening, I want to be wakened in seconds, not minutes.”.. And, as you can see – it’s a tense topic on Sans Souci!

And it’s only fair I ask Ken the same question, so Ken, if there was one thing Roberta does that irritates you what would that be?  

Roberta and I are the perfect couple. Without Roberta I’d sit at my computer all day. She gets me out doing things and going places. It drives me crazy, but .. also is probably good in some way. Without Roberta there would be no blog, and probably no boat, and probably I’d be living in a dark cave somewhere with no lights, but one heck of an internet connection!

Onto irritating things, have you ever run out of something while at sea that has caused problems?

We haven’t run out of fuel yet, so it wouldn’t be that. But.. the other cruising essentials are: wine and popcorn. We can’t always find a good supply of popcorn, and getting good wine is virtually impossible. Here’s a couple wine stories (we actually don’t drink wine THAT much, and never while underway.. but .. when we do drink wine, it should be drinkable wine.)

For the trip across the Bering Sea we wanted to take a couple cases of good wine. Unfortunately, Canada limits what you can take across the border, and alcohol is high on the list of forbidden items. I tried shipping wine to the other side of Canada, Alaska, which is part of the United States. All of the shipping companies refused to accept the shipment! I wanted to ship from America to America, so I thought it would be no problem. However, there are special licenses needed for shipping alcohol. Argh. Finally I had my assistant in Seattle grab the wine, put it on a plane, and then fly with it as baggage, to Ketchikan Alaska.

Nordhavn pendana on youtube
Nordhavn pendana on youtube

Recently, in Croatia, I tried ordering wine out of England to send to Croatia. Both countries are in the EU, so I assumed it would be easy. I checked the Croatia import regulations and 19 bottles of wine can be shipped in from any EU country duty free. I wrote to a customs clearing agent in Croatia just to make sure that all would be good. He asked “what brand of wine, where do they originate, and what do they cost?” I sent him back Croatia’s official rules, which had nothing in them about anything he asked. He said it didn’t matter. I needed to declare all of these things and then they’d make a ruling. I gave up, and have been drinking the local Croatian wines. And, actually .. it probably turned out to be a good thing, in that I saved a lot of money. The Croatian wines really aren’t that bad (some of them.)

Ken try’s a new approach to get wine to San Souci!

Would you describe yourselves as more hunters or more gathers?

Grin – I’d describe myself as a hermit .. and, Roberta as a HUNTER and a GATHERER. She has an endless thirst for adventure and knowledge.

Ken, Roberta, why didn’t you name San Souci, Vamanos?

We came very close to calling Sans Souci  -Vamanos (“Let’s go” in Spanish). But, then someone said, “That rhymes with Vomit!” and we had to bail on the name. I ran an online poll to collect suggestions for a name and surprisingly it was Dan Streech himself, Mr. Nordhavn, who STRONGLY fought for the boat to be called Sans Souci, like our former N62. Now… I can’t imagine any other name for our boat. 

What other names did you consider? 

Sorry to let you down.. but, I honestly don’t remember. I’ve never liked silly names, like “Money Pit” or “The Office” or “Our kids inheritance” etc .. I preferred simpler names, preferably one word. The most important is that when you say the name the person on the radio can understand what you are saying. There are some boats with ridiculously long or unpronounceable names. It’s always fun listening to them say their boat’s name on the radio and hearing the port respond, “Huh?”

There is a rumour that you thought of naming San Souci, Queen Izabella from the Kings Quest series you created.  Is there any truth to that?

I don’t remember that one, but we did discuss calling it things like: “OceanQuest” and “SeaQuest” (Some of our games had names like: Kings Quest, Space Quest, Heroes Quest, Police Quest.) We also thought about calling it Wizard or Princess .. after our first game “The Wizard and The Princess” .. I thought that maybe we could call the boat Wizard, and the tender Princess – somewhat reflective of the disparity in my versus Roberta’s size. 

A few of the classics from Ken & Roberta’s days at Sierra!

What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened to you while at sea?

We hired an “expert;” an Alaskan commercial fisherman to come along with us on the trip across the Bering Sea. Between Kiska and Attu we hit crazy seas. Definitely the roughest I’ve been in. They weren’t that tall, but the current was coming from one direction and the wind from another, creating a washboard effect with vertical waves that looked like pylons. On one of the boats was a couple, who were theoretically “seasoned” cruisers (we said before the trip that we wouldn’t allow rookies on any of the boats across the Bering Sea.) They started freaking out at the high seas, and truthfully, none of us were having fun. At the worst of it they insisted we ask Bill (our Alaskan fisherman) his opinion on if we should turn back. Bill, at the time, was downstairs asleep in his cabin. I was given the responsibility for waking Bill. I remember him coming up the stairs in his underwear thinking we must be sinking. When he got to the pilothouse he looked around and asked why we had woke him. “Bill, do we need to turn back?” He looked around some more and said, “What are you guys, a bunch of (something that rhymed with) wussies? It ain’t like it’s gonna kill us or something. I’m going back to bed.” It lightened the situation, and we went back to driving the boats. Not long after that the couple that was most concerned got off the boat to fly home. Bill has a distinctive growly voice, and I’ll never forget him standing there in his underwear out in the middle of the Bering Sea calling us a bunch of [w]ussies..  

Travel Lift at GCCM
Travel Lift at GCCM

San Souci crossing the Bering Sea – ouch!

What’s the biggest mistake you have ever made on the water?

We once put Sans Souci onto the rocks, and came VERY close to sinking her. It was when the boat was still new. We decided to take the boat through a narrow channel with high current. We had been through before on our prior Nordhavn, and thought we had timed it for slack current. Something went wrong in our timing and the current was strong, plus exiting the channel we were going straight into the sun. Our shiny new anchor was putting the sun right into my eyes and I sent Roberta down to get me sunglasses. Just as I was putting them on I saw the silhouette of a buoy and was asking Roberta, “Is that buoy green or red?” – when I heard the crunching noise.

We had to sit on that stupid rock for 12 hours hoping the boat didn’t sink, while hundreds of other boats took our picture. Very embarrassing! Luckily, the boat floated off on the next high tide and the worst damage was to my ego. I’ve never walked quite as tall since.

Missing teak on Pendana Nordhavn 62
Missing teak on Pendana Nordhavn 62

Port Philip Bay Melbourne The Rip
Port Philip Bay Melbourne The Rip


San Souci experiencing a new sensation!

Tell us a little something about your San Souci?

We like to think of Sans Souci as a floating home, not a boat. It’s a portable home that is sometimes in Monaco and sometimes in Turkey and sometimes in Costa Rica. There are lots of features of Sans Souci that make no sense on a boat, but make lots of sense for a luxury home, like the hot tub, or a/v system, or “normal” furniture. Sans Souci is a VERY comfortable place to live.

Why is she called San Souci?

It means “No Worries” in French. I always liked the song, “Don’t worry be happy.” It seemed like a good mantra for retirement. In actuality, our marina in France had it right when they suggested I rename the boat to just “Souci” which would mean “Worry.” Boats are not always trouble free…

Are you scared of spiders?

I’m scared of everything! I consider that common sense. Roberta considers it Ken being Ken. 

What’s your favourite photo ever taken while at sea and why?

This picture below is it. The picture itself isn’t that special, but the memories that go with it are incredible. The water was clear, about 90 degrees. No wind. Hot tub full. We were tied to shore and the long stern lines created a natural swimming pool at the back of the boat. We had the anchorage all to ourselves for a week (except for a couple day-tripper tourist boats that would arrive and depart quickly). We would sit in the hot tub at night and just say to each other, “Can you believe where we are?” We were in Turkey in the middle of nowhere, with a whole world to ourselves. It was the ultimate Robinson Crusoe experience.

san souci
san souci


When it all becomes, oh so worthwhile!

What would you never leave behind (besides Toundra, Keeley and each other) when heading out to sea?

My vsat satellite internet unit! I like being in the boondocks, but .. quickly start shaking uncontrollably when removed from the internet for more than a few minutes. Addition is a terrible thing! (but, I love it!)

pendanablog image
pendanablog image


And finally, when are you coming to Australia?

Sadly.. probably never. Our dogs are our kids… when Shelby passed away we almost steered the boat directly towards Australia (seriously) but after a week without a puppy we couldn’t take it and found Toundra. Don’t ask me why we like dogs so much.. it is somewhat hard to imagine at times!

Ken, have you thought about using a disguise!

Ken and Roberta, thank you very much for your time.  I am sure your many fans (including myself) will be watching this year’s progress closely.  By the way, did I mention there are also some very large sharks around the Italian coast?  

Historically, I’ve found more sharks on land than at sea! 

 

Thank you Ken and Roberta for your time, most amusing indeed!

Kens blog can be found at: http://www.kensblog.com/

Kens Facebook page can be found at: https://www.facebook.com/kensblogdotcom

 

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