What’s the best cure for a case of boredom? For Pierre and Fernanda Skinner, it’s throwing caution to the wind. “Our life was starting to become a little vanilla,” says Pierre of his and his wife’s decision to sell their house on Australia’s Sunshine Coast and buy a catamaran. “We knew there were better flavors out there. So we decided to do something about it.”
Monotony is never an option
Having grown up in South Africa, they immigrated to Australia about 20 years ago. He conducted forex trading, and she taught pre-primary children. With their three children grown up and out of the house, they made the decision to ditch the 9-5, and bought a catamaran, naming it Carpe Ventum (seize the wind). Since then, they’ve spent their days sailing around the South Pacific and along the eastern Australian coastline. In doing so, the extraordinary duo has discovered an incredible new way to live.
“We’ve always wanted to buy a boat again,” says Fernanda, “but this was totally different. We’ve never done this before, and we thought, well, this will be how we get our flavor back.”
The Skinners bought their catamaran in Fiji from a German couple and completed several sailing courses in preparation for their journey back to eastern Australia.
This required an ocean crossing, which they’d never done before
After a few months in Fiji, sailing from island to island, they felt ready for the trip. But before the ocean crossing, they decided to hire an experienced sailor to accompany them from Fiji to New Caledonia. Once back in Australia, they anchored in Mooloolaba. Since then, they’ve sailed the Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsundays, and some of the most beautiful islands around the coast of Australia, relaying their adventures on their Facebook page, Sailing Carpe Ventum.
In a blog entry to summarize 2021, they shared how they left Mooloolaba after a quick eight-day lockdown, just before Cyclone Seth arrived. Under the weather conditions brought about by La Niña, they endured five storms, with lightning and strong winds.
“We’ve spent 128 days on anchor and 10 days in marinas along the east coast of Australia,” Fernanda posts. “We met amazing families and couples living on their boats or just taking a break from the rat race. We also attended the Lagoon Escape with 18 other Lagoon catamarans.
We’ve learned so much, and explored stunning places on land and under the water. We caught lots of fish, with the biggest being a beautiful 1.2 m Spanish mackerel. We are grateful for 2021… staying on Carpe Ventum in the marina while we do repairs, maintenance, working and connecting with our landlubber community, friends, and family.”
Space for guests in the catamaran
Carpe Ventum is a Lagoon 440 sailing catamaran, 13.6 m long and 7.7 m wide. Sporting three queen-size bedrooms with adjoining bathrooms in the two hulls, she easily sleeps eight. There is also a kitchen in the salon and a trampoline in the front. Space for guests is important, as Pierre and Fernanda regularly enjoy visits from friends and family, particularly their three children and two grandchildren.
What Fernanda loves best about her unique lifestyle is when they set the catamaran’s sails on a really nice sailing day.
“That freedom is absolutely amazing. Especially if there are no engines or motors running, and [it’s] only the sails and the wind, you just have that freedom to go along with the forces of nature. Sometimes you have dolphins swimming along with you at the front. Or it’s when you’re at anchor, and it’s so calm, usually because you’re behind an island somewhere. The water there is so clear that you can see the bottom of the ocean. There are the most beautiful sunsets, and suddenly there are turtles swimming around you. You feel so close to nature, and it’s really rewarding. And the stars. Because there’s no light pollution out on the ocean, it feels like the stars are so close.”
“One of the best moments for me is when it’s a full moon, and you’re sitting out on the boat at night-time, under the moon,” says Pierre. “Perfect wind, perfect direction. There’s nothing better than that. And not many people get to experience that. We’re very fortunate.”
Teamwork is what makes the dream work on this catamaran
While it can certainly have its challenges, life on a yacht offers a uniquely enriching experience. In addition to being born with a strong sense of adventure, Pierre spent much of his boyhood on his family’s boat around Hartbeespoortdam in South Africa. He enjoyed water sports from a young age, as well as deep-sea fishing during the December holidays in South Africa’s Kwa-Zulu Natal province and Mozambique.
For Fernanda, setting the sails was her biggest learning experience. She had to master being behind the helm and reducing the sail area when they were sailing in strong winds. In order to do this, you need to turn the boat into the wind, while often facing massive waves sideways and on the bow. Teamwork is, therefore, a very important part of sailing together as a couple. In many ways, they rely on each other for survival, as it’s just the two of them against the forces of nature.
“You’re very exposed to the elements,” explains Pierre. It’s just you and your boat [there’s nothing else that can protect you]. There are so many things that can go wrong. [Eventually] you’re so tuned in to the different sounds. If the pump is starting, for example, that means somewhere there’s water coming in, and you need to go check it. Any kind of noise that’s not the standard noise, you’re always listening for it.”
Much of their day depends on the weather, Fernanda says.
“Everything we do, day and night, where we sleep, where we anchor, how far we’ll go the next day and where we head. It’s all about what the weather is going to do. Every two hours we check the weather. Is there something different? Is there a front coming in? The wind direction might change, and [you’re constantly] looking at the weather patterns. It’s quite intense. Also, it’s not just one app; it’s about four different platforms.”
The longest sail they’ve done thus far with no stops was six nights and six days. That requires someone to keep watch 24/7, to make sure everything is going to plan, so they took turns sleeping. “It was tough,” Fernanda says, “but our bodies got into a rhythm.”
A lifestyle of sustainability in a catamaran
On the boat, they follow a very minimalistic lifestyle. Thanks to 1 500W solar panel for energy, a 3kW inverter, 840 amp-hour house batteries, and a mini desalination plant for drinking water, they’re able to live almost completely off the grid. The tropical climate further allows them to function with just a few basic clothing items, and sailing gear to protect themselves from the rain and wind. The catamaran kitchen supplies include a gas stove, a whistling kettle, a pan, and two pots, and good-quality stainless steel knives and forks. They wash their cooking equipment in salt water, so durability is important.
“We learned early on that you need to buy once and buy stuff that will last,” says Fernanda. “That way, you don’t need to keep replacing things.”
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While they make it look effortless, Fernanda admits that moving from a house onto a catamaran was a big adjustment. She credits the challenges she experienced while growing up on a farm in South Africa’s Free State province with teaching her to push through, and that giving up isn’t an option.
Developing a strong mind for when things don’t go smoothly
“[It was tough to] leave behind my career, my children, and grandkids, and [do] something I’ve never done before, but that was the challenge: to do something different, something new, something brave. In the water, we’ve endured a few nerve-wracking moments, and then there is no time to cry or jump off or hide.
The only way to survive and get through it is through teamwork. I knew Pierre was relying on me in tough situations. When it’s a matter of giving 100% to get to the other side, then vasbyt (sticking to it) is all you can do. Your mind needs to be strong, and you need to stay strong when things are not going smoothly. If it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger – [that] is our motto. I definitely am stronger and braver, and know today I’ve achieved something magnificent.”
Want to know more?
Perhaps, like Pierre and Fernanda, you want to broaden your horizons and use the benefits of traveling to your advantage. Did you know that traveling can have a positive impact on your wellness? Find out how you can live a more satisfying life by traveling more.