News from Bika

Happy Campers Afloat
Nina Kristin Nilsen & Henrik Nor-Hansen

Since May 2004 a pretty red Contessa 26, BIKA, has been our only home.

Occasionally we visit family and friends in houses with hot showers and double beds big enough to sleep crossways in, but we always return to our boat with a secret smile. The tiny cruiser has opened up vast opportunities, and provided us with a lifestyle we've always longed for, but did not know how to arrange. We had never heard of pocket cruisers before we stumbled across a Contessa 26 for sale.

It was almost as old as us, but the asking price matched our savings, and it was a proper ocean going vessel. With the boat our focus shifted from limitations to possibilities, and less than two years later we started our voyage across the seas.


Along the way we've learned a few tricks, for instance how to manage to eat well at sea, or in remote anchorages, where what you have is what you brought with you. To preserve food without a refrigerator or freezer is surprisingly easy. Lots of fruits and vegetables keep for weeks, even in the tropics, as long as you buy them uncooled and preferably unwashed. The dusty local market is the place to go for provisions, as the tasty-looking supermarket greens go limp as soon as you remove them from their icy displays.

Eggs keep for months, too, and fresh meat and fish can be cured with salt and dried. Without ice cubes we drink our rum Caribbean-style; lukewarm with sugar and lime, a habit it is easy to get used to. A pressure cooker saves gas and time spent below, and left-overs will not spill if the pot is tipped over in rough seas. We store all our dry food in plastic bottles, which keep moisture out and the occasional creepers in.

We've long since learned our cockroachology; the big and spooky maghony mice are just teasing when they fly over to land in the cockpit, while those to fear are the tiny ones that successfully hide away and mulitiply from two to a severe infestion within days. Maybe our cardboard ban has worked to keep those nasty creatures out, if not this winter's storage in frosty Canada will freeze them out.

We carry water (250 liters across the Atlantic, less for shorter passages) in plastic cans of various sizes, which are easy to move around. Weight distribution is important for small boats, and for that reason both the dinghy and our anchor gear are usually brought down below for anything more than short daysails in calm seas. The dinghy is the smallest Quicksilver we could find, which after some practice fits both of us and seven bags of groceries.

Our anchor gear adds up to 200 meters of rope, 30 meters of chain, a 35 lb CQR, a ten kg Bruce and a five kg Fortress. The Fortress is a reminder of the unselfishness that still honours the world's sailors.

Many popular anchorages have a daily VHF net where sailors exchange needs and tips. After airing our need for a lightweight anchor in Cartagena, Colombia, an American sailor came forth and offered us the said anchor for three dollars. Just like the headsails we bought from a fellow Contessa owner in the UK, where the price was also ridiculously low. Most cruisers we meet have this wonderful attitude of sharing. Charts, spare parts and computer skills are readily handed out; the reward lies in helping a fellow sailor, and knowing that this kindness will come back to you one day, in a harbour further ahead.

The sheer weight of the charts needed for a world cruise is enough to sink a small boat, not even counting the pricetags. The budget way of solving this is trades and copies. We have, as most blue water cruisers, a copy of digital charts, but do not trust the pc to work when we need it, so carry paper as well. We swap and trade with other sailors, pass on those we're done with, and only occasionally need to buy new charts.
We've found room for more than 100 paperbacks aboard and store 5 months worth of gas in one of the cockpit-turned-gas lockers. In general we find fleece to be way better than cotton, as the latter sucks up all moisture aboard and never dries. Navigation is done with a cheap handheld GPS, which we sometimes put inside the oven, together with the VHF, camera and spare GPS, as a precaution against lightening strokes. We neither have nor miss an anchor windlass or roller furling, and the mainsail's 70's roller reefing works well. Our tattered sails last amazingly long as we often sail downwind; we add a stitch here and there and spread them out wing to wing, aided by a pole on one side, preventer line on the other.

In Colombia we finally had a steel grabrail above the companionway custom-made. We had talked about it since crossing the North Sea, and find it very handy. Other cherished appliances which we've added for this extended cruise are a windvane (Windpilot Pacific Light, 13 kg, never tired), a galley oven (Techimpex, compact version) for bread and buns, the mentioned pressure cooker and a solar panel to charge our battery. After we switched to LED light bulbs in both the cabin and mast head, solar energy has been sufficient. For the occasional river or canal we use a 4 hp outboard, which is otherwise stored in the old inboard compartment. We are toying with the idea of going totally engineless, replacing the outboard with a sculling oar, which could also be used for a jury rig.

All modern boat conveniences eventually break down and force you to spend time and money repairing and replacing. We willingly trade most of them for peace of mind and are glad our cruise has not turned into everlasting boat maintainence in exotic places. This travelling lifestyle has improved our quality of life, while our needs for luxuries have shrinked. It has taken a while, but we are gradually breaking free from the claws of materialism and consumerism. It was no problem to stock up for the Atlantic crossing in Brava, the smallest of the Cape Verde islands, where shopping was so limited they sold teabags one by one. We bought homemade snacks, a fresh tuna from fishermen at the beach and the tomatoes we got from a sidewalk stand were so fresh they lasted all across to the Caribbean.

Being Norwegians used to changing seasons we could only take a year of eternal summer before we left the tropics for the familiar northern chill. September 07 we left the boat on land in Toronto and travelled deep into the Canadian wilderness to wait for spring. Among wolves, wolverines and temperatures below the -40°C we bask in winter, knowing it will not last forever, but give way to a new summer, more sailing of the Great Lakes and eventually the Pacific. Our proud little floating home has given us an environmental lifestyle of adventureous travelling. No wonder we want to continue.

PS: The title is inspired by Sebastian Smith who likens Contessa sailing to camping out in an overturned phone booth. His book of sailing a Co26 in the Med, Southern Winds, is brilliant.