Many of our readers are well acquainted, and perhaps a bit obsessed, with dropping it all to chase the horizon aboard a well-found vessel. “The Dream” often involves a happy couple, hand in hand, cruising from paradise to paradise and accruing stories to tell. Writers seem especially drawn to the cruising lifestyle, and to pen the adventures for others to enjoy and learn from adds a depth to the voyage as the writer-cruiser takes the reader along for the ride.
Bob and Carolyn Mehaffy personify this ethos. They have written three books for boaters: Destination Mexico (1995), Cruising Guide to San Francisco Bay (1996; new revision, 2016), and Cruising Guide to the Hawaiian Islands (1998; currently being revised). Additionally, they wrote and sold for publication over 270 magazine articles that appeared in boating magazines like Bay and Delta Yachtsman, Blue Water Sailing, Cruising World, Latitude 38, Northwest Yachting, Ocean Navigator, Ocean Voyager, Pacific Skipper, Sail, Sailing, Sea, Waterfront, and Yachting over the last 30 years. Bob also wrote or co-wrote four college English textbooks.
We caught up with these long-time contributors to Northwest Yachting just as their newly revised Cruising Guide to San Francisco Bay became available for an inside peek into the duo’s lifestyle, writing process, and ambitions.
Q: First of all, where are you both now and what’s the next adventure?
We are currently in Lake Stevens, Washington in our RV, but will be returning soon to our boat in Napa, California to get her ready for our next adventure, perhaps back to Mexico or to Hawaii.
Q: How did you both get into yachting/cruising?
Bob has been sailing since 1969, when he bought his first ocean-going sailboat and a book about how to sail. Carolyn began sailing with him in the mid-1980s. Since then, there have been many boats and adventures afloat. We have been sailing Carricklee, our Hardin 45 ketch, for 25 years and have covered 47,000 miles since we purchased her in San Diego.
Q: How did you both meet and then decide to embrace the cruising lifestyle?
We met at American River College where we were both teaching in the English Department. We took a sabbatical from our teaching in 1992 and sailed our boat, then a Columbia 40, to Mexico, where we learned just how wonderful the cruising life can be. The month following our retirement from the college in 1997, we leased our home in Sacramento and set sail for the Hawaiian Islands, where we spent a year and a half researching for and writing Cruising Guide to the Hawaiian Islands. We then returned to the mainland and Puget Sound. After exploring the Sound, as well as journeying through the Inside Passage of Canada to Alaska as far north as Glacier Bay, we returned to Puget Sound to prepare to cruise south. After several years of cruising along the Pacific coasts of Mexico, Central America, and South America as far south as Ecuador and the Galapagos, we returned to Panama to transit the Canal and spend four years in the Caribbean.
Q: What inspired you both to write your books?
We both love cruising on our sailboat and writing. We were both college English professors for 30 years and taught thousands of students to write, so writing about our love of sailing came naturally.
Q: Do you both write and edit equally?
Bob generally writes the first drafts of technical pieces. Carolyn writes the destination pieces and is the primary editor of all the pieces. Bob selects the illustrations and is primarily responsible for marketing. We both take the photos as we research.
Q: How does one “research” a location, like the Hawaiian Islands? Where does the best information come from?
We find sailing to a location and living in that area aboard our boat is the best preparation for writing a cruising guide or magazine article. When writing a cruising guide, we always begin by visiting every anchorage, harbor, or marina we think our readers might want to visit. After we anchor or tie up there, we go ashore and talk with local residents and authorities, taking copious notes and photos. Finally, we begin the writing and revision process. This process takes much longer than one might expect. For instance, our most recent revision of our San Francisco book took us 14 months.
Q: Any parting words for the dreamers reading?
Writing a book or magazine article takes time. Magazine articles take less time than writing a book, of course, but even those take time. We have found the surest way to get into writing for the boating world is to begin by writing about technical issues. For instance, writing an article about how to anchor your boat properly in the Pacific Northwest, how to repair/replace a leaking metal fuel tank on a sailboat, or how to troubleshoot a Perkins 4-236 diesel that has saltwater in the crankcase are all going to be interesting to editors and readers.
We don’t have any sage advice for people wanting to go cruising, but we can tell dreamers what worked for us. We both enjoyed careers as college English teachers and retired with adequate pensions to fund our cruising lifestyle for the last 20 years.
Writing books and magazine articles provided some extra income that helped buy replacement boat equipment when something failed, but essentially that writing doesn’t provide enough income to make the comfortable cruising lifestyle possible.
Before we began our current cruise these many years ago, we had purchased a solid cruising boat and outfitted it for cruising, and we had sailed it for 6 years to be sure we could handle it in whatever kind of weather we might encounter. While some of our cruising friends argue for the “Go Now” policy, we’re a little more deliberate and have practiced the “Prepare First” policy. We now have 20 years of great cruising memories and plan to continue cruising for the foreseeable future, even though we’ve recently entered our 80s.