Scandinavia to the Big Apple: lessons learnt from a cruising couple’s adventure

Selling up and sailing from Scandinavia to the Big Apple was a gamble worth taking for cruising couple Carsten and Vinni Breuning. Tom Cunliffe introduces an extract from their book, Capri, Sailing Distant Seas

Carsten and Vinni Breuning are a modern cruising couple. Like many who make the leap – and the many more who aspire to – they went to sea in retirement from a busy life.

Carsten walked away from his work as CEO of companies in Denmark and the Netherlands while Vinni, seven years his junior and a trained nurse, gave up her job running the Danish regional hospitals in Zeeland.

Their cruising experience was limited and neither of them had made a passage of significant length, but they bought Capri, a Jeanneau Sun Fast 40, and fitted her out for the ocean. They couldn’t know for sure they were going to like it, yet they sold their home and committed to the adventure of a circumnavigation.

The book they have co-written about the first part of this trip is Capri, Sailing Distant Seas. It takes the reader with commendable frankness from the dream back in Scandinavia to the Pacific end of the Panama Canal via the British Isles, an ARC+ rally, and a serious foray up the American coast as far as New York.

Carsten grew up in Canada and his goal was to cruise there for the summer, but they learned rapidly that all plans at sea must flex with the times.

They’re the sort of cruising couple you wish to meet in a far-off anchorage and their book is a delight to read. For this extract I’ve not chosen an account of storm and tempest, but the last chapter in which the couple evaluate their experience so far and offer some honest answers.

Extract: Capri, Sailing Distant Seas

As we come out of the canal, we have sailed almost 15,000 miles and lived as boat bums for two years. We’ve given up our careers, sold our house and belongings and sailed away from our families and friends. We’re a long way from the comfortable and secure life we had in Denmark. It is time to reflect on what we’ve done.

Did our cruising life live up to our expectations? Yes, we have not regretted our decision. It has been a dream to cruise distant seas in our own boat. Any expectations have been more than exceeded. We’re looking forward to sailing to even more exotic places in the Pacific.

Let there be no doubt though, that when we sailed out of Thyborøn, we felt like babies leaving the crib and entering the grown-up world. We would be on the big oceans and would need to take care of everything ourselves – there would be no possibility of finding a safe harbour. We would need to be prepared for anything; important repairs, acute sickness, perhaps even the boat sinking. In other words, we coastal cruisers would be far outside our comfort zone.

A well-known motto among cruisers is ‘cruising means repairing your boat in exotic locations’. This is always good for a laugh, unfortunately it is also true. Sailing across the Atlantic puts as much wear and tear on our boat as sailing for 10 years at home. Despite knowing all this we’ve still been surprised by the amount of repairs required now that Capri is in use 24/7. The learning curve is steep. It is rare that there is professional help available, though cruisers are happy to help each other.

The Breunings were a novice cruising couple and new to ocean sailing when they decided to sell up an make a life for themselves at sea

We’ve brought along boxes filled with spare parts, but as one wag said: “Carsten, it doesn’t matter how many spare parts you bring you’ll need the one you didn’t.” We’ve had to buy parts and have them shipped in from the US or Europe, freight alone costing so much that you can have a heart attack when you see the invoice.

It costs more money than you think, and we’ve yet to meet anyone who has been able to sail within their budget. Some cruisers have had to get a job along the way to earn extra money, or else have travelled home and worked there for a few months. For some, it has meant the end of the dream and they’ve sold their boat and gone home.

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