Cruising adventures on El Gato

Grant and Mary Forbes are comfortably ensconced in the marina at Langkawi when they chat to us, taking a pause in their seafaring adventures on El Gato, a big, beautiful Lagoon 440.

Grant brings us up to speed on their blogging, far-flung anchorages and his alter-ego as a sketch artist… (this story includes excerpts from the El Gato blog, with thanks).

“Our big 44′ Lagoon cruising cat El Gato, was built in France in 2007, our floating mobile home… This boat is amazing! Fast, safe and comfortable… With all the comforts of home, and a full stock of food, water, fuel and supplies, she still manages to romp along without fuss. This is one capable, well built and brilliantly designed cruising boat.  So we have a great boat for this trip, and we’re learning how to sail her as we go……”

'Grant the bloggist'

Grant and Mary keep a blog so they can remember where they’ve been – this seems a sensible move when you take a look at their catalogue of destinations throughout Southeast Asia and beyond, some at sea, and others overland.

….it doesn’t take long for all of these experiences to melt together and become confused in memory.  The blog is also a great way of keeping in touch with others, and if I can entertain, and/or enlighten someone else, it’s a bonus.”

Their (on-water) archives start back when they first sailed out of Geelong in 2015 and they have put some nautical miles under their belts since then.

The best on the market

Grant explains how they came to be cat lovers – “In the past, we had spotted a Lagoon 380 in Melbourne and were amazed by her. But we were shopping for a monohull at the time and bought our beautiful Hans Christian, Endurance of the South.

We had not sailed much before beyond Port Phillip Heads. But we set off for Darwin and on the passage across the Gulf from Cape York to Gove, we found that the mono was not the right boat for the tropics – there was not enough shade or water tanks.”

When Grant and Mary got to Darwin they decided to bite the bullet and shop for a cat. They had the Lagoon 380 in the back of their minds and headed to the Sunshine and Gold Coasts where the herd often gathers. There they fell in love with the 440.

“She was the best on the market, beautifully maintained, and she looked great.”

The details

El Gato’s crew are clearly fond of their charge.

“The comfort is just amazing. When we were in rough seas sitting in the cockpit in the monohull, we could touch the water. But in the cat, you’re sitting on top of the flybridge – with 2m following seas – she’s solid, she’s stable, she’s just fantastic in the water.

And in the tropics with minimal wind and flat water, the engines are so good and strong, you can motor along nicely. The Lagoon is great in rough seas as well as flat.”

Grant shares more details with his blog readers, “She’s a little over 44 ft. long, carrying two smooth Yanmar 54HP diesels, and just 1.3 metres of draft. She has a big Onan generator, solar panels, and a wind generator, and is capable of desalinating 250 litres of seawater an hour. There’s a steering station on the bridge deck, which gives a fantastic all-around view, and if the weather turns foul, she can be driven from inside the saloon cabin.

Another benefit of the boat is that it’s big, the equivalent of a little apartment.”

A little help from their (rally) friends

Grant and Mary have been sailing through Indonesia with the wonderful Sail2Indonesia Rally, which has made the trip a lot easier than if they were going it alone.

“We weren’t experienced sailors before when we sailed out of Melbourne. We decided to do the trip with a rally as it was fantastic to know that there was that support if we needed it. It’s great to go long distance in company,  and the social side was just amazing. We still bump into people we met along the way, we all get on really well.”

There are various stopping off points and an official finish point at Nongsa Point Marina with the Sail2Indonesia rally, but Grant and Mary like to do things their own way. They ended up joining the Sail Malaysia rally and benefitted from discounts at the marinas along the route.

“We agreed to join the Sail Malaysia yacht rally, which gave us all sorts of benefits on the trip north through the Straits of Malacca to Langkawi, where we’d planned on leaving the boat.

So, it was a few more days of festivities, meetings and socialising, before we headed out once again.

After a few days sampling the delights of Singapore, Malaysia felt relaxed and comfortable, and to think that just a few days earlier we’d been blown away with how fast and glitzy it had all seemed.”

No plan, no problem

And that’s how it goes for the Forbeses, they “don’t really have a plan.”

“We’ve come back to Australia a couple of times during the trip, and we leave the boat in the marina. Then last year back in October, we sailed up to Thailand and the Burma border for the pick of the season and then back again to Malaysia.

We’re now looking at all the options for next season – rallies to the Andaman Islands, Sumatra, and Borneo… there should be some good surf!”

Far from the crowds

“On a boat, you can experience all of these little anchorages in Indonesia – you won’t get there another way.

In Indonesia and Thailand, the popular spots can be overrun with tourists. But you don’t have to go far to pull up on a deserted spot, drop anchor and go for a swim. You can’t do that as a package tourist.

Up near the Burma border, there are some fantastic spots. Every country has something a little bit different.”

The Search continues

When you visit the El Gato website, you’ll find a delightful sketchbook of Grant’s work.

He still sketches in his retirement, their big cat affording him the space to do so.

“I worked previously at Rip Curl as a graphic artist and they have an ad campaign called The Search which they came up with on a boat trip.

I was part of that. And now it’s been revived, inspired by Mick Fanning.”

The Search is about finding the perfect wave, the perfect spot, the perfect moment – still an inspiration for Grant today, as he captures precious experiences through his drawings.

The sketch here was to honour El Gato’s equatorial crossing.

“I go surfing as much as I can, but less so when we’re out on the boat.

The boat takes up my energy and time, and part of being a good boat skipper is steering clear of surf!

Early next year we will head to Sumatra and I’d like to get back into surfing there, and the boat is easy to anchor in shallow water – ideal for surfing.”

The perfect retirement plan?

“We’ve got no fixed timeline. We’ve got nothing much else to do!

While you’ve got your fitness and health you’re crazy not to do this stuff. The Lagoon is not a physically demanding boat. I’d much rather be doing something interesting and exciting. It’s too easy to be retired and sit at home.

And it’s not as difficult as you would imagine, particularly offshore overseas cruising. We weren’t expert sailors at all. It’s not an overwhelming thing- there are lots of people older than us still cruising around. While not physically challenging, it is fantastic mental exercise to learn how to sail and navigate – it keeps your brain active and alive. And the camaraderie, that’s something special.”

Inspired by Grant and Mary’s story? Check out their blog El Gato, and talk to the team at TMG about starting your own on-water cruising adventure in a beautiful big cat.