Twenty years of living on sailboats

Catherine Lawson chats to Jon at Explore North about what it’s like to live on a sailboat with her family, plus what you can expect in her new sailing cookbook, The Hunter & The Gatherer

A podcast about living at sea

“Catherine Lawson has been sailing and writing with her partner David Bristow and their daughter Maya (11) for 20 years. Now they have published a book about how to make sustainable and delicious food while sailing in the warm areas of the world. The book The Hunter and The Gatherer is very inspiring and should be in every ship’s library. We just had to have a talk with Catherine while they were anchored in Bau Bau, in Sulawesi, Indonesia”. – Jon, Explore North

Catherine Lawson and David Bristow authors

A few of the highlights from this podcast

Living on boats for twenty years – how we got started

18 minutes into the podcast – I often find that the people who become long term cruisers, often have no experience at sailing when they start. They just have an idea and a dream that that’s something they would like to do. And, when David and I bought our first boat, neither of us had ever sailed, or spent any time on a sailboat, we certainly don’t come from sailing families, and we just had an idea that it was going to be a beautiful way to travel and to explore.

When David and I bought our first boat, neither of us had ever sailed.

So, we bought this tiny boat, and I mean tiny. It was 20 foot. And, it probably cost us just a couple of weeks’ wages, and we did it up in the backyard of David’s parents house and when we launched it, we didn’t even know if we were going to be seasick. We just slept out on the deck that night and we thought, ‘if this goes well, tomorrow we’ll raise the sails’.

Photo by D. Bristow

Choosing seafood and ‘nude food’, for the planet

4.42 minutes into the podcast – When we started cruising to Indonesia, about four years ago, I was really, really shocked by the plastic situation and I’m sure that everybody that has travelled across oceans and into countries that are newly developing will understand the problem is just overwhelming. And, I had to do a real double-take about how I was eating, what kinds of food I was putting into my shopping trolley, and it really came down to the fact that eating seafood that we’ve caught ourselves, sustainably, hand-picked, without damage to the ecosystems that we have travelled so far to enjoy, just really made sense. And so, we started to explore what we call ‘nude food’, which is food without packaging; food that comes by the grace of everything around us that feeds us as part of the food chain, and I don’t take that for granted.

We started to explore what we call ‘nude food’, which is food without packaging.

Photo by D. Bristow

Food sovereignty and self-reliance

8.15 minutes into the podcast – Going through that process, that everyone in the world went through, it really drew me back to that, ‘well, how can I take back some control of my life’. And, I can when I’m talking about how I gather my food. And, ‘can I do it with a tiny footprint, with minimum harm to those environments that, as sailors, we get to appreciate every time we weight anchor and hoist the sails?’

Photo by D. Bristow

Meeting local people

21.08 minutes into the podcast – Needing things, as a cruiser – needing food, needing fuel, having to arrange visas and clearing in and clearing out, it brings you in contact with people at a local level. And we’re not just tourists; we’re really integrating as much as we can with people and exploring places, tiny places, where people are very interested in where we’ve come from and what we’re doing. So, I like that intimacy… It is a very genuine way for me to travel.

(It) brings you in contact with people at a local level.

Photo by D. Bristow

Bad sea crossings

30 minutes into the podcast – I think really tough passages are like childbirth. It’s probably not the best way to describe it, but once it’s over you’re so grateful that you think, ‘ok, where next?’ So, I think the ability to put really bad sailing passages behind you is a bit of an illness, but a lot of cruisers have it.

Eating coconuts

6.33 minutes into the podcast – That’s how the Hunter and the Gatherer really came about, because, we starting catching our own fish, gathering our own seafood, which might include mud crabs, in some parts of the world, or oysters, seaweed. Certainly, where I am in Indonesia, it includes harvesting coconuts, because they are everywhere and you can use all parts of the coconut for drinking, for food.

You can use all parts of the coconut.

15.30 minutes into the podcast favourite sweet recipe from book – Coconut cake … It uses five ingredients, one of which is coconut, of course. Coconut, any dried fruit you like, it uses a little bit of milk (any milk you like), flour and any kind of sweetener that you like. And it’s very forgiving. My daughter’s been making it since she was about five years old and she makes them before every passage and it doesn’t matter how long the passage goes, so long as the cake lasts, it’s moist.

Photo by D. Bristow

Raising children on a sailboat

13.45 minutes into the podcast – I do remember, in the early days, that people were very disbelieving, suspicious, about how we were going to make everything work. And the fact that we weren’t doing things in a way that everybody else was, certainly, being unconventional makes people feel uncomfortable, a lot of the time.

Being unconventional makes people feel uncomfortable, a lot of the time.

And that, I find, is especially so when it comes to what you do with your kids. Everybody’s got an opinion about how children should be schooled, and Covid did us a wonderful thing, in that people who might never consider worldschooling, or homeschooling, or unschooling their kids suddenly were. And they realised that it wasn’t some weird, strange, hippie thing that people do when they disappear off, over the horizon… So, it’s much more acceptable and people have realised that boat kids are bright, and intelligent and articulate, and have futures (laughs).

Photo by D. Bristow
sailing fishing recipes queenfish kokoda ceviche
Photo by D. Bristow

The benefits of catching and eating fish

10.50 minutes into the podcast – It is a great thing when you arrive at an anchorage at the end of the day and you’ve been trolling a lure and you’ve caught yourself a fish. That, if it’s a big pelagic, could feed you for (could feed our family for), you know, four, five days. So, the economical part of it is certainly appealing, but it’s also the fact that there’s no waste in a lot of our lifestyle. There’s very minimal waste in the way we live.

The plan for the next week

31.10 minutes into the podcast – For the next week, we’ve got a passage to do, speaking of passages, to get ourselves from Sulawesi, which is just south of the equator where we are now, down to Flores. Flores, Lombok, Bali… So, at the moment, in the southern hemisphere, we’re in monsoon. We’re just at the tail end of monsoon, then we have what’s called ‘transition season’ and then the tradewinds start to blow, basically, from the south east…

There’s lots here. Bau Bau’s a really beautiful town. Today we went to an old, 16th century fort. Yesterday, we took the dinghy across the anchorage and climbed up the hill into a national park and found this most amazing waterfall… The water is blue as a baby’s eyes and it’s just magnificent. So we hiked and we swam and we got back in our dinghy and came home! And, it’s just magical.

Write a response

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


G'day, and welcome to our Australian website. It looks like
you're in North America, so maybe you'd prefer to check our
our North American website, which offers all our books for
sale in American dollars, and the shipping is so much cheaper.


Hey, we noticed you're leaving, but you've left something in your cart?
Before you leave, we wanted to offer you 15% off your purchase.
Just use the code – exploring – at checkout.

Did you know that for every book you order, we plant one tree?