So, obviously, one of the big things on my list is learning to sail. After all, who takes off on a sailing circumnavigation without learning how to sail first? Well, some people have – Bumfuzzle being an example. And I expect to learn the vast majority sailing by getting under way and learning as I go (and from the cruising community). That said, it wasn’t my intention to jump into this without any experience. In the end, I mitigated this by requiring the previous owner of my Lagoon 380 to spend 9 days sailing with me. I did this by including that provision in the contract.
Originally, I’d had the following ideas in mind:
- Crew on another cruiser’s boat – Didn’t do it. Too much hassle juggling schedules, and I was in a place (personally/professionally) that I wanted to leave ASAP. To some degree, though, I did this during my time aboard my boat with the previous owner.
- Learning to sail with a small sailboat of my own – Didn’t do it. Buying, maintaining, and then selling another smaller boat appealed to me originally. But after doing the due-diligence, I decided against it. Too much hassle.
- Take some classes – Didn’t happen. I talked to some folks who’d taken sailing classes – in the end they weren’t thrilled by the outcome and didn’t’ believe much of it was relevant to cruising.
- Charter a boat – Too expensive. I did a small charter in the Bahamas for a couple of weeks aboard a small monohull. As far as chartering a catamaran? That money is better spent investing in my boat. Also, the charter experience is dramatically different than boat ownership.
- Learning to sail with friends as resources – A great option, but it’s difficult getting everyone’s schedules lined up. The friends that I want to come and sail (with the appropriate experience) are usually pretty hard to pin down. I haven’t given up hope here, but it hasn’t materialized yet.
What I Did
The boat search and purchase happened pretty quickly. At that time I was working full-time, and it was tough getting things in order. Once I had the boat, leaving it unattended in a foriegn country (Panama) wasn’t very appealing. So I did what any fool would do – I quit my job, flew down to Panama, and jumped into boat ownership completely blind. It’s been a challenge, and I certainly can’t recommend this path – but it’s worked for me.
I’m learning at an astronomical rate.
Some things to consider:
- You can’t possibly comprehend the amount of refit and maintenance on a used sailboat, until you have done it. It’s crazy. Just be prepared to dump tons of money and time into any used sailboat. Even if it is, largely, set up for cruising when you purchase it (mine was).
- Don’t buy a boat anywhere near your max budget. Stuff is going to break. You’re going to hate things that the previous owner did/didn’t do and need to fix them. There will be things you need to optimize and replace. And finally, you’ll want to make the boat yours – which means making it comfortable and optimizing it for your particular use-case.
My Thoughts on Sailing and Cruising
I am, at best, a novice. But I have done some of it. And I’ve talked to people who’ve done alot of it.
In my opinion, sailing isn’t the hard part. That’s the fun part. The hard part is learning your boat, it’s systems, and how to maintain it. Sailing is remarkably easy to do, but remarkably hard to master. Mastering it comes from hours spent sailing, hours spent reading, and hours spent having cocktails with smarter/more experienced sailors.
Anchoring correctly can be a big cause of stress. Read all you can, oversize your ground tackle, and never be afraid of dropping multiple anchors. Have a stern anchor handy and ready to drop at a moments notice. There’s nothing worse than a long day of stuff breaking and near-distaster followed by a night of anchor watch when the wind picks up. On that note – get an anchor alarm that you know how to use, and can sleep next to.
Sailing in light wind is no fun. Learning how to do this is a mix of correct sail inventory and time spent sailing in light winds. A boat that sails well in light winds is a huge plus.
Don’t be afraid to motor-sail. I had the lofty goal of never (or at least very rarely) motor-sailing. But when there’s no wind, and you’re trying to make an anchorage before nightfall – turn on the damn motors.
Don’t get caught outside of an anchorage at night. If you do, be prepared to wait it out. Only go into an anchorage at night that you’re familiar with – and only if you have a GPS track to get in there. Even then, avoid if possible. This is a quick way to lose your boat – it happens even to experienced sailors. Though it could be said that experienced sailors don’t go into strange anchorages at night.
Single handing is challenging. It’s also rewarding and nice. But when you’re starting out, the more hands/heads on the boat the better. The best scenario is cruising with people who have a ton of sailing experience or local knowledge. In any case, even inexperienced crew are nice to have to help break up watches, hand wrenches, and split cooking/cleaning duties.
Drink and eat with people in your anchorage. They know more than you. Ask them everything, and never show up to anybody’s boat empty-handed for a dinner party.
Ask for help. I struggle with this. I hate interrupting people’s day to ask for help. But when I’ve done it, people have helped out in ways I wouldn’t have imagined. The experience, bonding, and sharing of knowledge is something invaluable.
Provide value. I’m a novice sailor at best. I’m also not very mechanically inclined. But I do know a bit about spearfishing and fishing. I also know a bit about online presence. Knowledge that you can share is a commodity. Oh, and everyone loves fresh fish.
Default to “yes.” People will ask you for help. Always say yes. Even better, offer help before it’s asked of you. It will change your plans, it will delay your projects – but people don’t forget when you help them. It’s good to have some positive “favor-karma.”