I have over 50K miles offshore sailing experience, I often think back to when I sailed that first time, and compare what I knew then versus what I know now. I often dwell on that perspective so I feel qualified to talk on the subject. Here you go.. a cruising captain’s version of the ultimate guide to decide “If YOU would love cruising” free of charge. Cruising for dummies if you will.
There are several levels of sailboat lovers, from what I have seen we all fit into one of them. When a sailboat dreamer explains his heart felt desire to sell his house – buy a big boat and live in a space about the size of his current garage, with about the same capacity of air conditioning, most of his friends can’t imagine a worse fate. The nay sayers probably represent 80% of the population. Most of your friends are what I’d call level 1 enthusiasts, basically they will think you are nuts. We sailors may be nuts, but I’m here to tell you the unwilling majority will never risk failure or folly. I now know, any accomplishment without contention isn’t worth the wax to keep it polished. Level 1 represents the great majority that live out common lives, and seem to be happy enough.
Level 2: Some folks love the idea of sailing and will even promise to come sail with you (and they mean it) but then they don’t. When a sailor’s dream finally comes true, we recall the excitement of our friends for our dream so we offer to share it, but they won’t come. Level 2 friends enjoy the thought of the perfect sail. They desire some of that “escape” factor sailing into the sunset provides, but will never act on it, even as a guest. Don’t judge them when your reality doesn’t match theirs anymore. It happens. The dream of freedom is still there but you just changed lanes too fast and you should know, they may never come with you. Level 2 sailors have a fantasy that works well for them, but know it’s a pipe dream… and that’s OK.
Level 3: Daddy Warbucks – Walk around any marina and you will find trophies that represent achieved wealth lining the docks. Some owners have cruising dreams but most use their craft as a dockside condo to entice the level 2’s to come by and enjoy a glass of wine. It works, it’s great entertainment that at least makes you think of cruising, but they never unplug the twin 50 amp cords. Inside this level 3 there is a very small percentage that do actually leave the dock. They sail from Yacht Club to Yacht club and remark on who had the best floral presentation at the dinner table. The only tools they have onboard is a pen and checkbook. I guess I might fit into that subset if I had the money.. lol. These rich guys, and level 2’s that made a mistake, keep marinas in business. 95% of the masts you see in any harbor never move. The ones that do sail, shouldn’t stray far from home or be out longer than fresh fruit. I’ve met some good Level 2’s out on the water but they are pretty rare. Most mega yachts you see “out there” don’t fit in this category. Cruising mega yachts are normally a business venture that changes its boat name based on which corporate occupants are on board at the time. I have seen the same boat docked at Atlantis in Nassu sport 3 different names. The big gold letters on the side apparently bolt on and can be changed by the crew without much fanfare.
Level 4 Cruisers – These are the dreamers that find a way to move on a boat. I’d say level 4 represents up to 10% of the people you will see “out there” cruising. They have the overwhelming desire for freedom but they aren’t good decision makers. They buy the wrong boat, or they don’t make good decisions day to day. Level 4 includes everything from homeless people that happen to live on a boat, to the fiscally capable but “mentally moronic” sailors with a desire to live free, especially free of common sense. It can be a hard life. Sort of the left wing democrats of the boating world. Their sense of reality floats with the tide, they survive off what other people give them. Heck they MUST be Democrats now that I think about it, you know.. feed them fish and you have their vote forever, teach them to fish….. and they might vote for somebody else. Actually they fit into the cruising world quite well. These folks are totally harmless, in their happily aimless way… lol. They are often fun to watch and are – totally groovy man……. I keep extra starter fluid, and spark plugs onboard for these folks. It’s nice to have the opportunity to make somebody’s day now and then.
Level 5 Cruisers – Hopefully this is the category I fit into. Level 5 are the successful cruisers that represent the largest group you will meet if you pull that proverbial pin yourself. Have you ever been camping or RV’ing? It’s great when you meet people in the RV park and talk about their equipment or similar circumstances. You make friends quickly. The cruiser community is like that on steroids. If you pull up next to a guy 400 miles from nowhere just off some deserted island, you have a major commonality. That guy kinda’ qualifies right off the bat. Most of our best and most devoted friends are cruisers we met in the Bahamas. We average about 6 months on, and 6 months off the boat so all our time isn’t spent with cruisers… but the best times are. Even when we are on land, our cruising buddies are hands down the best people. In March of this year my house flooded, I had a cruising buddy drive 16 hours with a truck full of supplies to help me clean up and get my life back together. To be fair, another drove 6 hours to do the same and he’s never been on SYL. “Sea Yawl Later” Sittononthebeach.com Level 5 is the most successful cruising group of the five, and fortunately they represent the overwhelming majority of who you will see “out there”.
If you generally make good decisions, don’t be afraid to just get on a boat and go. Nothing beats real time experience. Your love of sailing will drive you to do enough research to excel. But … If your decision making skills are suspect it might be good to commit to exhaustive study and take it slower, or better yet change your dream to do something you might actually enjoy. I hate to be that blunt but there it is.
Making good decisions (even more than preparedness) is THE foundation for successful cruising. If your generally pretty lucky, and a handy guy.. cruising opens up a door you simply must walk through. You were made to do this. Conversely if you’re the kind of guy that is hyper-focused on details, relies heavily on product warrantees, and somebody that holds on to the negative longer than you should, if the main tool you use to work on your boat is your wallet… don’t get far from home my friend. Cruising can be fun for you, but not long term.
When you’re out sailing, some “new” problem presents itself almost every day. No amount of study will yield the perfect solution to every scenario. Common sense and how you adapt is what gets you out of a jam. I’m not saying don’t do your research, I’m saying the smartest thing you can do is check your personal tool box, understand how much of “the right stuff” you possess because that too.. will run low at the worst possible moment. When you have been awake all night on a crossing, something breaks and the weather gets bad… tools, spare parts or preparedness won’t mean much if you don’t make good decisions about how to use them.
Your first and most important decision is to buy a solid boat in the first place. One that will take care of you when your skills bump the rev limiter. The lower your endurance to adversity… the more money you better spend on a boat.
Here’s my take on what you as a top (level 5) sailor will experience on the high seas. Sailing is 10-80-10. Other sailors may disagree with my percentages but here’s the deal. 10% of your sailing will be idyllic – like you dream of and see on the postcards. Sandy beaches, blue skies, wind on your beam and wine in your favorite glass. Euphoric in every way and totally worth the other 90%. On the opposite end of the spectrum – 10% is sheer terror, something you only brag about after the appropriate amount of time has lapsed. lol. How much skin you lose during a wild experience often determines how long that duration is, but… when you realize that you and your well-chosen equipment can overcome true adversity it grounds you like nothing else. You own something sweet dreams could never purchase.
Sailboats can do that for you. Even though we all hope bad things won’t happen, when they do, that too becomes a talking point to share when you reach that deserted island and anchor next to a guy that just did the same thing. Sooner or later situations that bring the most fear become mental jewelry that most will never own. Now I’m not suggesting you go out and do something stupid or that sailing will eventually render you anemic. While perusing your dreams if you accidentally find a base to judge all things by.. for real…. your eyes simply “see” with higher resolution. Even the worst of times on a sailboat have their merit.
Regarding my math: Given my 10-80-10 scenario if the middle 80% of sailing transports you from one 10% to the other with varying degrees of joy. I know.. I know, you might say my math is flawed. When I claimed earlier that the best 10% makes the other 90% more than worth it, I didn’t make a mistake… What I’m saying is, the unintended bad times… the 10% that scares the crap out of you eventually become a bonus to be included in the “worth it column”.
And here’s a bit for us dreamers: I totally understand that planning and anticipation is a wonderful part of the journey not to be missed… Dream, and if you find a way.. go for it!