March 26, 2012

Don’t Just Do It

navigation error

One year ago we were in countdown mode: finishing boat projects, compiling lists, making plans, and in our spare moments dreaming. Dreaming about the months to come where we’d sail across the South Pacific, stop in extraordinary places and live out the ultimate fantasy.

It’s still a bit surreal to realize we did it—but each time we’re asked for advice, or our opinions, it becomes a little more real. The typical question is a vague one—what advice do we have for wanna-bes? What could we tell those who want to follow in our wake?
I know the popular answer is, ‘Just go! Go now. Don’t wait. Don’t let life hold you back!’ And sure—that’s great advice if your boat, your bank account, and you are ready enough to go.

If not? Our honest advice? Don’t go. Not yet…

I know—this is a very unpopular position. Quite negative really… Especially if you’ve read those blogs and books by the bumbling sailor types who were clueless when they started but then all the misadventures led to grand adventures and finally a book deal. But those sailors are the exception. Honestly.

Too often momentum, money and skill run out before the adventure is done. Want proof? Go look for a cheap used boat—you’ll find them all over the world, abandoned when the cruising kitty ran dry, or the marriage ended or the breakdowns mounted up. No one blogs about these trips and these abandoned dreams—but seriously no one sets out with the plan of selling a boat with a hole in it from Vanuatu
towed in from the sea

Is your boat ready?
Boats don’t need to be fancy or outfitted with the latest and greatest, but they do need to be well founded and in good repair. Rigging needs to be relatively new (we know of several boats that lost masts in some very isolated locations—and have encountered several abandoned sailboats that didn’t have sticks). Sails need to be in good shape and you should have the ability to repair or swap them out. You need to have spare parts for engines and outboards. In short, every major system on your boat needs to function well and you should have the ability to repair it, or do without.

Is your bank account ready?
How much money is enough? No two budgets are the same… So I can’t offer a number. I can say this—it’s hard to make money when you are travelling, so plan to be financially self-sufficient for as long as you plan to be out. Planning to stop and work is cool—many of us do that—but you need have money enough to bridge the gap. Assume expensive things will break. Assume you’ll need some sort of medical care. Assume you may need to suddenly fly home. Assume you will need to pay to haul your boat or put it in a marina.
Budget for these things—then if nothing unexpected happens, you get to cruise a little longer. But if you hole your boat on a reef, or need surgery, or your dinghy is stolen—the unexpected expense won’t end your trip.

Are you ready?
Bumbling sailors do make it across oceans and around the world—and they learn as they go. But they also make mistakes. Last year one set of sailors came in to Nuku Hiva after more than 50 days at sea, they were out of food and water, their batteries were drained, the boat had a good deal of damage—it turned out they didn’t know how to sail. Seriously. Sail trim? Not a clue...

We encountered other boats that went out in terrible conditions because they didn’t understand how to read Grib files or obtain weather faxes. We met one family that drove up on a reef because they didn’t realize Fiji charted with different symbols. Not knowing the basicslike how to reefmakes a funny story, unless you trash the boat beyond repair. So learn—and do it somewhere safe. Join a racing boat, sign up to crew on a long passage, take classes in navigation and weather and then take your boat through a challenging shakedown cruise.
anchorage after a squall
 So I know—I’m a total killjoy. Saying, ‘just go’, is way more fun. But here’s the thing—cruisers look out for each other. Which means we offer advice, but we also rescue each other: we haul each other off reefs, or tow each other in through bad weather, we help fix broken stuff, and patch up wounds. And when there are too many sailors who don’t have well-founded boats and competent skills out there—it puts us all in danger.


SV Pelagia said...

SCARY! (But well said.)

Behan said...

Wow. YES. And, really nicely broken out...I agree! No, it's definitely not popular position (well, it doesn't give ad traffic or help you sell stuff to certain publications), but it's true. What's going on? I suppose on one hand, you have a lower barrier to entry (cheap boat + handheld GPS = far fewer salty skills perceived necessary). The legacy of the early wave of publishing cruisers who sold the sunny side of the dream. But we saw many cruising boats in the south pacific without rigs... it's disturbing. And we all know that sh*t happens (whether it's a "weather bomb", a dead outboard, or a stolen dinghy, or a shredded mainsail), and you need $$ / skills to put things right. On the other hand, it's getting across that line from being someone who *dreams* about going to actually DOING it. And a lot of it? Just lucky in life, in your situation- to have the health and the commitment and be born in countries where we can build futures and pursue our dreams. It reminds me to be grateful every day.

Deb said...

Phew! Thanks so much for posting this. It makes me feel better about our delay. In the end, it's an intensely personal decision because as you said, no two are alike and only you know your own situation. We're getting there...slowly...but we'll be ready when we cast off the dock lines.

Thanks again,

S/V Kintala

Doug and Carla Scott said...

Good facts for all those thinking of sailing off into the Big Blue!

Diane, Evan, Maia and Charlie the cat said...

Ooh, I was scared when I saw comments that I would have everyone arguing with me:) It's nice to know others agree and have seen the same issues. Behan--I do think the barrier to entry has been lowered--in a few ways. It's not just the affordable classic plastics. It's also the more expensive straight-out-of-the-box cruising boats that give a false sense of being everything you need... We met one guy in the Marquesas who had never ANCHORED before arriving there. Never. He prefered marinas was his explanation and he had a book explaining how to anchor. I think there is this sense that reading the right books and blogs and buying the right gear can replace actual sea hours. And Deb, take your time. The islands won't go away. We've met so many people who treated cruising like an endurance race--they went flat out to get out, they went non-stop once they were there, and somewhere along the line they either 'got it' or quit. A lot of them quit.