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 basics—like how to reef—makes 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.