Yes, I have more open-ocean/blue water sailing experience than anyone I
know, and I consider myself the consummate world cruiser. But I must
confess something to all of you ... and please take me seriously ... I
would never, never, never consider going world cruising or undertake a
circumnavigation with a just a "couple of years" experience. That goes
for even if I were sailing in a full-time job getting that experience.
I am well aware that you are all adults and can do whatever you
want ... and that you probably will, but if your experience level is as
you describe it, I think you are thinking very dangerously. World
cruising is not a cakewalk ... it is not even easy. It is very, very
dangerous, and the only thing that makes it even remotely enjoyable is
sailing with people who know what they are doing ... who give you a
degree of comfort that if anything happens that you cannot handle,
someone on board can ...
I think dreams are wonderful ... everyone knows I have them myself, but
I am quite proud of the fact that after over 70 ocean crossings of
varying lengths, and four near-circumnavigations, I am still alive to
tell about it.
I am not trying to brag, but if you want to have a "come to Jesus"
session on this medium, tell me, and I will participate. I will tell you
stories, all true, about 80-foot waves hitting you head on the bow; I'll
tell you about being lost at sea with no navigation equipment and clouds
so thick you could not see stars if you wanted. I will tell you about
being shot at while some modern-day psycho gets his jollies at trying to
steal your boat.
If I sound like I am over-reacting, maybe I am ... but I have found two
boats in my life ... in mid-ocean ... with no crews ... each one a trip
started by novices.
And if you do decide to go, God be with you and be careful. I just ask
that you re-think your ideas ... maybe modify them a little. Go with some
experienced people first.
... Sailing is the easy part, the pleasant part, and -- get this! -- the SAFE part.
Take it from one who's been doing it more than thirty years, the safest thing you can
do in a boat is sail it far from land.
Is there anything dangerous about living aboard in harbor while learning to
sail? Let me add a few words to your vocabulary: Anchor. Set. Rode. Chain.
Rope. Scope. Tide. Swinging. Dragging. Bowsprit. Fending off. Coral head.
Pounding. Hull breach. Grounding. Surf.
And these words: Through-hull. Electrolysis. Corrosion. Leaking. Cabin
sole. Bilge pump failure. Groping in bilge in darkness. Desperately pumping
And here's a word you probably already know: hurricane. Have you ever
experienced wind over 100 MPH? There is simply no way to imagine it, so you're
probably right to refuse to think about it. ...
I think a useful exercise would be to produce a list of real threats that
blue water cruising crews face. Then get prepared to deal with those
threats. In my opinion, there are ways to minimize each danger. Also, in
my opinion, I've listed the most serious REALISTIC risks facing a cruising
boat. We've had all of these situations on our cruise.
(1) Grounding. Go slow, have primary and backup depth sounders, avoid
transiting coral shallows when water colors are not visible. Have adequate
gear for kedging off. Have at least 3/4 keel boat with skeg-hung rudder and
protected prop to minimize possible grounding damage. Steel boat is nice.
Don't panic. We grounded about 5 times on the year-long voyage, and towed 2
boats off sandbars along the way. Never any damage - even with exposed
(2) Engine stops. Line around prop - make sure you are never dragging any
of your own lines, watch for crab pots, filter your fuel, use biocide,
change oil, change zincs, do an engine inspection daily (and hourly while
underway). Don't shut down a running diesel in a crisis or near crisis.
Install alarms. Always have mainsail ready to hoist. Always have anchor
ready to drop. A bilge pump alarm saved us when an engine cooling hose
blew, resulting in a minor $7 repair instead of an emergency rescue.
(3) Anchor dragging. Have oversized anchor and chain, use proper scope, set
two anchors when concerned about holding, always back down properly, carry
CQR/Bruce and Danforth (for different bottoms) plus a backup anchor, never
leave boat until at least 30 minutes of close observation, return if there
is a significant wind shift, carry a handheld VHF when away monitoring 16.
We also carried 250 feet of line for making boat fast to the shore if
necessary (and used it several times).
(4) Bad weather. Have SSB weather radio or weatherfax, use daily. Have
everything secure on deck at all times. If coastal cruising there is no
excuse to be caught out in bad weather - wait for good weather, be prepared
to turn back or seek alternate harbors. If blue water cruising, have strong
boat with positive righting moment capable of withstanding knockdowns.
Smaller lexan windows, bombproof hatches, oversized rigging, storm sails,
small cockpit, large drains, sufficent pumps. Get crew experienced
gradually in heavy weather sailing. Reef early. Be sure to know how to
heave to, lie ahull, or stream warps, at the appropriate times. Radar, GPS
chartplotter are technical aids, but good seamanship comes first. Carry a
knife, axe and bolt cutters capable of cutting your anchor chain.
(5) Injury. It's easy to get cut, sick, bruised, or broken. Carry adequate
first aid and medical supplies. Marine SSB or Ham radio can work wonders if
a serious medical situation happens far from help. See your doctor before
the trip and prepare a medical kit.
(6) Getting Lost. Even in the world of GPS it's easy to do. Have adequate
paper charts, acquire local knowledge. Don't overly depend on cruising
guides at the expense of your better judgement. Double-check waypoints,
it's easy to transpose digits, North versus South, 45 degrees 11 minutes
instead of 46 degrees 11 minutes (I've done both). Getting lost will
translate into threat (1) or (7).
(7) Hitting something. Usually while docking, locking, or going under a
bridge. It never happened to us but to several of our buddy boats. Not
much you can do. Bow and stern thrusters would be nice (but unaffordable).
Learn to use spring lines for maneuvering. Practice, practice, go slow.
Even then a cross current will do you in sometime. Have liability
insurance. Have an old boat that can stand a few dings and you can repair
yourself. Never insist on right-of-way. Be able to repair your longest
piece of standing rigging.
(8) Seasick. Not much you can do. It usually goes away after about 3 days
at sea. If it doesn't, look into medications or sell the boat. The
transderm patches work but cause hallucinations after a while.
The rest never happened to us.
(9) Bad People. Travel in a group. Avoid dangerous places. Keep the VHF
on 16 at all times. Having a fast boat is a good thing. We never locked
the door in 12 months and 5000 miles (except in New York City).
(10) Leaks. Carry underwater sealant, plenty of 5200, wet suit, mask.
Don't leave in the first place if your boat has serious leaks (ex. deck/hull
joint). Know how to adjust your stuffing boxes. Have softwood plugs for
the through hulls, and exercise the valves regularly. Call for help in a
bad situation. Even in a remote anchorage, people will respond. We knew of
a boat that hit rock or coral, had 3 feet of water in the bilge and more on
the way, generator under water, battery and pumps out. Local people
responded to their handheld VHF call for help, directed them to a place to
beach the boat, and brought portable pumps out, patched the hull with
underwater epoxy, towed them off, and sent them on their way to the nearest
boatyard. If this happened mid-ocean it would have been time to call Mayday
on the SSB/HAM, trigger the EPIRB, and step up into the lifeboat.
(11) Crewperson is hating it. Change what you are doing.