SimplySailingOnline.com shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.

How My Motor Made me a Better Sailor

September 15, 2014

The phenomenon has happened to us many times, but it wasn't until I heard another sailor tell his version of the story that I realized it was a tale worth telling. For almost two years he didn't sail his boat because the motor wasn't working and he hadn't had the time, money, or inclination to fix it. So it sat in a slip up the Ortega River. If you are familiar with the Jacksonville, Florida area, you know that there is a rather narrow bascule bridge across the river and the wind usually funnels straight into the river, regardless of the true wind direction. After feeling like he couldn't use his boat for all that time, he finally decided, "Duh. It's a sailboat. Let's go sailing." He pushed it out of the slip, far enough away from the marina to raise the sails, and tacked toward the bridge. He informed the bridge tender of his intent, tacked to the far side of the river, radioed for an opening, and by the time he had tacked back to the center of the bridge it was open. He headed her up and momentum carried him through the bridge despite his flogging sails. "After that, it was easy." He sailed nearly every weekend for over a year with no motor. Occasionally he blew a tack and missed an opening and the bridge tender would close it and they would all regroup and try again. There is no failure in a blown tack. Laugh it off, come back around and try again. His face lit up as he said, "You know, I'm so glad my motor quit working. I probably never would have realized what that boat can do otherwise. I learned how to tweak her, how to get her to sail anywhere I wanted, how far I could push her. I learned a lot about her. And myself."


Coral Bay, St. John: sailed in and out many times

His story reminded me of the many miles we have sailed with no motor. We should have known when we went for our sea trial and the seller was so anxious to raise the sails before we were even out of the marina. "You should see how she sails!" Yeah, and how bad the motor is. On our maiden voyage as new owners, we didn't make it three miles before the motor overheated and we had to turn it off and sail her back. After futzing with it for days, we decided we had to get her home, so we just gave up and sailed her up the Bay. When we sailed into one particularly secluded marina, the owner met us on the dock. "I've never seen anybody sail in here before. Just last week we had to tow a sailboat in and I thought, 'It is a sailboat.' But I figured that creek was just too twisty to sail down. Guess not."


Saba: why would you NOT sail onto and off those moorings?

The first year we were headed to the Caribbean as newbie sailors we lost our old MD2B Volvo while still in the Chesapeake. We sailed up to Baltimore, sailed her up to the fuel dock, warped her into a slip and replaced the motor with a Kubota. But our new motor didn't fix our problems. Bad transmissions, worn cutlass bearings, bad fuel, everything seemed to be determined to turn us into sailors. Motoring down a windless canal in NC the cutlass bearing started making its self-destructive whine. I ran to the bow to drop the anchor while Dave shut off the motor. "Now what?" "We sail her to the nearest haulout." "But there's no wind!" (Isn't that the typical excuse for not sailing?) "There is enough to ghost us through the canal. There will be more when we get out of here. Besides, what choice do we have?" What choice, indeed. Some will say if we had a dinghy with an outboard we could side tie her or push her through the canal. Or we could have called TowBoat US. But realistically, as sailors, our only choice was to sail her. Our finicky motor isn't the only thing that makes us better sailors. Our budget helps, too.


Sailed out of Chaguaramas, through Boca de Monos.

Leaving St. Croix at the beginning of hurricane season one year, headed to Trinidad, we started the motor "just in case" before we sailed out of the harbor. That old familiar cutlass bearing grind that says we don't use the motor enough made me hesitate before I picked up the anchor. And again, my question to the captain, "Now what?" was met with the usual, "We sail to Trinidad. She is a sailboat." We island hopped down the eastern Caribbean, stopping at several islands, and rarely had to change our plans just because we didn't have a motor. With enough patience, you can sail anywhere.


We find we catch more fish under sail than while motoring.

Headed to Panama, 1100 miles across the Caribbean, anticipating a pleasant 10-day downwind run, we again had no motor. So we sailed. The last 80 miles took us three days, but there is nothing quite like sailing alongside dugout canoes into the harbor you've been dreaming of for years. Sure, you can motor there, but I guarantee you it does not feel the same. This time, there was no haulout once we got to our destination. So while we were in the archipelago, we sailed hundreds of miles, gunkholing, exploring, sneaking into creases in islands to get closer to the Indian villages, even sailing her into a marina to keep her safe while we did some land travel. Every mile we sail, every harbor we enter, every reef we skirt, makes us better sailors. And if it takes our motor not working for us to challenge ourselves, then so be it. I'm thankful for our crappy motor, for it has made us better sailors.


And if there's no wind? That's why we have kids.

There was an interesting article in one of last month's boating magazines about "sailing" to the Bahamas that leaves one wondering, "Where have all the sailors gone?" MONDAY we'll try to find the answer.

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