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.

The Most Important List

August 31, 2015

Regular readers know that I'm a list maker. And it seems I'm not alone. When talking with soon-to-be cruisers, there is no shortage of lists included in our discussions. But I've noticed a disturbing trend. There are hundreds of items on the To Buy list and dozens of items on the To Do list, both of which get shorter as funds and time run out. However, there is a noticeable lack of the most important list of all: the To Learn list.

I'm not going to tell you not to purchase ANYTHING before you go cruising. For one thing, it's generally not possible. If you're like us, you'll want a handheld GPS, a handheld VHF, some kerosene lights, a composting head, some materials to build new canvas as necessary, and perhaps a vegetable basket or two.

Besides, the pressure from sailing magazines is just too great. You are GOING to have a To Buy list, so we'll forgo the discussion about what should and shouldn't be on it--for now. And yes, you are going to have a To Do list that is impossible to finish before you go cruising. You can either finish the list, or leave the dock, but no boat I've ever seen out cruising has finished the To Do list. It's not possible. If you don't believe me, then enjoy your life of "I'm going to go cruising, as soon as the boat is finished" instead of a life of travel and adventure. Our To Do list is currently several pages long, and about half of those items were on the original To Do list before we left 15 years ago. We just realized before it was too late that the boat doesn't have to be perfect to sail. So we left and haven't regretted not redoing the varnish in the V berth or installing ceilings in the aft cabin yet. If we were still working on the To Do list, however, we would certainly regret not having experienced the past 15 years and 25,000 miles of sailing.

But again, I'm not going to tell you that you won't have a To Do list. You will, and that's OK. If you truly want to go cruising, you'll find a way to prioritize that list so that the safety issues are addressed, the boat is sailable, and you can travel in relative comfort. The rest can be worked on along the way.

What should not wait, however, is the To Learn list. Because no matter what "safety equipment," gadgets, and gizmos you buy, nothing replaces good seamanship and knowledge. Purchases can certainly SUPPLEMENT your skills, but they will never be a substitute for them. Maybe a better name for this list should include To Practice and To Study. A few examples:

Our youngest son spent the last ten years of his childhood cruising the Caribbean. One of our favorite sailing techniques is to heave to. Invariably, regardless of how well we calculate an arrival time, we always seem to get to a port at night. We do NOT (ever, ever, ever) enter a harbor in the dark, so we heave to. For the first few years, (before he started pulling his own watches) he and I were watch mates, so I know for a fact that he has spent many hours hove to, staring at the lights on shore, wishing for sunrise so we could enter the harbor and drop the anchor and finally be "home," (wherever it happened to be this time). So I was a bit surprised when we got a text from him the other day that said, "When you heave to, what do you do with the traveler?" This is a young man with over 25,000 miles of bluewater sailing experience on a small boat that he was often responsible for, the only crew that was awake. Yet he wasn't sure how exactly to heave to. He understood the basics (throw the tiller over to tack but leave the headsail to backwind) but not the finer points. Why? Because he hadn't practiced it enough. When we hove to off the coast of St. Somewhere, one of us adults always got the boat stopped, then handed over the watch to the kids. They were never responsible for making the heaving to decision, just babysitting the boat for a four-hour watch afterwards. My point is that you can READ all you want, you can recite the methods, you can pass the captain's test, but until you practice, practice, practice, you will not be able to heave to in a 15-foot following seas when you're too tired to hand steer anymore and you don't trust your windvane to not let you broach. Add it to your To Learn list.

A dreamer on the dock mentioned sailing to Bermuda in the spring. Dave asked when he was leaving for North Carolina.
"Well, I figure I'll just sail there from here. It's closer."
Dave smiled, "Actually, Bermuda is over 250 nautical miles further from here than from Beaufort."
"Oh, well, I'll just study all that later. For now, I'm going to buy..." and he was off. Having a To Buy list before you sail your first offshore passage isn't necessarily a bad thing. Putting off studying until the last minute, however, is.

The most important step of any passage is preparation. Buying is not preparing. Putting another coat of varnish on the handrail is not preparing. Staring at charts, reading guide books, and practicing all those skills that you will need are far more important than buying anything.

But buying is easy. Varnishing is easy. Taking your boat out the next time it's blowing 40 knots and trying to tuck in a third reef is not. Neither is turning off your GPS and practicing navigating by ranges and markers and calculating your set and drift. Before you get caught up in the expensive (albeit easy) part of any passage, learn the skills you will need to successfully complete the passage. You may save yourself a lot of money and decide you'd rather fly.

I have been participating in an on-going online discussion of finances lately, so MONDAY we'll share our explanation of just how easy it is to get OUT of debt while cruising.

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