Originally Posted by IntrepidManiac
I have thought of a million ways to ask this question, but basically: How do I jump feet first into a cruising lifestyle without "drowning" in the process? What are the minimum skills (not just sailing, but repair, cooking, "life" skills, etc) needed to get started, and what else will I just pick up along the way?
I am a single young guy (mid 20's) and I really want to get out there cruising ASAP. I've taken some US Sail courses, done some charters, and own a small boat I practice on at the lake. I felt confident and ready, enough that I almost put an offer in on a boat (a BEAUTIFUL and well price 27' Orion) but quickly decided I need a little more time, if nothing else to shore up my Cruising Kitty.
If you are serious about going cruising then you need to learn as wide a set of skills as you can, as you need to be as self-sufficient as you can. There are no plumbers, electricians, boatwrights, riggers, or engine mechanics at sea. Using them in port also cuts into the cruising kitty a lot.
When I do buy a boat I plan to take at least a season or two to get to know the boat, make upgrades, get used to repairing it and so on. But in almost making that offer I realized how huge the gulf was between what I know and what I feel I need to know to get started. Like repairing mechanical systems... I've never tinkered with a Diesel Engine before. Or fiberglass repair and maintenance... until I got my little boat last year I knew nothing, and am still rather clueless. And on and on.
Most of these skills are 5% esoteric knowledge and 95% common sense. The esoteric knowledge can be gained from books, videos, internet forums, and such. The common sense is often lacking and can not be replaced.
Diesels are rather simple beasts, needing only air, cooling water and fuel to run properly... compared to most automobile engines, this is far less to learn about. However, that isn't to say there isn't a lot to learn. Troubleshooting a diesel is more an art form than a science.
Fiberglassing is relatively easy to learn. Start with smaller projects and work your way up. Epoxy resin is easier to use than polyester or vinylester resin for most people and in the case of structural repairs, often a better choice due to its greater secondary bonding (adhesive) strength.
Many local vocational/technical schools and the USPS or USCG Aux will have courses on things like coastal pilotage, electrical systems, diesel mechanics, etc... so be on a watch for them.
I need to keep my job (3 hours from the coast) so I can save more money. If I keep my job I really can't crew on other people's cruises (no time) or gain experience that way. I don't feel I have enough experience to buy a big boat, But if I don't get a boat I wont have a "sandbox" to learn things. So I'm saving money, but not building up needed skills... AGHHHH
Buying a trailer sailor, at least one of the larger pocket cruisers, would allow you to get the experience you need while minimizing costs. Keeping a boat at a marina three hours away, especially when trying to learn and save up a cruising kitty is a tough thing to do. Sailing a pocket cruiser, even on local lakes and such, will give you some familiarity with the basic systems—head plumbing, fresh water, electrical, etc.—that are part and parcel of owning a cruising boat. Granted, the systems on a larger cruising boat are often more complex, but the basics are the same.
I read as much as I can, but book knowledge only takes you so far!
So when I get the money should I just say "screw it" and jump in? Or are there a list of a few key skills that you just HAVE to have (aside from how to sail and navigate) before you can safely start cruising? And how do you get those skills while still stuck as a landlubber?
While sailing and navigation skills are key, you can cruise without the other skills initially. The more skills you have under your belt, the less expensive owning a cruising boat will be.
The electrical and wiring skills are not much different from that of an automobile, though the boat is generally a bit harsher an environment.
Carpentry, wood working, and fiberglass skills can be learned on terrestrial projects as well as marine ones. I've used fiberglass work to repair an older bulkhead at a friend's house for instance.
As for a list of skills:
Electrical (12 VDC), unless you have an inverter or shore power, in which case 110 VAC systems would be wise to learn as well.
Diesel mechanics—as most larger cruising boats are diesel for fuel economy and safety reasons.
Small ICE mechanics—since most people will have an outboard and smaller cruising boats often are outboard powered—please note, these are much the same skills you'd use repairing a lawnmower other such equipment.
Fiberglass work—in some cases the Carpentry/Woodworking can be minimal, since fiberglass skils can often be used in their place.
Good books to own:
Don Casey et al, The Complete Illustrated Sailboat Maintenance Manual
Nigel Calder, The Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual
Don Casey, This Old Boat, 2nd Edition
Beth Leonard's, The Voyager's Handbook, 2nd Edition
Larry & Lin Pardey, The Self-Sufficient Sailor
Larry & Lin Pardey, The Cost-Conscious Cruiser