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post #125 of Old 05-31-2012
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Re: Can I sail to the Bahamas with NO experience?


I am novice sailor myself, having started sailing about a year and a half ago, and I am also tossing the idea of spending a few weeks crusing this fall in the area of the Bahamas. I had a similar dream when I first started taking lessons, and similar to you, went looking for straightforward answers as to what I needed to know in order to take off toward the islands. I'll share some of what I figured out over the last year and a half.

- You need to learn to read charts, learn to navigate by dead reckoning, learn the rules of road for boats, read and understand weather reports and forecasts, and most importantly learn not just how your eventual boat works, but why it works. It is inevitable that something will break on your boat when you need it to work. There is no owners manual for fixing most things on the boat; you have to be able to diagnose a problem in the context of the likely systems on your boat that are affected, and problem-solve your way to a solution.

- Another thing that helped me was reading cruising guides and non-fiction books about sailing; while the stories from the latter are interesting, they also share experiences of how the authors dealt with problems you are likely to encounter. It also helps to learn the "language" of sailing so that you can understand the answer to the questions you end up asking people.

- Go sailing with people more experienced than you on your boat, and then try and get some experience on other boats. Have someone who knows how to sail help you shop for your boat. If you think you are serious about choosing a boat, have it hauled out of the water and surveyed. Get a voyage survey done before you head to the bahamas if there is some time between your original survey and leaving for anywhere else.

- Get a couple small trips under your belt. In the past year an a half, I've (with friends) sailed my 23' Ranger sailboat to Key West and back twice from Miami. The Keys are (usually) a pretty forgiving place to cut your teeth in navigation and shallow water sailing, and I've learned some quality lessons about seamanship and watching the weather conditions.

- Spend a couple nights on your boat with your lady on a mooring ball in relatively high winds. Your first storm 500 miles from home is a shitty place to find out you can't sleep with the boat rocking.

My experience has been that learning to sail is a gradual process that you pick up in phases, sometimes slowly, sometimes much quicker, but that you will develop an internal understanding for your comfort level and what type of sailing you want to get into. Best of luck, and make it happen.

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