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The First Year Cruising–What to Expect
Your first year cruising may well serve as one of the most pivotal experiences in your life. In this twelve-month period you'll will get the answers to many pre-departure concerns. Once underway, youll find rewards in ways you never imagined possible and discover a whole new way to live life. Many things can happen during this first year out. While chance plays a role, much is dictated by the choices you make regarding where you go, and how well prepared you are before leaving.
So how far should you go in your first year? Do you start straight out on a circumnavigation? Head right to the sunny and warm Caribbean? Or do you explore your own waters first, be it the many inland waterways on the east coast, or enticing coastal cruising on the west coast? Many factors will affect your decision.
Going cruising is not like taking the Greyhound Bus. You dont just hop on your boat, zoom quickly to your chosen destination and only start having fun once youre there. The pace of travelling by sailboat is magical. Youll find yourself moving at a speed that allows you to truly enjoy things along the way, and in this new cruising life, you have an incredible new luxury called time, that youve probably never had in such quantities before. Youll meet other cruisers along the way, and while sharing stories over happy hour one night, may be completely swayed from your original plans and decide to head for a new spell-binding destination originally not on the itinerary.
Weather will definitely affect where you go. With time as your new best friend, you can wait for, comfortable weather in which to travel. Sometimes cruisers wait weeks for a weather window. If the weather doesnt cooperate, you can change your original destination to take advantage of prevailing wind and sea conditions. Theres no need to knock yourself, or your boat around when there are so many great places to sail to. The key is to be flexible in your cruising schedule.Whether you choose to travel by wandering the many inland routes in North America, or opt for longer offshore passages to ports far away, theres no right or wrong way to cruise. Everyone has a different level of adventure that satisfies his or her own reason for becoming a cruiser in the first place. In the cruising life, and especially during your first year, there is no physical destination that is necessary to achieve. Rather, its learning a new, simpler way to live your life.
Your boat will also affect how far you go. Is it ready to venture offshore? Are the systems set up correctly? Have you made the necessary upgrades and repairs needed for the type of sailing that you've chosen? If youve purchased an older boat to cruise, expect repair and maintenance issues to crop up, particularly during your first year. And, even if your boat is new, you're sure to find there are things you want to change, and be likely to find that some systems or components fail in the first year, regardless of who built your boat. All of this is more easily accomplished before getting too far away from reliable sources of spare parts and gear.
Crew experience should also be a determining factor in your choice of cruising grounds. Many cruisers use this first year out to build confidence in their sailing skills and in their boat. If youre like most cruisers, youll be in a boat that is larger than youve sailed regularly in the past, and the first year out will put your boathandling skills to the test.
For couples, cruising offshore may present an unanticipated challenge. Many couples soon find that they are really in a situation similar to singlehanding. The on-watch person should be able to handle the boat alone, plot courses, interpret the radar and instruments, and use the radio if necessary allowing the off-watch person to sleep. Its not possible to rely on the skills of just one person if you want to travel safely offshore for any length of time. Once out cruising, you quickly become a member of what we call the subculture of cruising sailors. Regardless of your previous backgrounds, you now have everything in common with this adventurous group of roving nomads. Its an incredibly supportive group that helps each other to overcome the many nuances presented in this new life. Where to tie up your dinghy to have access to shore, how far to the closest laundromat, and information sharing on more important issues such as safety, navigation and communication are just some of the important topics cruisers share. Through VHF, SSB and Ham radio, cruisers provide their own safety and communication enabling then to both watch out for one another, and keep in touch, no matter where they are.
In your new life, youll no longer have a need for a business card, but you will want a boat card before you leave. Cruisers love to stay in touch and to facilitate this, everyone has a boat card. These cards, often home printed from your computer, lists your boat name and type, the crew names, snail mail addresses, e-mail addresses, cell phone numbers, ham radio call signs, etc. Whatever you want your new friends to know about you should be on your cards. Boat cards are great for when you come into an anchorage at night and see a boat you met briefly a year before. You run down below, leaf quickly through your organized boat card file, and as you motor by the familiar sloop, yell over, "Hey Steve and Joanie. Great to see you again!" Before casting off, many cruisers share a concern for what will happen to their self-esteem. In our society, we often feel defined by our role in our professional career. The job and how we measure up consumes us, provides satisfaction and plays a huge part in our every day thoughts and life. For others, this same sense of identity is derived from our role as a parent. Its hard to imagine how we will feel fulfilled when we no longer have the daily interaction and feedback from these all-important and consuming parts of our lives.
|"Your new life as a cruiser is full of challenges, goals, and accomplishments.|
No matter what your previous experience,
there are always lots of new things to learn, and new experiences to go through."
The very good news is that for us, and for every cruiser weve met, replacing this previous source of self esteem is not only easy, its exhilarating! Your new life as a cruiser is full of challenges, goals, and accomplishments. No matter what your previous experience, there are always lots of new things to learn, and new experiences to go through. You set your own goals. Youll feel a new sense of freedom knowing that youre not dependent upon anyone or anything for your basic needs. On a cruising boat, you have the ability to travel around as a completely self-contained unit.
With every new accomplishment, be it repairing your diesel engine, weathering a 40-knot blow, or arriving safely in a new and strange location, your confidence level builds. You soon learn that youre capable of things that you never dreamed possible. Even the hard times in the cruising life can be rewarding. During your first year, its necessary to go through unpleasant experiences like the anchor dragging at 2 a.m. and unexpected storms to know that youre made of the stuff necessary to overcome and succeed. Once youve entered the cruising life and made it past the initiation the first few months bringwhere there are just so many new things to learn and adjustments to make from your previous lifeyoull finally start to fall into a rhythm. Not only will you be appreciative of the incredible and support more seasoned cruisers offer, but youll soon find the confidence to start sharing your own unique knowledge and skills with others you meet along the way. Youll feel a renewed sense of values and develop a real pioneer spirit as you learn to live closely with nature enjoying the pure simplicity of people helping one other each and every day as a natural way of life.
Its not easy to just change your whole life and take off in a sailboat to points unknown. Many people will think doubtlessly youre crazy, while others will be concerned for your safety. Some may let you know that normal people just dont do that! As we look back, we are amused by the hold society had on us, and its with no regrets that we made the break. With good preparation and good judgement, during your first year out cruising youll make wonderful new friends, travel to exciting new places, and most of all, youll experience memories of a lifetime!
Suggested Reading List
- Keeping it Simple by Doreen Gounard
- Cruising Dreams and Boat Lists by Tania Aebi
- Overnight Passaging by Sue & Larry
- SailNet Buying Guide - Anchor Windlasses