Minimum Skills to Bootstrap into Cruising
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.
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.
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
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?
Intrepid: The fact that you're asking the question says you're appropriately thoughtful - good start. You can pick up some of the mechanical skills from books. I'm sure others can chime in with a library list for you, try Nigel Calder for marine diesels & electrical wiring; pick up Chapmans piloting and/or Annapolis Book of Seamanship by Rousmaniere (sp?); and learn a bit about how to forecast weather. On your charters you probably learned that life aboard differs from land life because you don't have unlimited power and fresh water so you get used to conserving. For the rest, general mechanical skills and common sense will go a long way. (Things like fiberglass repair, which hopefully you won't have to do very often(!) you can get an idea of just by reading the advice in the West Marine catalog, and asking specific questions here at Sailnet when you have them.)
I'd encourage you to go for the big boat and learn from your marina neighbors as well. GET A SURVEY before you buy; a good surveyor can teach you a lot about your boat also. Good luck and welcome to a cool life!
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. :D
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.
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. :D
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
Thanks for the replies so far guys, keep them coming, I am writing down books to get from the Library!
I think (I hope) I have enough common sense to pull this off. I guess in the end there is only one TRUE way to find out :)
Being of my generation I realize I focus a lot on skills like how to use and fix a computer, and not much on more practical "hands on skills". I want to turn that around.
Would it be worthwhile to do something like trade in my spiffy Toyota for some beat up old car you can fix with a wrench, spare wires and chewing gum? Are there other such near-to-home projects I could take up that would be easily transferable to cruising life and forcing me to be more self sufficient? I guess the trailer sailor makes the most sense. I don't know why, for some reason, I feel hesitation about that... none of those boats really speak to me, and the ones that do would be too heavy for lake sailing.
(un)fortunately I am cutting cots by living with family. This is amazing for saving up my Sailing Kitty, but not so good for self sufficiency and scaling back on material things. Even if I don't buy stuff all the modern conveniences are right at hand.
I can't think of good ways that get me substantially out of my modern comfort zone without incurring a lot of extra monetary cost. But damn if I'm not gonna try.
"Would it be worthwhile to do something like trade in my spiffy Toyota for some beat up old car you can fix with a wrench, spare wires and chewing gum? Are there other such near-to-home projects I could take up that would be easily transferable to cruising life and forcing me to be more self sufficient? I guess the trailer sailor makes the most sense. I don't know why, for some reason, I feel hesitation about that... none of those boats really speak to me, and the ones that do would be too heavy for lake sailing."
I wouldn't trade cars. The time you spend on a clunker isn't going to add to your knowledge base for cruising. But here is a project that is directly relevant: build a dinghy. Plans are plentiful, some are even free, the process of building will teach you much (about fiberglass, epoxy resin, discipline and determination). And, of course, in the end you'll have an item that you can take cruising.
I agree with Eryka (especially because she's actually out doing what you want to do) - get the bigger boat, making sure to have a quality survey done before you buy.
My first boat ever is a C27. It was sail-able when I got into it, but it needed TONS of work. It's been great learning to sail it WHILE working on everything that needed fixing (plumbing, electrical, cushions, motor, you name it). And 27' is not a big deal in terms of "big boat". You get used to it real fast.
It takes money to pay slip fees and repair/upgrade stuff, but the return is awesome. You're learning everything on your own boat. That way you'll know exactly when you and it are ready to push off for the horizon.
I think the most important skills you can work on now are taking care of yourself the same way you would on a boat. That means limiting water and electricity usage, learning to cook using ingredients you will have on a boat, heating and cooling without electricity, etc.
Taken to the extreme, if you had been a self-sufficient nomad living in a yurt on the Asian steppe, transitioning over to a boat would be little more than a change of location, because it is the convenience and creature comfort that modern civilization provides that people have the most trouble giving up.
Yeah moving out might be a good thing. You could land hard leaving the nest but I'll bet you'll bounce just fine.
The advantage of leaving the nest is you will be way out of your comfort zone and that will help with one of the most important skills you'll use.
You "need" very little to get into sailing, not having the option of getting anything but the minimum will teach you that.
I'd also say to start with a larger boat 27' sounds good but not so large it does not have a trailer. A trailer quickly pays for itself as you can store it in different/cheaper locations and move it to places to work on it. You should do everything yourself, or almost everything.
I don't know what your skill level is but I did have one trainee reporting to me that had no hands on skills. I gave him several work orders to build basic skills like drill and tap holes in metals, then record breaking torque of the various size machine screws and bolts up to 1/2". Of course I then spent most of the day going over the details needed for him to actually do that, like "....put back the 1/2" grade 8 bolt and use a grade 3..." which lead to a 3 hour tour of the bolt bins to explain all the differences. You don't think there is much to a bolt bin until you have to explain it to someone.
If you do your own work you will learn all about stripping rusty old bolts and overheating cheap tools. Maybe contact the local trade college and see about attending some of the hand tools classes. They may also call it Labor training or something. Those classes should cover the basics of tools and fasteners. That way when you put the hacksaw blade in backwards you'll know it first stroke and not figure it out after burning through a piece of work.
A pet peeve of mine is the lack of knowledge in the boat repair biz about different threads, in particular pipe threads. Try to get a class that covers pipe related info. Most boats are depending on these threads and connections to stay afloat so it is good to have a basic idea of how a pipe or tapered thread is handled differently than a straight thread.
Now that I think about it that's what I would suggest. Taking classes in college. Not for any particular trade, unless you have an interest, but to get a leg up on those who have learned along the way. They may have years more experience but many have never attended a class so are not doing things properly (ok even those who have attended class are not doing things properly but at least we often know we are not doing them properly).
If you could get into the first year of Carpentry and Automotive, or just some of the classes you will get a great headstart. Call and find out costs and programs. I have sat in on many classes I never paid for so that might be an option. I never got in for free on any practical classes which you would want to do.
Who knows could help out in lots of other things as well.
Where will you be cruising and will you be staying for long periods in a marina or moving on from anchorage to achorage.
Sailing is mostly common sense and repairing / maintaining a boat is not that difficult but there is a big difference between replacing the impellor in your raw water pump of Cape Hatteras v doing the same job in the Chesapeake.
p.s I have never sailed a boat across an ocean, my reply should be read with this in mind.
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