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Old 03-27-2005
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The Cruising Life - How to Get Started, Part Two

Here's the continuation of Sue and Larry's eight easy steps to get you cruising sooner. If you haven't read Part One, check it out.

First here's a summary of the eight steps:

  • Step 1  Making the Decision
  • Step 2  Establishing a Time Frame
  • Step 3  Organizing Your Finances
  • Step 4  Drawing Up a "Pre-Cruising Agreement"
  • Step 5  Developing Realistic Expectations
  • Step 6  Evaluating Your Sailing Experience
  • Step 7  Choosing Your Boat
  • Step 8  Dealing With Your Land-based Stuff

Step 5 Developing Realistic Expectations  If you're expecting rum drinks and calypso music every day like on the last week-long charter you took in the Virgin Islands or down in the Baja, you've got unrealistic expectations of what cruising is really all about. Yes, there are lots of good times—incredible spots to anchor, exhilarating sails, and wonderful new friends. The scenery is forever changing, you become closer to nature and experience sightings of wildlife that will keep you in awe.

But at the same time there are many challenges. The weather doesn't always cooperate and you sometimes find yourself sailing in rough and uncomfortable seas. You'll experience Chinese fire drills at 2:00 a.m. in the harbor when neighboring boats begin to drag anchor as the wind pipes up. Then there's the maintenance and repairs. The complex systems on board today's sailboats require constant maintenance to function properly in the harsh marine environment. Sometimes equipment failures will leave you waiting weeks longer than expected for your part to finally arrive. Be prepared to work on your boat yourself, and budget for an eventual break down somewhere along the way.

The good times and the challenges—this is what makes the real cruising life. The good times speak for themselves. Coming through the challenges stronger and more united offers us a special satisfaction of a very different kind.

STEP 6 Evaluating Your Sailing Experience  Once out cruising, you're going to find yourself in all kinds of situations. And, if you're like most cruisers, your boat will be larger than those in your previous experience. There are high traffic situations on inland waterways where you have to deal with commercial boats, local fishermen, jet skis, and bridge openings, and all this is often coupled with a strong cross wind and a swift current. Then there's offshore sailing where each person on board should know how to single-hand so that true watches can be taken. Not to mention that the crew should be well-versed in the navigational skills necessary to read charts correctly, plot safe courses, and choose good anchorages.

If you feel you are weak in any of these areas, use the time now, before you head out on your cruising adventures, to develop your boating skills as much as possible. If sailing lessons are in order for one or both partners, you'll find courses of every level offered in most coastal towns. If there's nothing in your area, try one of the sailing schools that advertise nationally, and make a vacation out of it. Having taught sailing myself for many years, I highly recommend that couples learn in separate boats. My observation was that there is one dominant person in most couples, and if they are in the same boat, the non-dominant one tends to let the other one do everything, thus learning much less than if he or she had to get along without help.

Another way to quickly learn a great deal about sailing, is to get involved in club races. Here you have the chance to make instant comparisons of what works and doesn't work in trimming the sails and maneuvering the boat, plus you'll meet many other sailors who will talk tirelessly about every move. Sailboat racers are a rare breed in this respect. If racing is not your bag, look for people needing help in offshore passages or deliveries of boats. This can also be a great way to learn a lot from people with experience.

There are also many courses teaching navigational skills, along with a large number of books printed on this subject. Again, use your time now to beef up these important skills, then take the time to use your present boat and challenge yourself in different ways. Instead of just taking a lazy sail, drifting around the lake, put yourself in situations that require improving your maneuvering and navigational skills. Simulate man overboard situations. Try holding your boat still in a tight space with a crosswind. Back your boat up. Navigate at night and learn to identify the different lights. There are so many kinds of situations that we can never get enough practice at mastering them all.

STEP 7 Choosing Your Boat  Ah, the choices! Do you buy a new boat or an old one? Do you need a 30-footer or maybe a 40-footer? What's the best design for cruising?

When sailors search for a cruising boat, there's one factor that usually determines what we end up with—money. Buying an older model boat is certainly the way to stretch your dollar the furthest. Many of the boats in the 15 to 20 year-old range have bottomed out in price and are, for the most part, holding their values steady.

But it's not all peaches and cream. An older boat is going to require more upkeep and maintenance than a newer model. Sometimes a lot more! Factor into your purchase price analysis the cost of repairs performed by a marine professional, and an older model may lose some of its luster. If you're still fond of older models, as we are, be prepared to perform a lot of the work yourself and possibly spend considerable money beyond the initial purchase price. On Serengeti, Larry and I have a budget of $40,000 for upgrades and improvements. This includes such major things as a new engine. Our refit is extensive, renews all systems, and virtually all the labor will be performed by us. In general, if you're not handy, we strongly urge you to look at new boats or at used models that are no more than five years old.

With a new boat, you'll receive a manufacturer's warranty that covers general repairs of defective equipment for one year, and sometimes hull warranties of five years or more. New systems should serve you well and will need less attention in the first few years of operation. The interior space, light, and ventilation are also often superior in today's models. Another advantage of new sailboats comes in the area of maneuverability and speed. Unfortunately, new boats depreciate over time. A general rule is to allow 10 percent per year for the first three to five years of ownership.

The average-sized cruising boat is in the mid thirty-foot range. Can you cruise in a smaller boat? Definitely. We often see mid-twenty-foot boats enjoying the waters. Can you handle a larger boat with just two people? Surprisingly, the larger boats are sometimes easier to handle due to bigger engines and sail-handling systems that make quick work of larger sails. Remember, it's easy to adapt to the space you can afford. The important thing is to get out cruising.

Many people spend years looking for the Perfect Cruising Boat, analyzing the numbers, comparing the specs, wanting the spacious master cabin as well as the perfect offshore sailing vessel. But this boat doesn't exist. Every design offers a combination of compromises that make a dreamboat for one man unacceptable to another. For instance, a 4'9" draft would be desirable for gunkholing in the Bahamas, but probably not acceptable to someone who wants to cross the ocean, since shallow draft diminishes the boat's ability to sail to weather. A shallow draft also lessens the stability of the vessel in certain designs. Similarly a spacious interior cabin that works well at anchor and dock will fail dismally in offshore sea conditions where it's important to be able to wedge yourself into spaces and have handrails handy for grabbing.

It all comes down to what you value as the most important characteristic for the type of cruising you plan on doing. The best way you can spend the time before purchasing a boat is to look at as many different boats as you can, even models you think will hold no interest to you, and from this learn on which areas you and your partner can compromise most easily.

STEP 8 Dealing With Your Land-based Stuff  Perhaps one of the biggest concerns before taking off cruising is what to do with all your stuff. If you're like we were, you have a house, tons of furniture, too much sporting gear, more clothes than you could ever wear out in a lifetime, and two or three cars.

Several factors will affect your decisions here. If your time frame to be away cruising is just a year or two, you may just rent out the house and have all storage concerns pretty much taken care of. Or, like many cruisers, you may need to sell the house in order to pay cash for the boat. Everyone has different circumstances. If you're going to be gone for a while, our advice to you is to be RUTHLESS! Sell as much stuff as you can possibly bear to part with, and I can guarantee you that after being out cruising for a couple of years, you'll wish you had gotten rid of more. The less "ties" you have back home, the easier it is to relax on the cruise.

Mail is another concern of beginning cruisers. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a responsible family member to open and forward only important things. Fortunately, there are some very good mail forwarding services that work strictly with cruisers. Many of these are run by ex-cruisers themselves and will take care of as much as you want them to, even paying bills.

It's easy to sell the house and store the furniture, but what about the kids? You can't sell them. Heck, with today's laws, you can't even rent them out. From what we've seen out here, we say, "Bring 'em along." We meet cruisers all the time who have taken the plunge and gone cruising before the "kids have left school." Honestly, all the families we've come across have told us they have no regrets. In fact, they are finding it a wonderful experience. The kids are home-schooled by one or both parents, following special mail order courses designed for this purpose. The children we've met have been refreshingly unspoiled, and appear to be very happy and mature for their ages.

About half the cruisers out here seem to have a pet of some sort on board. Dogs and cats are the most prevalent. We have two cats and can offer you many tips on making this a great experience in our Cruising With Cats article. The happiest dog owners seem to be the ones who have trained their dog to go to the bathroom on board, rather than having to make frequent dinghy trips ashore. If you plan to cruise with a dog, you might want to start working on this technique now.

It's not easy to change your present lifestyle and just go cruising. We all become accustomed to our surroundings and often feel we are defined by our professional careers and/or our roles in parenthood. Not everyone will understand your desire to do such a strange thing as sell your house and belongings, then take off in a boat to points unknown. There's no question that, initially, our decision to go cruising was a pretty scary one for us. Quitting our jobs and changing our future forever seemed a little risky at the time. But we look back on those thoughts now and are amused by what a hold normal society has on us all. Today, we certainly have no regrets for any of our actions. In fact, we're just plain happy!


Last edited by administrator; 03-03-2008 at 03:57 PM.
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