Years ago, my first full-time job was working for the International Laser Class Association. I had just returned home after running the Laser World Championships in Sardinia, Italy. As I walked down to the beach at my yacht club in Hudson, Quebec, I noticed half a dozen young children playing in the water on the hull of a Laser. They were flipping it over and over, climbing on it as if it were an island, and simply having the time of their lives.
What a contrast this was, I thought, from the use of this same boat as a precision racing machine by the world's top Laser sailors I had just witnessed. And then it struck me just how versatile one simple sailboat can be.
Now, many years later, we live on Serengetti and I am struck again by how versatile a sailboat can be. She is not only our home, but she is also an extraordinary vehicle that allows us to experience both inland and offshore sailing adventures. These two types of sailing are each so markedly different yet wonderful and rewarding in their own unique waysnot unlike the diverse uses I saw with the Laser.
The phenomenon of inland versus offshore sailing is probably more evident in the US than in any other part of the world. In many countries, if you want to go sailing, you are in the ocean, period. In the US, however, the amazing number of inland sailing routes offer sailors so much variety and challenge that it's enough to last them their entire cruising careers. But, if you want to see the world by sailboat, there are certainly a few miles of open water that you are going to have to navigate. So, which kind of sailing is for you?
Lots of boats are built and marketed for offshore sailing. It's true that most cruising sailors outfit their boats as if they're going offshore, and even circumnavigating. But, the simple truth is that many of these boats never see open water and are rarely out of sight of land.
Why is this? The most common explanation seems to be that one sailing partner is unwilling to go. In fact, we personally know many couples in this situation. We come across frustrated, would-be offshore sailors all the time. But rather than not be able to enjoy the cruising lifestyle at all, these folks compromise and enjoy with their partners all that inland sailing has to offer.
That's not the only situation. With many of the inland cruising sailors that we've met it's a joint decision as to the type of sailing they like best. Since sailors always worry about the weather, having the ability to move from point A to point B by way of an inland route leaves them less concerned with the forecast, so inland routing is an easy, popular choice. There is a great deal of security in knowing exactly where you will be anchoring each night, while not worrying about conditions you may encounter along the way. Add to this the ever-changing scenery with every corner turned and the many interesting spots to stop and visit along the way, and you'll see why this type of cruising is favored by a large number of sailors.
Others we've met have logged thousands of offshore miles and have seen all kinds of conditions. They love the constant challenge of sailing to new places. However, most of these sailors agree that the best part of an offshore trip is arriving at your destination. It doesn't mean that they don't enjoy the trip, it's just that the thrill of sailing safely into port after a long offshore passage is hard to beat.
For the cruising sailor who is just starting out, making the decision to go offshore is usually a pivotal point in his/her sailing career. This is especially true when it is your own boat and you're not just crewing for someone else. The ocean can seem big, bad, and scary to the uninitiated. It may take a few pleasant trips in which you experience the joys that offshore sailing can offer in order to tame it in your mind. But once you are initiated, there is a whole different world of experiences out there for sailors so inclined.
There is no right or wrong way to go cruisingjust load of different personal styles. Everyone has different levels of adventure that are necessary to fulfill their dreams. You'll hear the sailing stories about a couple with little or no experience who simply set off for their around-the-world exploits on a 30-some-foot boat. This isn't the norm, and, personally, I don't believe it's a smart approach. But we each have our own way of doing things. Most cruisers put in a few years of getting to know their boat, as well as their likes and dislikes of various kinds of sailing before setting off on such an ambitious endeavor.
Now, after logging countless sea miles, we've found there's much beauty and adventure to be found in both inland and offshore sailing. When we're offshore, it's hard to imagine anything more magnificent than the endless horizon lit up in a brilliant sunrise after a long watch. But being anchored in an isolated cove at that magic moment when the sun falls and the splendor of nature bursts around you is also enough to make you want to freeze time forever. The best part of it is that with one simple sailboat, you can have it both ways.
The Cruising LifeHow to Get Started by Sue and Larry
The Cruising LifeHow to Get Started Part Two by Sue and Larry
The Right Boat by Don Casey
Buying Guide: Liferafts