Rookie Questions - SailNet Community
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post #1 of 6 Old 1 Week Ago Thread Starter
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Rookie Questions

Hello all, first off I have virtually no experience outside of a handful of times going on someones boat. I loved it. I have a couple questions about how to get into this world and how to best reach my first goal to sail down the coast of central and south america from Florida. I'd be looking for the easiest route to do it which I imagine would be hugging the coast till panama and then cutting the canal to the western side of SA. If I had time and resources to dedicate my full attention to learning and taking classes, is gathering the skills to safely accomplish this goal in a reasonable short period of time doable or is this something that would take years of experience to so competently? What are the best steps I can take to start working towards these goals, i.e classes, clubs, sailing something smaller first, really any random piece of advice would be greatly appreciated. As far as a boat, what is a good size to aim for if I want to get something safe, but am not a rich man? Is a fixer upper a good idea if I'm handy and don't mind fixing her up? Not sure if it makes a difference, but I have spent significant amounts of time off the grid in wilderness settings a lot of which are expedition rafting trips. So I am capable of being self sufficient, but have virtually no sailing experience.

Thanks for any help or feedback.

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post #2 of 6 Old 1 Week Ago
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Lots to unpack. I would suggest you start with books. There are many cruising books that get into general knowledge and boat selection, repairs, trip planning, etc.

Sail as much as possible by crewing on others' boats. You will learn lots and get a sense for how different boats sail, their accommodations, etc.

There is no magic boat size. There are 26' boats capable of crossing oceans, and others that are not. Generally speaking larger boats have typically better accommodations and more stowage and would be more comfortable both underway and at anchor.

Project boats are an enormous can of worms. Have been down that road more than once. There are pros and cons, but I've never known a project boat that saved someone any time, and probably very few that save you any money once they're done. Certainly mine have not...
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Re: Rookie Questions

The answers to these questions, that you'll get could get very lengthy and variable.

Just curious what you consider to be a reasonably short period of time?

You need to obtain as much sailing experience as you can, however you can get it. Depending on what you can afford, it could be crewing, taking lessons, buying or renting a small boat to learn on your own etc. You'd want to get to know about larger boat systems and processes like: Engine repair, safety, radio communications, weather forecasting, navigation, regulations for traveling abroad etc. etc. Perhaps, make a few passages with someone experienced.

On The Journey south along the Western Coast of South America, you'l encounter the opposing Humbolt current, a challenge for the most experienced sailors.

Has it all been done, yes. Get lots of experience and do a lot of research and planning, and know what the "right" seasons are.
See Jimmy Cornell's Book, World Cruising Routes, among others.

Good Luck!
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Re: Rookie Questions

My suggestion would be to buy a 15 foot or smaller very cheap dinghy that's pretty beat up, but serviceable. This is not going to be a boat to take your friends out on, but instead you will be crashing into docks, running aground and even tipping her over on occasion. This is the boat to make all your beginner's mistakes on, before you buy a nicer, more expensive boat. And believe me, if you start with the more expensive boat, you are still going to make all the same mistakes, classes or not, but the repair bills will be much more expensive, and if you load the boat up with friends, there is the possibility of someone getting hurt.
This is how almost every professional sailor of note learned to sail, not through some expensive cookie cutter course.
Along with your little beater, I would highly recommend a great little book called Royce's Sailing Illustrated, a fun yet very comprehensive book filled with important information for the novice sailor or experienced professional. No massive preachy tome this, just a well put together book with everything from rigging, docking and even splicing. I've been using it to teach sailing for over 45 years, and still refer to it now and then, myself.
Unless you have pretty deep pockets, you are a few years away from heading out for Panama and beyond, so don't get too hung up on those questions right now. If you are really serious about this, then chances are you'll do a few ocean sailing voyages on other peoples' boats and your idea of the best boat to suit your needs will change a lot, as will your idea of the route you might want to take. Suffice it to say that "hugging the coast" is the same as saying "staying near rocks" and rocks sink boats, which deep water won't do to a well found sailing vessel.
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"Any idiot can make a boat go; it takes a sailor to stop one." Spike Africa aboard the schooner Wanderer in Sausalito, Ca. 1964.
“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” ― Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

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Re: Rookie Questions

Wind don’t kill you it’s the waves.
Ocean sailing is easy. It the hard edges that sink boats.
There are 10 ways to do any task on a boat. 9 of them are wrong.
Many old sailors make the very same mistakes throughout their whole career.
Logic and experience trumps courses, books and rules.

I’ve been doing this 35 years and I’m still a newbie. Still learning. Often scared. But always trying to figure stuff out and listening to what others teach me.
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Re: Rookie Questions

I have been working on similar plans for the last 10 years or more, as I prepare for retirement. There is a lot of research you can do on every aspect. The books that were mentioned above are very good.

Two others that I found informative were:

Blue Water, Green Skipper, by Stuart Woods. And Fastnet, Force 10, by John Rousmaniere.

Stuart Woods book is good because he tells the entire process he went through to go from being a completely novice, to experienced sailor, and ultimately a race sailor crossing the Atlantic.

In making my list of suitable boats to fit my needs, I found it very helpful to read lots and lots of used boat reviews. I found the Spinsheet sailboat reviews to be particularly informative. Boats are rated according to their suitability for Bay Cruisers, Coastal Cruisers, and Bluewater Boats.

My wife was concerned about what the cruising life might be like, as she had no knowledge of it whatsoever, and had not done all of the reading, dreaming, and research that I have done. So I booked us on a week long Cruise and Learn bare boat Skippers course out of Vancouver. It was great. I specifically requested one of their female sailing instructors so that my wife would feel more comfortable spending a week on a boat with me is the only man. The instructor was great and the course covered every single thing that's included in ASA 101, 103, & 104 sailing courses. In addition the course included boat handling, docking, anchoring, mooring, chart reading, pre-sail checklists, and enough navigation to find your way back to base.

It was great to have direct hands-on experience doing all aspects of things required for cruising. The Cruise and Learn course was scheduled in conjunction with the sailing school's members flotilla, so my wife got to meet other sailing wives and see that there are actually women who go out to sea on small boats, with their husbands, do just fine, and return home safely.

We anchored one night, we moored on a mooring ball another night, and we visited two marinas, even joining the flotilla group for dinner and drinks one night.

I have since built on my experience from that, by doing two, week long charters, in the Florida Keys, and one out of Oriental North Carolina.

These are some ideas about how you might gain some experience and knowledge.

There are a number of YouTube videos taken by people who have passed through the Panama Canal. My conclusion from watching those videos, is that it is a rather expensive, and somewhat involved process. It's not something you just go and do without some research.

Best of luck
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