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Cruising Advice

The pace of cruising is ideal for losing track of time, not for worrying about your checkbook balance, so plan early and generously to keep your fiscal anxieties at bay.
Yes, there are people who have canned their own meat so they could afford to go cruising. There are also folks out there who quit work and immediately started full-time cruising, with no part-time sailing or much planning in between because they felt they couldn’t afford to do things slowly. And, of course, there are cruisers who skimp on gear or insurance. There are other sailors who take risks with the weather because they only have two weeks of vacation a year and man, they've just got to get to the Bahamas, now!

Let’s take a quiet moment to reflect on our love of sailing, cruising, and our love of life. Sailing is supposed to be fun, not a hardship. It’s a sport that intimately connected with nature the wind, the ocean, the sun, the moon, and the stars above. Sailing is about losing track of time and finding yourself at the same time. If you really want to enjoy everything that sailing has to offer, you’re going to have to face some hard financial facts.

Understanding Costs    
The expense of the sport is almost always going to exceed what you expect it to. Do you remember the advice about packing for Europe? Take twice as much money and half as much stuff. The same wisdom goes for sailing. Forget about the air conditioner, the refrigerator, and the watermaker. Leave the tuxedo and the rare books at home. Sailing, in its essence, is a simple sport. Just leave room for a collection of seashells and cruisers’ cards. Don’t try to take everything with you.

You've left the job in your wake. Now what?

Having offered all that about simplicity, sailing is still going to cost you more than you think it should. Why? Because those extra nights at the marina add up. Repairs take time and money. Services need to be paid to forward your mail. And, when you get to where always wanted to go, you’re going to want to celebrate with dinner at a restaurant or a night on the town.

So here's my advice: Plan a generous cruising budget. If you're on an extended cruise, it’s not easy to find work overseas. When you do find work, it will last a few days or weeks and it will be sporadic. Remember, the less complicated your boat is, the easier and cheaper it will be to make repairs in a foreign port.

Self Education    If you’ve ever wanted a reason to attend sailing seminars, buy books about cruising, go to a boat show, or subscribe to sailing journals, you have my full recommendation to do so now. We spent months—wait, make that years—educating ourselves before we started cruising. Did it pay off for us? Absolutely.

Peace of mind is priceless, so when you buy equipment for cruising, remember that the nearest boat store is apt to be far away.
From books, we learned about the necessity of boat insurance and overseas health insurance. From magazines, we learned about the dangers of taking unnecessary risks. At boat shows, we learned about hats and clothes that would protect us from the sun. In seminars, we learned about easy boat repairs and maintenance.

So did we wear our big floppy hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen? Absolutely. Have we used our towing insurance? Yes. We were towed out of a shipping lane when our engine died on a calm, flat morning. Have we used the flares, the EPIRB, the storm anchor, or our overseas health insurance? No. But thank goodness we have all of those on board if we need them. Peace of mind is priceless. Think about that when you buy equipment, anchors, clothing, or anything else. Whatever makes you sleep better at night is going to pay off in the long run.

Time on Your Side    A lot sailing mistakes happen because sailors are in a hurry. We rush to leave the dock before sunset, we race to the anchorage, we slap the anchor into the mud, and then we run around the galley to fix dinner. In the morning, we pull the anchor and charge off to the next location before the coffee has finished brewing.

"A lot sailing mistakes happen because sailors are in a hurry. We rush to leave the dock before sunset, we race to the anchorage, we slap the anchor into the mud, and then we run around the galley to fix dinner."
Why? Racing from activity to activity might be the way we live on land, but that doesn’t have to be the way we live at sea. Breaking old habits and starting some new traditions—like a long lunch, an afternoon siesta, or a morning’s walk on the beach is a good course of action for sailors. Remember, speed is a relative matter for vessels that are powered primarily by the wind. So take a little more time to do everything well. Leave the dock with care. Take a day to do maintenance. Anchor before sunset and dive to check your anchor if possible. Don’t take chances with risky passages or weather windows. Cut back on the number of ports you’re going to stop at in a three-week trip. If you’re thinking about sailing around the world, ask yourself "why?"

My husband and I were planning on sailing around the world in three years until we asked ourselves this question. Then we slowed down. We stopped. After a lot of thinking, we decided we’d rather take a month off to sail every year for the rest of our lives than to squeeze all of our experiences into three years of constant cruising. This may not be the right answer for you, but just make sure that what you decide to do is done because you made a conscious choice to do that—not because it’s what everyone else is doing.

Above all, make friends. You never knew when someone might stop by with fresh fish!
There's an old Russian phrase that I once learned in the Peace Corps: "One hundred friends are worth more than one hundred rubles." It's simple, but it holds true, particularly for sailors.

Sailing is a friendly sport. You don’t have to be extroverted or host society balls, but a little friendliness goes a long way out on the water. Reach out to meet the people docked next to you or anchored down the way. You never know when someone might stop by your boat with a fresh-caught fish (thanks, Tam), or when a helpful soul might pull your dinghy up above the rising tide for you (thanks, anonymous person), or when some friendly writers might give you a personal tour of their home port (thanks, Herb and Nancy Payson).

I’ve been a guest at other sailors’ homes and look forward to hosting people when my turn comes. Sailing makes for a great community, so don’t be afraid to reach out, shake someone’s hand, and ask for a little help if necessary.

Michelle Potter is offline  
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