Learning seamanship, boat handling, navigation, and the innumerable other skills that go into our offshore training is an important step in moving towards a cruising lifestyle, you won’t make it much past the slip if you set out without the basic skills and knowledge. But all these are just the tip of the iceberg if you dream of hitting open water for distant shores at the helm of your own vessel. There is a lot more to a blue water passage and successful landfall than just sailing the boat.
In order to launch a successful cruising life, you will need to be adept at provisioning and meal planning. You will need to become a master of resource allocation and discipline. You will need to have down the basics of maintenance and repair on all your critical systems, and how to outfit with tools and spares. You will have to learn the ins and outs of making landfall on foreign soil. Depending on your crew, you may need to be a despot, a peacemaker, a teacher, or a psychologist, all within a 5-minute span. In short, you will not only have to master the skills to run the boat, but also the skills to make life on the boat the rewarding experience you want it to be. It ain’t fun when dinner sucks every night and the head quit working 3 days ago, and those are small problems in the grand scheme of things!
Provisioning for an offshore passage isn’t as easy as it sounds. You are going to have to become a list maker and check it even more closely than Old Santa does. There is nowhere to run out to if you forget an onion or run out of milk. Meal planning is critical, as is a good feel for the amount of snacks and comfort foods to stock. Adding to this, there are different considerations in the galley than there are in the kitchen, and some adjustments may have to be made. For example, both water and cooking fuel are limited on a boat, so you might switch from regular rice to instant rice because it requires less of both to prepare. If mac and cheese is on the menu you might consider a brand that requires only milk, or even a freeze-dried version that only needs hot water. There are a lot of tricks to learn but being thorough and organized is the key.
Remember your Mom and Dad yelling at you to turn off the lights when you aren’t using them? This is good advice on a boat. It applies double to use of fresh water, propane, and alcohol for the stove. You may be able to make electricity, but your fuel supply when you leave the dock is what you have until you hit another dock, same for water unless you have a water maker.
Mechanics, electricians, riggers, and sail makers are tough to find a hundred miles offshore. So, you are going to want to have at least fundamental skills in these areas. Know your maintenance, keep all the tools and supplies you need for things like oil changes. Learn your 12 Volt system, fuses, connections, and even how to change out a charge controller in your photovoltaic system. Understand the basics of repairs to your rigging and sails and keep tools and supplies handy. We already mentioned the head, buckets work fine but some crew may shy away from that experience, so know your plumbing! I guarantee that at some point you will learn the magical properties of JB Weld, 5200, duct tape, and sein twine!
Every country has its own customs and immigration laws. If you will be landing outside the US and its territories, you will need to be familiar with these laws at your destinations. Keep passports up to date, learn what paperwork needs to be filed, what visas are required, and which ports have the facilities for you to clear customs. Jails in the Caribbean aren’t as bad as they are in Eastern Europe or Turkey, but you don’t want to have a crash course in them because you forgot a form or brought too many cigarettes in. Save that experience for a good old public intoxication charge.
Some of the most intangible skills are the people management and interpersonal skills. Even a big boat is a small space. A captain is a Dad/Mom at times, and most crews have the potential to be a bunch of teenage girls! Keeping everyone happy and working together is the real key to enjoying the Cruising life.
This is just the short list. Sailing and Cruising are lifetime learning activities. At Sail Libra, we’ve been mucking about the pond for a while and have learned a lot through the experience. We do this for a living and really enjoy passing our hard-won knowledge on to others. Joining us for an offshore passage is an opportunity to learn the hundreds of little things that go into making the experience enjoyable, fulfilling, and comfortable. We have the knowledge and the years of experience to mentor you from Green Horn to seasoned Cruiser. Whatever comes up, odds are pretty good we’ve been there, done that, and we might even have the shirt!