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Old 08-08-2015, 08:38   #1
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10 Things I learned by sailing the Thorny Path

It took us just over 7 months to sail from Key West to Trinidad on our first ever sailing adventure aboard our first ever sailboat. And along the way, you learn so much about yourself, you crew (or in our case, our own family), and your boat. But there's all kinds of other things you learn too.

Here is a link to my top 10 list of things I learned from the Thorny Path adventure. Your list may differ.

Catchin' Rays: 10 Things I learned from Sailing the Thorny Path
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Old 08-08-2015, 08:50   #2
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Re: 10 Things I learned by sailing the Thorny Path

Nice read, well done, seems like you learned a lot along the way


Post copied below.....

Friday, August 7, 2015
10 Things I learned from Sailing the Thorny Path
When we set sail on December 30, 2014 we had no idea what we were doing and had only sailed a total of 3 times equaling about 4 hours of sailing time total. We didn't even know where we would end up because we had no idea if our untested boat would even get us there - so we just kept going....all the way down to Trinidad.

And now, after 2,100 nautical miles, I can safely say that it continues to be an adventure of a lifetime and what we learned from it has only been experienced by a small group of sailors - and even a smaller group if you consider we sailed the entire Thorny Path in our first season.

So I thought I'd pass on a few tid-bits of information that I observed along the way - things that can be useful information or just an odd observation. So here goes my top 10 things we learned on our first season sailing the Thorny Path.

1. Even salty sailors worry a lot. Throughout the trip, we would occasionally meet other sailors - and got to be good friends with a select few - and it always surprised us to find out that some of them worry about weather and passages just as much or more than we did. Some of them wouldn't do any passage without the company of another boat. We actually did all of our night passages alone - we left when I thought the weather looked good - even the big one - Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico, a 47 hour passage over the course of two days that we were completely alone. Would it have been nice to have another boat within radio shot? Of course, but I was never in the habit of finding a buddy boat - we were loners just about the entire time and only hooked up with other sailors on a couple of day passages because they were our friends and just happened to be going the same way on the same day. We were confident in our boat and our equipment and my ability to determine when the weather looked good enough to leave. We were either good at picking a weather window or we just had dumb luck - probably a little of each as we never had any problems or disasters on any of our passages, day or night.

2. Some put a little too much stock in weather guru Chris Parker. Now I don't have any particular problem with Chris Parker and I also think that any information is good information when it comes to making and planning for a passage. But the total amount of times I actually listened to his broadcasts were exactly zero. I'm not sure that I even picked him up on our SSB because I just didn't wake up that early. What I don't understand is that GRIB files are rampant out here and if you have sailed any amount of time at all, it was easy to tell by a quick glance if it was a good time to set sail or not - I really didn't need someone else telling me when to go - it was obvious. Trust in your boat and trust in the knowledge you've built up as the miles continue to pass under you and use all the information you obtain to make an informed decision for yourself. But I would advise against depending on him too much but rather take in all your resources and make your own decision. But there is an exception: if I were going to make a massive offshore passage that included more than 3 or 4 days at sea, I would definitely hire him to help me decide when to leave, but not for anything under that.

3. Sailing east against the trades really sucks. Its called the Thorny Path for a reason. And really, I should be saying motor-sailing east because that is what you do most of the time. I recently had an idiot that left a comment on my YouTube channel that told me we must not be "real sailors" because we didn't seem to enjoy the trip, just the destination - "for real sailors, its the trip, not the destination" he said. And for anybody to come at us with this stupid and over-used saying - its obvious that person does not live on a sailboat. For all the sailors and cruisers we met along the way, none said they were having a blast as we pounded to the east day after day. And for the sailors that do love sailing - those people go out on the weekend and sail around the bay and do it for "the love of sailing." Those people don't travel the thorny path or live on a sailboat. But don't get me wrong, when we have sailed at 8 knots with a sweet 22 knot wind and 4 foot seas...its really the greatest feeling, and something that has to be experienced for yourself. But that is not what the thorny path is all about - its about surviving it and has little to do with enjoying it.

4. People have a tenancy to overstate the size of the seas. Not that I've ran into too many sailors along the way that did this, but I read a lot from other sailors that seem to do this quite a bit. We've seen our fair share of rough weather - although we haven't crossed the Atlantic or the Pacific (which I hear can get pretty hairy) we have sailed through a lot of different types of conditions. And the first thing I can tell you is that there is good reason a lot of cruisers stop at George Town, Bahamas - because by the time you make the crossing to the DR, you might just find out what a 3 meter wave really looks like. And if you were lucky enough to make it to Saint Martin unscathed, you will most definitely find out on your way south to Grenada at some time or another. We've heard time and time again that the seas "were not properly predicted - they are always bigger." I saw video evidence of what another sailor called "12 foot seas" where the nose of the boat wasn't even getting covered with the oncoming sea and I have to wonder if they really know what they're in for when the actually see a 12 foot wave. A two meter swell at 7 seconds is still a big wave...bigger than you can imagine. In fact, I bet that when you see one you'll swear it was better than 10 feet - but it wasn't...what you witnessed was a 6 foot wave. Believe me, when you see a wave bigger than 3 meters, you will know it - it will throw your boat for a loop. Just refer to the cute little video I posted of a decent sized wave hitting us on our beam - that one, we think, was somewhere around 9 feet or so and it took our 23 foot beam catamaran for a ride.

5. Sailing at night is not as bad as you would think. Well, I kinda went back and forth on this one....I almost titled it "Sailing at night is pretty scary" but when I reflected on our night passages, I realized that it was never as bad as I was expecting. As the night crossing approached, I was always a little nervous about it. But after we'd get out there and hoist the sails, we'd watch the sun set and our eyes would quickly adjust. And if the moon was shining, we could see just about everything - but on the flip side, if the moon wasn't shining it can make the experience quite a bit more intense. But in the morning, after we had made it through just fine, I always ended up saying, "that wasn't that bad." Although tame seas, a good moon, and mild winds really help to make a great overnight passage - so picking a good weather window is really important to a safe and enjoyable overnighter.

6. Sailing really isn't that hard after all. Sailing may seem like driving a car to some of the more experienced sailors but to the non-sailor the thought can be overwhelming. I get questions all the time about how much experience we had before we set sail and I get the impression its folks just like us that are wanting to leave the rat-race and sail off into the sunset but have never even stepped on a sailboat before. But rest assured, anybody can do it. If you are diligent enough to research the dream of sailing, you have all the tools needed to learn how to do it...and even learn how to do it on the fly.

7. Grenada is surprisingly awesome. Who would have thought? You hear about Grenada all the time, but never as a vacation destination. Its always where you go to be safe from hurricanes. Everybody talks about St. Lucia and the BVI's but Grenada is never mentioned in the same breath. But we had the best time there and had a great time hiking, touring and snorkeling and would recommend it as a place to consider for your next vacation.

8. Monohulls do just as much motoring as Catamarans. There's a big misconception that cats are the only ones motoring to their destinations but this theory doesn't come from the land of reality. We've had a lot of conversations with many monohull sailors from George Town to Grenada and compared notes with a lot of them - and the reports disprove this myth. In fact, some owners even motor-sailed on days that we were able to just sail. I don't understand it - wind is wind and it actually takes less wind to move a lighter boat so I'm just not sure where this misconception ever came about - but believe me, don't buy a monohull just because you think you'll be able to sail when cats are motoring - it just doesn't happen.

9. You don't need near as many clothes and shoes as you would think (this one is for the women only). We tried to tell my wife every time she was packing her suitcases for another trip to the boat, that she didn't need that much stuff - but she didn't listen. And then when we got to Trinidad, she gathered up all the stuff she didn't need to take back to the states - she needed two gigantic checked bags just to carry it and I'm still not sure she got it all. When they tell you all you need is a few bathing suits, a couple of shirts, and one pair of flip-flops - it really is the truth.

10. I really, really love solar and wind power. We have 1024 watts of solar power on Catchin' Rays and a 400 watt wind generator and together they produce enough energy to power all our refrigeration, navigation, and entertainment equipment with ease. We'd go weeks on end without ever having to run anything else to recharge our batteries. In fact, we'd go so long without running our generator that it would loose its prime and we'd have to burp the air out of its fuel line. Living off the sun and wind slowly turns into an addiction - I dream of more solar, more wind, and more battery storage and I can now easily understand the people on land that live "off the grid" and it is definitely something I will take with me when we leave sailing completely - whether it will be filling up the roof of our future motorhome or if it will be integrated into our home - it will be part of our life in some form or another.

So there you go...a few things I learned on our Thorny Path adventure. Maybe next season I'll post something on what we learned from sailing west from Trinidad....but that will be for next season.
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Old 08-08-2015, 11:06   #3
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Re: 10 Things I learned by sailing the Thorny Path

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Originally Posted by Catamoron View Post
It took us just over 7 months to sail from Key West to Trinidad on our first ever sailing adventure aboard our first ever sailboat. And along the way, you learn so much about yourself, you crew (or in our case, our own family), and your boat. But there's all kinds of other things you learn too.

Here is a link to my top 10 list of things I learned from the Thorny Path adventure. Your list may differ.

Catchin' Rays: 10 Things I learned from Sailing the Thorny Path
Funny, I just watched all your videos a couple of days ago. You guys made it look pretty easy. That's a well thought out list. Thanks for sharing. Maybe we'll make it past "Chicken Harbor" one day ourselves.

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Old 08-08-2015, 15:29   #4
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Re: 10 Things I learned by sailing the Thorny Path

Yeah...it really wasn't that hard, but then again there are 4 of us on board and night watches, maintenance, and anchor watch (when the wind and the anchorage was so rough that someone stayed up and kept an eye on the chartplotter to make sure we weren't moving) are split up so it did make things a little easier - would have been much tougher without our boys on board.

Thanks for watching our journey (although I'm still hard at work finishing up the season) so far and good luck making it past G-Town.
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Old 08-08-2015, 15:51   #5
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Re: 10 Things I learned by sailing the Thorny Path

I agree with many of your thoughts, more or less:
"Sailing east against the trades really sucks"
"You don't need near as many clothes and shoes as you would think "
"Lots of motoring" Yep, you are often in the lee of the islands. That or you can bash it out on the other side!

Other things:
Radar is very useful for when you arrive late or to see thunderstorms many miles away.
Landfall is often driven by the need to deal with getting rid of garbage!
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Old 08-08-2015, 16:28   #6
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Re: 10 Things I learned by sailing the Thorny Path

Yeah...our radar is always turned on before night comes just to make sure its rotating and seeing any obstacles. In fact, on our last crossing over to Trinidad we were able to split two areas of rain that were close together - we determined which way each area was moving and altered course just enough to split them and hardly got a drop on us. You can see evidence of our slight detour on our GPS tracking page that was about 20 miles from Trinidad.

But the main reason I don't like making our way to harbor at night is because we've found way too many crab pots that can be anywhere within 0 - 7 miles off shore and they are just too difficult to avoid at night...so we time all of our arrivals while its still light.
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Old 08-08-2015, 17:17   #7
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Re: 10 Things I learned by sailing the Thorny Path

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Originally Posted by Catamoron View Post
Yeah...it really wasn't that hard, but then again there are 4 of us on board and night watches, maintenance, and anchor watch (when the wind and the anchorage was so rough that someone stayed up and kept an eye on the chartplotter to make sure we weren't moving) are split up so it did make things a little easier - would have been much tougher without our boys on board.

Thanks for watching our journey (although I'm still hard at work finishing up the season) so far and good luck making it past G-Town.
I hadn't really considered that there were 4 of you. No doubt, that makes it a bit easier. You did look beat in some of the video shot during the night time crossings. Just curious.....I don't think you mentioned much about the "dreaded" Mona Passage. How'd that go for you guys?


I read Bruce Van Sant's book a year ago. Was that your main source for planning the route? Looks pretty close to what he wrote.

Ralph
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Old 08-08-2015, 19:25   #8
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Re: 10 Things I learned by sailing the Thorny Path

Re worry & GRIB files.

Many years ago I was caught in ugly unforecast weather with a novice sailing friend aboard. We had hurricane strength winds for 24 hours. No problem, hove-to and rode it out. He was not worried in the least. In fact, he had so much fun that he went out and bought a boat. Years later, I was in a squall with winds to 50 knots with the same friend...he was very worried...experience can do that to you.

To reiterate some oft quoted cautions about GRIB files. These files are raw model output with no expert human modification. The pros use outputs from multiple models (which dont always agree), and other data, to formulate their forecasts. Different models are also better at different things. For example, GFS consistently underestimates wind speed, especially as winds get higher. Also models like GFS are very inaccurate near shore (both in terms of speed and direction). There are other models, like COAMPS, that do a better job near shore, but currently only for limited geographic areas. So, its best to use GRIB output in conjunction with other forecast sources (NOAA forecasts, Chris Parker, etc...).
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Old 08-08-2015, 19:32   #9
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Re: 10 Things I learned by sailing the Thorny Path

Amateur. When you have been at it longer, you will realize you need two pairs of flip flops…

One pair will stay in the dinghy because you never wear the other pair and always get caught out going to a town before you realize you are in your bare feet.

This is the real lesson you learn after cruising for years…

Mark
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Old 08-08-2015, 19:41   #10
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Re: 10 Things I learned by sailing the Thorny Path

What's the other pair for Mark? I only have one pair and they live in the dinghy, I must be missing out on something
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Old 08-08-2015, 19:44   #11
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Re: 10 Things I learned by sailing the Thorny Path

The other pair is because everyone should have a pair of flip flops on board.

Geez, even the OP knew that...

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Old 08-08-2015, 19:48   #12
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Re: 10 Things I learned by sailing the Thorny Path

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Just curious.....I don't think you mentioned much about the "dreaded" Mona Passage. How'd that go for you guys?


I read Bruce Van Sant's book a year ago. Was that your main source for planning the route? Looks pretty close to what he wrote.

Ralph
We did use Van Sant's book as a reference and it is great for coordinates and ports of interest. But I really didn't do what he said when it came to the DR - just left when I thought I had a good window to make it all the way to the PR. But most people that are keeping in contact from G Town all went to Samana to stage for their crossing. But a lot of sailors used it like the Bible.

But the Mona wasn't any worse than any other ocean passage - I did motor sail a lot on that passage, but then again no matter when you did that crossing, it sounded like everybody motored or motor-sailed through the Mona. There was a little bit of weird cross currents or swells/waves going in a couple different directions but nothing more crazy than that. You pick a mild night and it will be no more difficult than anything else you ever did. We even had rain accompanied with a few small squalls that we ended up dropping the sails and threading the needle and came out pretty unharmed.

But not filming any of the passage was my one big mistake for Episode 5 and I kicked myself for a few days after we completed it for not running the GoPro at all. There really wasn't much to film, but I should have filmed it none the less.
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Old 08-08-2015, 20:07   #13
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Re: 10 Things I learned by sailing the Thorny Path

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Originally Posted by belizesailor View Post
Re worry & GRIB files.

Many years ago I was caught in ugly unforecast weather with a novice sailing friend aboard. We had hurricane strength winds for 24 hours. No problem, hove-to and rode it out. He was not worried in the least. In fact, he had so much fun that he went out and bought a boat. Years later, I was in a squall with winds to 50 knots with the same friend...he was very worried...experience can do that to you.

To reiterate some oft quoted cautions about GRIB files. These files are raw model output with no expert human modification. The pros use outputs from multiple models (which dont always agree), and other data, to formulate their forecasts. Different models are also better at different things. For example, GFS consistently underestimates wind speed, especially as winds get higher. Also models like GFS are very inaccurate near shore (both in terms of speed and direction). There are other models, like COAMPS, that do a better job near shore, but currently only for limited geographic areas. So, its best to use GRIB output in conjunction with other forecast sources (NOAA forecasts, Chris Parker, etc...).
Here is what I experienced time and time again: throughout 7 months of trying to pick a good day to make it to the next anchorage, I would look at GRIB files from passageweather and predict wind and bouyweather and would compare what each one was predicting. I would then make a decision to leave or stay based on if the majority of the predictions were saying. So I was out there studying forecasts and then seeing what was really the conditions during the passage - and while Chris Parker is probably an expert at predicting weather (I guess he is anyway) I'm not sure if he has sailed in any of his predicted forecasts in the last year as much as I have. And from what I've heard, he'll scare the hell out of you about leaving on a particular day more than what was necessary. So I just got in a habit of doing it myself...so by the time I had even heard about Chris Parker I had already been doing it myself for months - so I just continued to trust in my own decisions of when to leave and when to stay. And like I said, most of the passages throughout the entire thorny path were day sails with only about 4 overnighters - and I believe you're pretty safe making your own decisions for such a short time. Any extended crossings and I would hire him too.
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Old 08-08-2015, 21:14   #14
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Re: 10 Things I learned by sailing the Thorny Path

Yes, yes, yes, Catamoron. What a refreshing post! I'm sure most of the regulars would call me Monomoron since I just purchased a 37 ft Irwin, my first ocean going vessel, can't afford a Cat. I have been reading this fear based, negative, "you can't do it" forum for a couple of years. Occasionally I pick up a piece of valuable knowledge rather than negative speculation. Most of the argument here is a real bummer but I guess that's how they live. Planning the same sort of live aboard adventure soon, November, after some additions to my beautiful 82 Irwin 37 CC MKV. I have always been an adventurer and never failed and at 57yrs my trips around the sun are close ending.The sea doesn't care, I realize this, and if one should perish in pursuit of happiness why would anyone think they should have had an intervention(common post). Plenty of humans to carry on, over population is more relative to humanity's survival. Wow, I got on a rant!
Sorry, but this post gives me more energy than most can imagine. Can hardly wait!
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Old 09-08-2015, 15:23   #15
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Re: 10 Things I learned by sailing the Thorny Path

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Originally Posted by colemj View Post
Amateur. When you have been at it longer, you will realize you need two pairs of flip flops…

One pair will stay in the dinghy because you never wear the other pair and always get caught out going to a town before you realize you are in your bare feet.

This is the real lesson you learn after cruising for years…

Mark
Ha, I leave my flops in the dink too. Never wear shoes except ashore so no reason to have them on the boat.
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