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Old 22-03-2009, 18:51   #1
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Question The Critical Mass

My wife and I have decided to head out and go cruising. We're relatively young, can't really afford it, and are inexperienced by many of your standards.

That being said, after having read this forum for several years, we've noticed that advice in this department generally falls into one of two categories: "Go now and you won't regret it!" or "If you didn't grow up in a sailing family and haven't spent 40 years mastering every facet, you're being irresponsible and putting your life and the lives of others at risk."

This post isn't asking for input on deciding how and when to go cruising. What we would like to know is what your level of experience was prior to setting sail. What made you decide to go? Were you a novice? A risk taker? Did you cast off too soon? Not soon enough? Was your pre-departure anxiety warranted? "The more you know, the more you know you don't know" seems to apply to sailing. So when do you say 'enough's enough' and just go?

See you on opening day in the bay!
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Old 22-03-2009, 19:05   #2
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There really is no right or wrong answer on when it is best to go cruising. It all depends on the individuals situation.

I still have not gone cruising yet. So I am in your shoes. My philosophy is to go after I retire in a few years. Even though I graduated from Cal Maritime, taught sailing for a school here and have almost twenty years operating a research vessel, I still feel I need to educate myself before shoving off in a sailboat. I plan on doing it in baby steps. I live in the SF Bay Area so I will first be spending a number of days or weeks sailing around this area on a cruising catamaran. I then plan on doing a few day trips outside the Golden Gate. I then plan on doing some coastal cruising, perhaps down south to Catalina. Mexico and then Hawaii is next. I then plan on taking across the Pacific to wherever my whims lead my wife and I.

I guess if I even have a point. ...it is to take things in incremental steps. I wish I could go now, but I have a son to finish raising. Its more important to be around for him.
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Old 22-03-2009, 19:09   #3
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I got into sailing fairly late in life at age 38 or so. But when I did I had a 36' boat, the one I still own within a year or so. There was much too much to learn and to do to be prepared to sail off and at the time this was not a focused goal but rather a "project" to learn so that I had the capability and a boat that was capable of "sailing away". That process took an intense 6 year period as I continued to work.

But then work slacked off and my parents passed on and I was unburdened by commitments of family or work (no new projects), the economy was slackening too, and I was feeling "prepared" to sail away so in I cut the decision and the last 6 months was the severing of ties to my land based life of 44 yrs. I did my first offshore sail in the Marion Bermuda race and left the Fall after.

I returned when my savings had almost run out and I was trying to start a new business concept which took a big chunk of the cruising kitty. But that never happened so I was left with the boat and a $0 bank account and I kept the boat and started back in the salt mines where I remain today. I still work on the boat and sail. but only as a "weekender".
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Old 22-03-2009, 19:31   #4
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what your level of experience was prior to setting sail. !
Nicolle had no experience.
I have been sailing since I was a kid including world champs 1/4 tonners (on a USA boat! we even came second... I'm such a traitor! ) and olymipc trials. Cruising race 1/2 round the world on vairous boats incl Swan 65 as mate trans atlantic.

But you don't need any of thet. Sailing is not eye surgery! Its 2 floppy white things and a marineised car engine. Most of what you learn is in the first year. after that you just learn for life.

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Old 22-03-2009, 21:51   #5
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In the past I have taken experienced crew with me. We all had good knowledge but one person would try something the other had not...hence more experience. If you're throwing off the dock lines, take it a little at a time and invite experienced people along. They will given you feedback and build your confidence up. Most of the time we have knowledge and not enough confidence. As far as people using scare tactics...may they fall over in their over-stuffed armchair!
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Old 22-03-2009, 22:12   #6
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Before we started our circumnavigation, I had never sailed offshore. I had sailed at night on only three occasions, and two of those trips were overnighters. I had eight years of daysailing experience, mostly on vessels under 27 feet. I daysailed a Westsail 32 in Puerto Rico as well.

I read lots of books, but lacked offshore experience.

Our circumnavigation went well because we started with a new catamaran that was strong and forgiving. We sailed in a conservative manner and sailed downwind in the trades most of the way around the world.

The outcome would have been much different if we had sailed on a poorly constructed yacht that was worn out and in need of a refit. If we had sailed like a bat out of hell with with a yacht in marginal condition in the high latitudes, we would have ended our voyage in a disaster or mutiny rather than having a good circumnavigation.
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Old 22-03-2009, 22:38   #7
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Just go..learn and live. I wish I had pushed off at a much younger age and not worried so much about the details and money.
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Old 23-03-2009, 02:47   #8
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My wife and I have decided to head out and go cruising. We're relatively young, can't really afford it, and are inexperienced by many of your standards.

"The more you know, the more you know you don't know" seems to apply to sailing. So when do you say 'enough's enough' and just go?
Your opening paragraph could have described Maggie and I, BOTH: when we started off (full-time) cruising; AND still, when we swallowed the anchor 10 years later.

Your closing paragraph suggests, to me, that YOU ARE ready to set out. Enough is never enough; but it'll have to do.
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Old 23-03-2009, 03:22   #9
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Nice thread

I have no sailing experience so I decided to get a good offshore sailing boat. Since I am a procedural person (airline pilot) I decided to hire a Captain (he is 70 years old and he was born in a boat and he has also live his entire live on board) to teach me from the very begining so I can get a solid foundation for the future. My Captain is on my boat for a few months and he will leave only when he is assure I am competent to sail certain waters under certain conditions safely. He will stay here 2 months before taking a week or two off in the US and back another 2 months to check how I am doing.

I take sailing as seriously as flying an airline jet and I will stay here at the marina in the BVI until we are both comfortable with my proficiency. May take a year or more but the important thing here is to be safe so you don't jeopardize anybody's life.
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Old 23-03-2009, 09:21   #10
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No you never stop learning! However in fairness to you and your loved ones a degree of experience before leaving for 'the big one' is sensible. In my case although I grew up in a boat orientated family and had the good sense to marry a practical man we both spent a couple of years sailing on our boat before setting off into the wild blue yonder. In that time we employed a coach from time to time to help us develop specific skills ie marina handling(always a tricky one), heavy weather sailing, night sailing. It was money well spent and we would certainly do the same again.
...having said that nothing can truly prepare you for being out there on your own, especially when things go wrong(and they will!).

We decided to leave almost on a whim, instead of heading to the Med from Gibraltar we turned right and crossed the Atlantic. Were we ready? probably not. I will admit to being very scared a lot of the time! But we did it, safely if slowly. Our saving grace was a boat that we trusted implicitly that we knew inside out and one that was far more capable then we were.

And it could not have been so bad as we are still aboard after 8 years!

Use your head, choose a boat that is capable of going to the places that you dream of and get started! best of luck.
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Old 23-03-2009, 14:12   #11
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I learned to sail as a kid, and I had years of sailing experience on other people’s boats when my wife and I decided to go. My wife had some power boat experience, but she had been on a sailboat exactly once. We bought a boat, spent 4 months mostly refitting and some practicing, and went. A couple of observations:

1. Sailing, in the sense of controlling, maneuvering, and navigating a boat, is a fairly small, mostly easy, and mostly fun part of cruising. We met people in the Keys who had been racing sailboats for 20 years, but had never anchored one until they decided to go cruising. We met more than a few people in the Bahamas who had been sailing for years, but had never run aground before. I had been sailing for years, but had no real idea how to enter a coral-head studded anchorage until I saw other people doing it. Sailing experience is good - the more the better, but the only way to get ‘cruising’ experience is to just go.

2. The boat part of cruising is more concerned with weather, anchoring, maintenance, and diagnosing and fixing stuff than it is with ‘sailing’. If you are going to cross oceans, then beyond picking your season and the weather on the day you leave, you pretty much have to be prepared to take on whatever the sea cares to serve up. But, the average daysailor will venture out in conditions that would keep most coastal/island hopping cruisers at anchor.
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Old 23-03-2009, 14:58   #12
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My wife and I cruise a fancy well equipped boat, our son and daughter-in-law cruise an old one that cost 10% of the cost of ours and they have about 10% of our experience.

They are much more conservative than their respected elders; they don't deliberatley go out in gales like the old folk.

My advice is learn the basics, rules of the road, reefing in heavy weather, anchoring in storms, man-over-board drills, heaving -to etc, preferably from a real sailor, practice the skills until they are second nature and then go a little further each day until you have circumnavigated. 95% of the advice you will get is wrong and once you have the basics worked out the only real teacher is experience. Also you have a 'good old sea boat' that will take care of you in bad weather.

"God takes care of fools, little children and apparently new cruisers in old boats." providing they have learned the basics.

ps 'Soft Air' we will be in BVI in a month, we are just 1000 sea miles to windward from you at the moment...buy you a beer when we get there. Our boat is easy to spot, it's big, blue with the washer/dryer vent sticking out of the top! And joking aside I approach sailing like I did medicine and my wife does it like she managed airports...very very professionally.

Good luck Phil & Nell
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Old 23-03-2009, 15:40   #13
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This was a great question and one for which I think I first found this site. I also read all the various "options" that ran between the light experienced to the old salts. I kind of came to the answer as you can go wheneven you generally feel comfortable, as long as you are smart in your choices. There is lots of experience to be gained, but really there isn't a way to get a lot of it till it happens to you and then you fall back to "book" knowledge. But it always appears to come down to making the right choices for you ability and comfort level and it always makes me a little crazy to read a story of a bad sail crossing that opens with the writer almost saying they know they should not have got into that because they threw caution away. So....go when you are comfortable and take it easy and make the right choices till it is time to move to a bigger challenge.
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Old 23-03-2009, 16:07   #14
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My Captain ... He will stay here 2 months before taking a week or two off in the US and back another 2 months to check how I am doing.
When he has gone you will really learn lots and have fun. Its like flying. Only one person is in command... and the person in command does all the good stuff
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Old 23-03-2009, 16:56   #15
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Thanks for all of the responses! Like I said, we're amateurs by almost all standards. But we're equipped with a sturdy boat (Hans Christian 38), a lot of books, about a 1000 hours of actual sailing, and a growing frustration with the prospects in America.

It seems like if there ever was a time to become mostly self-reliant, that time is now.

If you've got other viewpoints, please continue to post.
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