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Old 17-08-2009, 08:01   #1
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What Was Your First Offshore Experience?

So, most of us here are somewhere along the continuum of getting ready to cruise, wanting to cruise, actively cruising or been there, done that.

So to help out those of us who are still in the category of wanting to cruise/getting ready to cruise, what was your first offshore experience?

Let's define offshore as at least an overnight passage. So, I would not include day coastal sailing where you were x miles from shore.

How did the opportunity to go offshore present itself? Was this aboard your boat or someone elses? Were you captain or crew?

What was your level of knowledge and expertise you posessed prior to departing? (i.e. level of knowledge and education, navigation classes/knowledge, etc)

Did you feel well prepared for the experience?

Did you consider your passage a success? Did it make you love sailing all the more and want to continue or did the experience leave you with the though of, never again.

What did you like most about the experience? What did you like least about the experience?

Your thoughts and input will help us as we think about how to get to this next step ourselves. Thanks all!

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Old 17-08-2009, 08:11   #2
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Offshore should probably be classed as out of sight of land, and in the old days you would have been navigating by DR and RDF bearings rather than visual.

You either love it / tolerate it / or hate it.

You will know if you can handle it by your reaction when with clear visibility you can no longer see the coast. If you have a feeling of relief - offshore will not be a problem. If you have a feeling of concern until you spot something again, offshore will never be a pleasure.

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Old 17-08-2009, 08:22   #3
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I don't know the definition of "off shore" but I think that out-of-range of Coast Guard hellicopters. Our first by that definition was from the Cheaspeake to Tortola. It was the forth time we had our new boat out of the slip, including fueling, a haul out for installing a MaxProp, and a trip out to calibrate compas and AP. 7 days toTortola, first overall in the Carib 1500.
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Old 17-08-2009, 08:29   #4
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And is there an excitment to spot your first landfall and confirm how good your navigation was? Like drilling two holes through a wall from either side and wanting to know how well they joined up, or reeling in the fish, hoping to get that first glimpse to see just what flavour it is?
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Old 17-08-2009, 09:01   #5
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We had sailed for seven years, with a couple overnighters, but not outside the sight of land until we left Seattle for Mexico.

Our first stop was San Francisco. There were times of fun, boredom and tension.

The biggest challenge for my wife was trying to sleep while dealing with the noise of the bubbles against the hull, and trying to silence any squeaks from shifting items.
That last one was a subject with which we THOUGHT we had already effectively dealt, but we still had at least a dozen squeaks and creaks.

Steve B.
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Old 17-08-2009, 09:03   #6
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My first experience off shore was also my first experience doing anything but coastal sailing. And ALL of that coastal sailing experience was as a drunken partying guy whose total contribution was helping dock and undock the boat. When I agreed to join two buddies of mine on a trip from Vancouver to Hawaii, I did not even know the difference between a sheet and a halyard. Both of my buddies had grown up coastal sailing, and were competent at boat handling. What they lacked was good problem solving skills under duress. Fast forward 20 years, and those 2 have been my crew numerous times.

That passage taught me a great deal about boathandling/sailing - but what was illuminated above all else was the value of level-headedness and ability to problem solve under duress. Those skills are more invaluable than any individual seamanship skill imo. You'll learn adequate seamanship on an offshore passage - and with enough passages, your skills will become more honed - but no matter how skilled, if you can't make good decisions under duress, things can get very worrisome offshore.
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Old 17-08-2009, 09:39   #7
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I was racing experienced including some minor "offshore " work. Local cruising experienced, but spent too much time working on the boat. Had circumnavigated Vancouver Island. Then sailed to Mexico from Seattle. That was an eye opener!
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Old 17-08-2009, 09:56   #8
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My earliest exposure to the ocean was in Sea Scouts at age 13. We had a 104 footer that we took from Alameda to Ensenada and then worked our way back up the coast. Great memories.

Life begins where land ends.
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Old 17-08-2009, 10:18   #9
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My first offshore run was from Ft Lauderdale to Key West, Key West to Galveston in February. Anyone ever cross the Gulf in winter? Not highly recomended, but I was young and ready to take on anything, and am glad I didn't turn down the offer. I wouldn't give back that first experience for a $100. Since those early years I've criss-crossed the Gulf in all directions and in all seasons, and still always love the long periods away from land. Things don't really get to be fun until your out of site of land for at least 3-4 days and get into your groove. Like they say, if you have to tack more than once every few days, your not really cruising.
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Aye, the creak of stout timbers and the slap of the waves, that there's a sound for ya'
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Old 17-08-2009, 10:31   #10
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Sounds like many of you jumped in with both feet and simply sailed away from land. I wonder if living in Minnesota and sailing on an inland lake creates a bit of different dynamic than those of you who live or sail on the coast. Is "offshore sailing" just a natural progression when sailing in a coastal area? I am feeling like it is requiring a little more effort on our part to actively seek out an offshore experience, as that doesn't exactly exist in Minnesota.

So the closest we have come thus far has been a sail from Virgin Gorda to Anegada, about 16 nm (out of sight of land....maybe not, couldn't see land ahead, but could certainly see Virgin Gorda behind us if we turned around). Conditions were 30 - 35 knot winds with 10 - 12 foot seas. Would you consider this an offshore experience?

Hubby and I are looking for ways that we can get out and experience more offshore type sailing without yet making the full investment in the purchase of our cruising boat, selling the house and moving to a coast.

Have thought about crewing for others, like in the Caribbean 1500 or similar race/rally, or crewing in any other opportunities that present themselves. Have thought about looking into membership through Offshore passage opportunities, anyone know anything about this group or have any experience?

Seems like most of these types of opportunities are looking for some offshore experience. Feel like I am caught between the chicken and the egg. I want offshore experience, but need offshore experience.
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Old 17-08-2009, 12:38   #11
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My first true off shore was a two week run from the Eluthera to St. Thomas (not the island hop way but head east out into the Atlantic and try to catch the trades down).

My strongest memories are of the color of the water- a blue I can never describe accurately.. a beautiful blue, deep blue, yet when the waves broke, I could see how clear the water truly is. How can crystal clear water be a deep velvety blue?...well as I said can't describe the color.

At night the stars are so thick, and they go right to the horizon. Sometimes it is hard to tell a star from a ship, so I just wait for the star to rise, if it doesn't rise then its a ship And the stars reflect off the water so brilliantly, sometimes I feel more like an astronaut than a sailor.

And landfall! It is so cool. To stare at a chart for two weeks telling yourself this is where you are and this dot on the chart represents land/destination, then the moment comes when you spot land, there is a feeling of triumph just because the Island is where it is supposed to be And the smells! Thirty miles from land and I actually could smell the earth and dirt. I swear one time I could smell Ketchup!! but my Captain just laughed and said I needed a Hamburger

The shower after making landfall was the sweetest treat. Then I'd scramble to wash my clothes (ah fresh clothes), and walk on wobbly legs (further than 35 feet!) to enjoy a Cheeseburger in paradise.

Can't wait to do it again,
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Old 17-08-2009, 12:50   #12
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aahhh....Erika, your description was great, made me feel like I was there. One of the things I am looking forward to the most is being on a passage alone in the dark starry night, with just me and my thoughts in the cockpit and the sound of the wind, waves and my husband snoring below, waiting for his turn at watch. It's really weird to me, how I can be looking forward to something that I haven't experienced yet, but this is what I think about. I guess that is why we dream of going cruising.
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Old 17-08-2009, 13:07   #13
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Originally Posted by Ocean Girl View Post
And the stars reflect off the water so brilliantly, sometimes I feel more like an astronaut than a sailor
The most spectacular version of this that I have encountered was on the Bahamas Banks on a moonless night. Beam reach, no ambient light, and no horizon because there were as many stars in the water as there were in the sky. It was breathtakingly beautiful and disorienting. Were it not for the sound of the sea against the hull and phosphorescence in the wake, you wouldn't even know there was a sea.
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Old 17-08-2009, 13:10   #14
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Mine was an eleven day passage from the Chesapeake Bay to Virgin Gorda. When I got off the boat, I remember saying to myself, "Gawd, I'll never do that again!" Obviously, I was mistaken.

I'd done a lot of coastal sailing, chartering, etc., but nothing offshore at that point, when a friend asked me to crew with him as navigator on his boat in the 2001 Caribbean 1500. The boat was an 18 year old, 36' Italian sloop. The skipper and the other two crew members were experienced offshore sailors, and I was the rookie.

We got off to a good start, and crossed the Gulf Stream in fairly boisterous conditions compared to Bay sailing--18-22 kts with 9-12 seas from three different directions. Once through the Stream, we set the autopilot and headed SSE. The autopilot died the next day, so we were back to hand steering.

The gale hit us about 300 miles west of Bermuda. Three days of howling winds and large seas. The steering broke the first day of the gale, so we were steering with a steel pipe about two feet long. Two on watch, one steering for 30 minutes, then lying down in the cockpit to "rest" while the other took over. No dodger, so solid green water was sweeping the deck and cabin roof and cascading into the cockpit. After two hours of that, the other two guys came up to take over. The boat leaked at the deck to hull joint and through the companionway hatch. When doing my DR plots, a half gallon of seawater would regularly come splashing down on me from above. When coming off watch, we'd pump the bilge dry--about 80-100 strokes on the Whale Gusher.

Three days later the gale blew out, and the wind completely died. The engine wouldn't start. Crud in the tank had come loose and the skipper had forgotten his extra fuel filters. Never could get it going, so we drifted becalmed for 24 hours. Then the wind came back, and we were able to make 6-1/2 kts for three days to the BVI. That was the year that the Leonid meteor shower was so great. An amazing show out on the ocean, 400 nm north of the Virgin Islands, so bright I could see them through the sails.

We sailed in to the Sir Francis Drake Channel about 10 pm on the 11th day. The batteries were shot, but we managed to raise some of the 1500 sailors on a handheld, and we were towed into the marina by four dinghies. We made the boat fast, and broke out the rum and cigars. Whew!

It was an eye-opening experience for me. A trip like that is so completely different from spending a week sailing from one anchorage to another up the Chesapeake Bay, that it's impossible to imagine it. Three days in a gale in a semi-crippled boat doing two hours on/two hours off double watches means almost no sleep. Lashed with cold wind and salt water topside, claustrophobic hot humid air below. The noise is hellish. You're battered and bruised by the violent motion of the boat. No proper hot meals. But the fantastic tradewinds sailing for those last three days, and the magnificent meteor shower show went a long way towards making up for it. I've been offshore in much worse conditions since that trip, but that first time experience looms as the most challenging by far in my mind and remembrance.

I highly recommend that your first offshore sailing experience be on someone else's boat, with an experienced crew. After my first time experience, I've always made it a point to offer a berth to an offshore rookie on my passages, making sure the other two crew were experienced. It's worked out well, but one fellow decided that it just wasn't for him. He thanked me after the trip and said, "Hud, you've saved be a quarter of a million dollars!" He'd been planning on buying a bluewater cruiser and taking his family on a year's sabbatical to the islands.
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Old 17-08-2009, 13:42   #15
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Mine was off the west coast of VanCouver Island. Several of us had talked about doing the Vic-Maui and decided we needed some off shore experience.
I'll never forget the feelings as we sailed out of the Straight of Juan de Fuca and headed out, with no land in sight for the first time in my life. Asked myself if we really knew what we were doing, realized that's why we were doing it, and never looked back.

Turned out to be the most interesting of trips, made it about 2/3 the way up the island, spent two nights in Zeballos and headed back to Seattle. What made it interesting was that when we started the engine to go in to the harbor we couldn't put it in gear and had to be towed in. Got tied up, had a beverage and decided to go to town, within two hours folks knew who we were and all had a solution to our problem without ever stepping foot on board!

Got a tow back out, set sail, and headed to Bellingham with lots of stories and a great experience. Two of the four have done the Vic-Maui, I'm still trying to find the time and a boat to crew on and the other guy moved away.

To borrow a quote from Tin Cup, it was a defining moment, and have a few more years until we can head out of the Straight and this time head south to wherever.

good winds,

"The ocean has always been a salve to my soul... Later down the road of life, I made the discovery that salt water was also good for the mental abrasions one inevitably acquires on land." -- Jimmy Buffett
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