TRUTH ABOUT CRUISING
with the "Down Side" of the Cruising Life
1993 Tor Pinney - All Rights Reserved
are few human endeavors more rewarding than cruising under sail.
The thrill of a fast reach across the trades, the peace of an
idyllic harbor, the novelty of living aboard your floating home
in a new places. It's a lifestyle rich and varied in experience.
the same time, the cruising life presents some unique
challenges. Cruising, especially long-term, isn't all blue skies
and cocktails at sunset. Unless you're mentally prepared for the
"other" side of cruising, the down side, you may find
yourself unnecessarily disappointed. Let's take a look at some
of the most common pitfalls cruisers face, and what can be done
of the most daunting aspects of cruising, particularly offshore,
is bad weather. No matter how many forecasts you tune in, heavy
weather and head winds are an inevitable fact of the cruising
life once you venture far from land. Three days into a gale at
sea, under gray skies and wet decks, cruising doesn't seem quite
so glamorous anymore. (I often find myself dreaming of a cozy
log cabin in the woods!) The truth is, being cooped up on a boat
during long spells of bad weather can be really depressing.
just when things seem bad enough, the twin devils, fear and
seasickness, clamor aboard to torture and dispirit even the most
stalwart crew. Even if you're lucky enough to be in port when
the weather deteriorates, cabin fever, concern for the boat and,
sometimes, a rolly mooring can take much of the romance out of
there are ways to take some of the punch out of a bad day at
sea. It's common sense to reduce sail at the first sign of
deteriorating weather, and to do everything you can to ensure
the boat rides safely. This alone alleviates some of the initial
anxiety. But if the motion is still harsh, tuck in an extra reef
to slow the boat down further. So what if you get to your
distant destination a few hours or a few days later! Increased
safety, comfort and crew morale are more important aboard a
cruising boat than an extra knot of speed. This is especially
true if you're bashing to windward offshore. Ease off a bit on
the sheets and on the heading to reduce the pounding. If the
weather is really nasty, heave-to and wait it out. Be kind to
your boat, your crew and yourself; don't push harder than
absolutely necessary in bad weather. And don't yell.
in a gale isn't much fun, either. Before encountering bad
weather, prepare some pre- cooked meals that can be heated up
quickly. A good, hot meal can make the wet world outside more
tolerable. Afterwards, clean up the dishes even if you don't
really feel like it. And straighten up the cabin. A depression
is less depressing if your living space is in order.
the boat is riding safely, the best thing to do in heavy weather
is to go below and relax. Make some tea, play some music, read a
book, make love, take a nap - and keep reminding yourself that
all storms do eventually end.
afraid at sea, especially in rough weather, is perfectly normal
and much more common than many will admit. Fear of the unknown
(How much worse is the weather going to get?) and fear of death
(How much can this boat really take?) can turn a squall into a
nightmare, especially for the uninitiated.
forecasts, received via VHF, short wave radio or weatherfax, are
reassuring - even when they're bad! They take the mystery out of
a storm, giving you an idea of whether or not it is likely to
get worse and, best of all, when it'll end. Fear of foundering
usually comes from lack of confidence in the vessel, in the
captain, or in both. Only time and experience build confidence.
The second storm isn't quite as scary as the first, and the
tenth, while still no fun, is almost routine.
that universal mariners' curse, has spoiled many a cruise. For
those afflicted, it turns passage making into a dreaded burden,
and adversely effects judgement at sea. Today there are many
remedies available. Find one that works for you and use it
before you get ill!
of the most surprising truths about cruising is that you can
become bored doing it. Now wait a minute, I didn't say that
cruising is boring! But boredom can and does creep aboard when
the voyaging spans months or years, rather than brief holidays.
You can only trim so many sails, comb so many beaches, read so
many paperbacks, and toast so many sunsets before it all starts
to seem - well, commonplace.
common reason for this isn't so surprising when you think about
it. Most people who actually manage to cast off and go cruising
today have worked long and hard to get there. Many are retired
or taking a break from active, stimulating careers. Suddenly,
they have an unaccustomed amount of leisure time on their hands.
Oh, there's the sailing, the sightseeing and the daily chores
and boat maintenance - more than enough to fill the hours. But
the fact is, those of us who are products of a work ethic
society have a need to feel productive. I don't mean we have to
"work" everyday, but in order to feel good about
ourselves, we need to feel like we're accomplishing something
useful. Too many people give up cruising, feeling depressed and
dissatisfied, without realizing why they feel that way. This is
particularly true of mates who have "gone along" with
their spouse's cruising dream, but really aren't all that keen
on it themselves. It's not the cruising that's boring. Cruising
is, or can be, forever stimulating! It's the lack of feeling
productive that gets some people down, and once you're aware of
this potential threat there's plenty you can do about it. But it
takes a conscious effort on your part.
being productive I don't necessarily mean earning money.
Developing hobbies or interests such as writing, painting, or
playing a musical instrument can give added meaning to life
afloat. Continuing your studies, perhaps through university
correspondence courses, may be especially rewarding. Or consider
jewelry design, woodcarving or any of a score of other
handicrafts. Computer programming, shell collecting, canvas
sewing - virtually anything that's portable enough to do aboard
a boat is a positive, potential cure for boredom. Of course,
working at a trade as you travel, even if it means stopping from
time to time, has the added benefit of boosting the cruising
kitty. Perhaps more importantly, the sheer contrast of
"going to work" for periods of time will refresh your
appreciation of the lazier life under sail.
fact, contrast is often the other key to successful, long-term
cruising. For example, getting away from the boat every so often
will keep your appreciation level high. Taking seasonal or
annual sabbaticals from living aboard definitely cures cruising
boredom. You'll soon discover that the best part of leaving your
boat is coming back to her again!
cruising life can be a very solitary existence. When living in
remote and foreign places, cultural and language differences may
isolate you from the local population. Periodic feelings of
isolation and loneliness are almost universal, especially among
single-handers, although cruising couples and even families are
not immune. Everybody gets the cruising blues sometimes.
are, however, some practical remedies. For some, a compromise
cruising schedule is an ideal cure. Six (or four or eight)
months sailing, alternated with similar periods of time staying
put (either ashore or afloat) allows you to satisfy the gypsy
itch, yet still provides plenty of time for nurturing valuable
human relationships ashore. This can be especially important to
the children of cruising families.
having friends and family come to visit you aboard is not only a
way to share your unique lifestyle with them, but it breaks up
the (dare I say it?) monotony of 24-hour-a-day, close-quarters
living with your regular mate(s). So do brief vacation visits
home, with the boat stored safely in a marina or boat yard.
fun way to combat cruising isolation is by sailing in tandem
with one or more other yachts. Whether you set off as a group,
or meet some compatible cruisers along the way and decide to
continue on together, your social life will be multiplied
ten-fold by cruising in company. As a bonus, this arrangement
provides an added safety margin for everyone.
as ashore, a pet is always a great antidote for loneliness. So
are regular phone calls home. Many countries today offer
AT&T USA DIRECT and MCI CALL USA, telephone services that
make calling the States fast, easy and reasonable from many
public telephones abroad.
there is a growing number of sailors' social clubs available on
various radio nets. For local camaraderie, just ask other
sailors you meet if there is a particular VHF frequency and time
that area boaters get together. Licensed Ham operators enjoy
access to maritime mobile and land-based nets worldwide for
communicating with kindred spirits. There are also many less
formal, regional maritime nets on single sideband frequencies
which do not require a Ham license to join in. Although the SSB
nets may discuss weather forecasts and useful travel
information, their primary function is usually social. It's a
chance for cruising sailors to chat, schedule rendezvous' and,
in general, to keep in touch with each other.
unpublicized truth about the cruising life is the huge amount of
work and attention a boat requires. Every cruising sailor is, in
a sense, a slave to his vessel. Even if you start out with a
brand new boat and equipment, the list of maintenance and repair
chores is literally never-ending. If the boat is old, the list
is even longer. The fact is, I don't know any cruiser who can
honestly say, "I have absolutely nothing that I could be
doing for the boat today!"
maintenance is necessary; it can even be gratifying. But be
careful that it doesn't overwhelm you and spoil your trip.
You'll do well to prioritize the jobs, dealing with essential
maintenance and repairs right away, and scheduling time for less
urgent tasks at regular intervals. I find it easier to stop
periodically, settle into a pleasant port, and work full time on
the boat for a few days or weeks to catch up. Then, with many
jobs accomplished and a clear conscience, I can relax and enjoy
the leisure time I've created for sailing, exploring and
chores seem to pile up, I occasionally hire a local to help with
the simpler tasks, like scrubbing and oiling the teak or waxing
the hull. Of course, when I'm sailing with crew aboard,
everybody pitches in and the jobs get done more quickly.
in a while it's a relief to get away from boat chores entirely.
With your vessel securely moored or dry-docked, ideally with
someone keeping an eye on her, you're free to leave for awhile
and devote your full attention to inland sightseeing and other
interests. Remember: you own your boat; don't let it own you!
foreign lands aboard our floating home is one of the prime
reasons most of us go cruising. On the plus side is the thrill
of discovering remarkable places, meeting different people,
learning their customs, trying new foods, and experiencing it
all from the comfortable base of your own floating home.
there are aspects of travel peculiar to boating that can try
your patience. Clearing in with the various government
authorities is, at times, an onerous, time consuming effort.
Customs, immigration, the port captain, the National Guard, the
police, the coast guard and all the king's men may require
separate visits, each with forms to be completed and stamped in
triplicate. Rarely are they all in the same building, nor even
in the same part of town! Orderly ship's paperwork and a
patient, friendly attitude are your best defenses against
mail is another snag in paradise. It's not uncommon to go for
months between successful mail drops while cruising abroad.
Often a mail packet containing your precious, accumulated
correspondence will arrive in the country only to be stalled at
a customs warehouse somewhere, waiting - sometimes for months! -
to be inspected for contraband. Or the packet may never arrive
many larger ports you can take advantage of international
courier services such as DHL and Federal Express to get the mail
packets through. They're expensive but they usually work, and
bound mail posted from many Third World countries stands, maybe,
a 50/50 chance of ever arriving. If you have a supply of your
home country's postage stamps aboard, you can often find a
tourist willing to carry your flat mail back with him, to be
posted there with a much better chance of reaching its
a rule, when cruising abroad it's only in the largest cities
that you'll find services for repairing things like electronics,
sails and machinery. Even then, locating replacement parts can
be next to impossible, and if you have repair parts shipped to
you from home they may be difficult to retrieve. It's true that
a vessel in transit is almost universally exempt from paying
import duty on equipment that is shipped in to be used on the
boat. But it's often difficult - sometimes impossible - to
explain that to a customs official who doesn't speak your
language, nor share your interpretation of international
best to prepare for the inevitable breakdowns before leaving
home waters. Stock up on complete spare parts, warranty cards
and service manuals (not just owner's manuals!) for every single
essential device on the boat. Thus provisioned, even in some
smaller towns you may then find a competent repairman who can
help because you're able to provide the necessary manuals and
The cruising life can be stimulating, peaceful, fun and
endlessly rewarding. It can be, and often is, everything you've
dreamed and more! Still it is life, which inevitably includes
challenges and pitfalls. To set sail with the idea that you're
leaving all your troubles behind is to blow a bubble destined to burst. Be aware, be prepared and be realistic. Add
to that a positive mental attitude and you'll discover the real
truth about the cruising life: that while it's not always
perfect, it just may be life at its best!
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