S/V Hello World's Travel Log

what we learned about cruising

I've been meaning to write this post for about 9 months now. Some of our experiences have been dulled by time. However, after not quite a year being back in the real world, this is a pretty good list of what stuck.

A couple caveats here. One, we are not drawing on vast experience prior to leaving and we were only out for one year so any expertise we're implying by the slightly pretentious title of this post is merely self-inflating. Two, this is entirely based on our experiences. Your mileage may vary. We're not big fans of people telling us what to do with our boat, so please don't take this as a missive to tell you what to do with yours. Whilst out cruising yourself, you may come to learn that the crew of s/v Hello World had their heads clean up their ass.

  1. If you're going to sail in the tropics, do not underestimate the value of cold beer.
  2. Everything on a boat is in a constant state of decomposition. If it is not broken, it will be soon. If it says "Rule" or "Jabsco" on it, it's probably already broken - you just don't know it yet.
  3. Do not underestimate the value of a ridiculously sized anchor. It may not make any difference at all in terms of holding. I truly believe the recommended 55lb Rocna anchor would have held us just fine in all the conditions we faced. However, as a cruising friend of ours put it: "your anchor is a 73lb sleeping pill." Amen.
  4. Having two heads (toilets) is mostly a waste of space until your primary head breaks.
  5. When your primary head is broken, your second head will probably break within three days. (See item #2)
  6. Having a bucket as your third head will accelerate your desire to fix head number one.
  7. We anchored at 5:1 scope (for every foot of water depth, we let out five feet of chain) unless we absolutely could not. This boat is our house, our home, our future and our primary financial investment. We don't put it at risk lightly.
  8. If you haven't gone cruising before, you are probably reading everything you can get your hands on about it. You devour Lin and Larry Pardey books, blogs, forums until you're blue in the face. You argue the merits of anchors you've never actually used or set (why should I let knowledge get in the way of my opinions?). In all this information, you are creating predefined expectations about what your experience will be like. You're mentally preparing yourself on how to set a sea anchor, rig covers for when a rogue wave blows out your portholes, create a rudder from a cabin door, bend on a trysail in 50 knots. This is all good information and we did exactly the same thing. But try to keep this in mind, too. Many of your predefined expectations will not match reality. You spend 80% of your time and money preparing for ocean passages and come to realize you spend 90% of your time no more than 3 miles from land, day hopping between anchorages. You will spend more time battling your engine and plumbing than battling Neptune.
  9. We are bad at judging distances in an anchorage and how much room we have. Fortunately, our radar is very good at judging distances. We used it often to confirm that we could squeeze into a space. Or the guy that just anchored right in front of us is way too close.
  10. If someone does anchor too close, approach them with a smile. Most of the time, they are great people you will be happy to have met who just misjudged the available space. One day, you'll be on the other end of that dinghy ride.
  11. Having a cover from the sun in Mexico is invaluable. Keep a cover over your boat and over your head. I was never not wearing a hat of some sort. It's hot in a way that people from Seattle don't understand.
  12. The cruising community is probably the richest experience we took away with us. Forget the margarita's, dolphins in our bow wake and the brilliant sunset and stars. It's the people that we took with us when we got home.
  13. The only reliable navigation data we found for Mexico's Sea of Cortez was Heather and Shawn's Sea of Cortez Cruising Guide. The charts you'll buy in a store were last surveyed in the early 1900's (some as early as 1896) and the digital charts we bought were based on those surveys. According to our chartplotter, we were anchored on land as often as not and we sailed over many an island. Waypoints from their cruising guide were the only thing we gave any credibility to that came out of our chartplotter. The rest was our eyeballs and our depth sounder.
  14. We were told that the Sea of Cortez was "too cold and windy" to ever think about cruising there in the winter. Please tell everyone you know that this is TRUE. Then you will have all sorts of room in any anchorage you choose as you enjoy some of the most remote and amazing islands and topography.
  15. As a corollary to #14, always have a plan B anchorage with solid protection from the north. From January to March, we got a norther every 7 to 10 days that pinned us down for a couple days.
  16. Hand steering is fun now and again but self-steering is mandatory. Even just to step away from the helm to tend a sheet without rounding up or broaching. We are not well configured to have a wind vane so it's autopilot for us. And we like our autopilot almost as much as we like oxygen.
  17. We skipped fishing/crabbing/prawning in BC last time because we did not want to pony up for the fishing licenses. We won't be making that mistake next time.
  18. Set an anchor alarm that will wake you up. Friends of ours dragged anchor in a 35 knot blow and were woken up by the sound of their boat crashing on a reef. An hour later they had to drive the boat up on to the beach to keep it from sinking.
  19. Pay attention. We watched a 120ft yacht happily drive right over the top of a reef that we can't get our dinghy over at low tide. They returned our shouts and hollers with a smile and a wave.
  20. All sailors will happily throw their full force and weight behind opinions, rumour and innuendo disguised as unrefutable fact. Just because someone on the dock (or some guy with a blog) says you have to/absolutely cannot do something, doesn't make it truth. Run your boat how you need to run your boat.

The one other thing I learned while out cruising is that I want to go back. Soon. There's a thousand things that are wonderful about real life (hot showers, flush toilets, money, being able to afford nice restaurants, grocery shopping that doesn't take 8 hours) but none of it holds a candle to being out there on a boat with my wife.

















9 comments:

Jacob said...

you big softie--you even made an old grump like me miss cruising--get back out there soon so we can come visit!

-julia

Sailfast said...

Awww....sweet!

Anonymous said...

Well said my brother, I couldn't agree more, even as we swing like a merry-go-round for the next 2 days in 30 kt gusts (its probably a good time to field strip the leaky head).

Ken

Traveller said...

Good thoughts.

I look forward to reading about your next adventure.

The Propane Chef said...

Excellent post, Mr.Jason. Especially your remarks about spending more time wrestling with your engine & your head than you ever will with sea anchors & storm tactics. True dat.

Get back out there - it's our turn to cruise in to an anchorage, and surprise YOU.

Marianne & Gary, Gallant Fox, Puerto Morelos, Mexico

Jason said...

My geography is always a bit fuzzy, but if the Gallant Fox pulled into an anchorage next to us, well... let's just say surprise might be an understatement. But, if your gin tank is full, I'll likely recover from my surprise lickety-split. :)

Glad to hear from you guys! Hope you're finding the Caribbean to your liking.

We're getting back out there but Alaska is next on the list. Hopefully next year. This real life stuff blows.

Colin Franger said...

Jason-

You are a softy. Aren't we all? Glad to read and see your reflections on cruising. We sure think fondly of our time spent on Hello World. You guys rock! I hope all is well and I cannot wait to live vicariously through your blog on your next adventure.

Take care,

Colin

Jason said...

Hey Colin! Good to hear from you... I'm waiting for your next adventure so we can live vicariously through you. Hurry up wouldya?

Hi to Kristin!

jason

Mid-Life Cruising! said...

Great post! Love your honesty and can't wait to get out there next year.