Yeah that’s right, I sailed from North Carolina down as far as Antigua, mostly single-handed, other times with some help from Annie, on the first time I had really spent significant time offshore, and the first time in this boat.

It wasn’t pretty.  I learned a lot and am going to feel like an old salt this time!

Sailing classes are good but offshore experience is better.

It had been years between the time I last sailed on a 30ish-foot boat and the time I took American Sailing Association classes – from Basic Keelboat to Bareboat Charter, in an attempt to both learn the right way and to lower my insurance costs.

But it was no substitute for real offshore experience.  The day or two in your ASA classes isn’t enough to get you ready for spending significant time offshore.

Hang out at the local sailing club or the dock if you don’t have one, and ask people if you can help crew their boats.  Learn the ropes, so to speak, then volunteer to crew on longer voyages like deliveries.

Now you’ll be more adequately prepared for the crazy things Mother Nature can throw at you!

Power, power, power.

Look at those little baby solar panels

I was living in this fantasy world where I wasn’t going to be using much electricity.  I didn’t want to run the engine much to charge the batteries and my solar panels were small – I thought I had sized them correctly, but they were woefully inadequate.

Electricity is quality of life.  Don’t be the stubborn ass I was and think you won’t use it.  You’ll want it.  Invest in larger solar panels and/or a wind generator.

Still try to cut down on your usage but your daily worries should not be focused on “I wonder how my solar panels will do today” – rather, you should be worried about “where will I go diving today?”

You’ll be glad you did after the first month.

Schlepping water cans sucks.

Now, some of you may have the luxury of having big water tanks that last months.  You may also have the luxury of going into a marina every couple of weeks and paying 25 cents per gallon of water.

I don’t really have either of those luxuries, and a lot of small-boat cruisers are in the same position.  I only have a 30-gallon tank and my unreliable engine can’t always take me into marinas that I can’t afford.

This means I have to load up my jerricans into the dinghy and search for fresh water.  These cans weigh about 40 pounds each when full!  I was okay with this at first, but after a month or two it became very tiring.  Especially after a half-mile hike with two of them in the Bahamas.  Another one of those quality-of-life things.

Design a rain catcher, and if you can afford the initial investment, a small desalinator will pay for itself in many ways.

Check all those hose clamps and double-clamp if able.

There are few stupid errors that will sink a boat, and thru-hull hoses are one of them.  The American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) does not require all thru-hull hoses to be double-clamped, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea.

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You should routinely inspect the clamps as well, in addition to all thru-hulls and hoses.  Put two clamps at each end if you have room for it.

I was sailing from Long Island, Bahamas, to Mayaguana when I noticed my bilge pump was constantly running.  Then I noticed some water above the cabin sole.  I was sinking!

After a nauseating inspection of all plumbing under the waterline, I found that the clamp securing the hose to the sink in the head had come undone.  It wasn’t rusted, it just wasn’t tight and the hose popped off, allowing seawater to rush in.  If I inspected these on a more regular basis, and perhaps if I had a second clamp on the hose, this could have been avoided.

Thankfully I was aboard when this happened!

(Second note: when you leave the boat unattended it’s a good idea to close all seacocks but the cockpit drains.)

Keep the menu simple!

My pre-cruising menu was all about simplicity, but it somehow evolved into grand plans of cooking elaborate meals…I had jars of artichoke hearts, fancy julienned peppers, cans of everything (really, everything) and menus to help prep it all.

Two big problems with this: Storage and Execution.

Small sailboats don’t have a lot of storage. The entire area under my settee was devoted to canned goods – enough to last, dare I say, a year.

Other storage areas were full of double-bagged flour – both wheat and white – I probably had twenty pounds of flour. Same with sugar.

Do you know how much of this I actually used? Yeah, guess.

While single-handing a small sailboat, cooking small, easy dishes is the best.

But even when I got to anchor, I had settled on a handful of easy dishes. Ones that didn’t make too much of a mess, didn’t take too much time, and didn’t use too much propane. Write that down.

The pantry now holds all the food supplies I need - no more hiding stupid stores all over the boat.

The pantry now holds all the food supplies I need – no more hiding stupid stores all over the boat.

So when I returned to the cruise over two years later, most of my fancy jars of whatever and canned goods had gone bad (at least well past the expiration date) so I was able to clean out the area under the settee and use that to store things that were much more difficult to access earlier. I was also able to clean out my “pantry”, which was previously completely full of oils, jars, baking supplies, bag upon bag of dried fruit, etc.

Armed with the knowledge of what I mostly cooked on my last voyage, I was able to provision appropriately, and now I can fit everything in my pantry – including the canned goods and flour! Wow that feels good, to have it all in one space, and free up other valuable storage room.

Experiment with what you’ll want to cook, and keep it simple!  I’ll have a resource on this website soon that contains everything in my galley and what I make.

Finally, it’s called cruising for a reason.

It’s kinda funny to look back on it now.

I embraced this cruising lifestyle for a reason – no schedules, go where the wind blows, etc.

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But yet I did have a schedule and was supposed to be in certain places by certain times.  I found myself rushing through some beautiful areas.  I was anchored off of Isla Caja de Muertos in Puerto Rico for less than twelve hours but I easily could have spent three days at this uninhabited island.  But I had a schedule to keep!

Especially after leaving this island, I was sailing at night under a new moon and was staring up at the stars when this feeling overcame me.  Why am I rushing?  What the hell am I doing?

Cruising gives you access to beaches and towns that are really only accessible by boat.  Unless you plan on doing laps around the Caribbean you’ll probably never be back there again.  Think of all the things you’re missing.

You went this far to alter your life and get the boat, now you need to learn how to fully take advantage of it.  My experiences became immensely better once I forced myself to not rush anything.

Take your time, see the sights, and talk to the people.

Fishermen mend nets on the beach. These nets are over a quarter of a mile long.

Haitian Fishermen

Now I’m Back At It

So after a fairly long hiatus, I’m sitting on my boat, in the boatyard in St Kitts, doing my best to embrace all of these things listed above.  I’m also finding new things, like how great it is to reorganize!  I was completely overstocked with parts and food – many of which rotted while the boat was in storage, and now I realize I don’t need many of these items.  It’s wonderful being organized better.

One other thing to add – and this wasn’t really a “lesson learned” for me, but I’m glad I did it – keep a journal of everything.  The things you’ll do and see will be one-of-a-kind.  Perhaps enough to self-publish your own book and earn a little extra income.

I’ll do a follow-up to this at the end of the season to see what else I come up with!

What do you old-timers have to add?

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