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redbopeep 08-29-2008 06:30 PM

Dear all,

I'd like to open up some good discussion on the realities of solo sailing. Opening disclaimer: I wouldn't consider solo sailing (passage making) unless in emergency. I like doing things "with" other people. I like shared experiences. I'm also a realist about things like "two heads are better than one" and the fact that two bodies are better than one when it comes time to shorten sail!

I have a sneaking suspicion that the thinking that one has to circumnavigate the globe "alone" if one doesn't already have built in crew (spouse, good friend, relative, etc) actually keeps some folks in their armchairs rather than out there sailing and preparing for a shared/crewed voyage. I see from many postings and from meeting/talking with numerous coastal sailors that sailing solo is a fact of life for many people. Usually undesired fact. So many folks have told me "I just don't have anyone to take with me." and "I don't want to sail with strangers." Then theres the "my wife and I had a dream, but now she doesn't want to go..." My heart heart breaks when I hear that one.

Some people say they want the independence and sense of achievement. Other folks don't want to deal with conflicting crew personalities or have some fear of the technical or sailing shortcomings of others, some just don't know another person to take along, and yes, some plan to sail with spouse or significant other and then things fall apart and they find themselves alone. Bottom line--there are a lot of solo sailors in the harbor and coastal cruising. There are significantly fewer solo cruisers voyaging the world's oceans--and significantly more stories of solo voyages ending in tragedy. But yet, it seems to be a "romantic" notion that many would-be sailors have forming in their minds.

Since I believe that, for the average sailor who would undertake ocean crossing, sailing solo is considerably more risky (sheer exhaustion, navigation, handling emergencies alone...) than sailing with other folks, I'd like some good discussion here. Have you undertaken passage making solo? What are your thoughts about it? What are the circumstances that you believe sailing solo is justifiable and safe? How can a solo cruiser balance the enjoyment of sailing alone/independence with the very real safety issues that will crop up? How do you decide when to take on crew and when to sail alone? If you had a spouse or other person close to you that was ready, willing, and able to join you on your passages--would you still sail solo? If you are a successful solo cruiser, what are the traits that you think have contributed to your success? When would you advocate for others to sail solo?

What are your thoughts? Looking forward to good, thoughtful discussion and learning a bit about the successful solo cruiser.

imagine2frolic 08-29-2008 10:17 PM

OH MY!!!!!!!

I started with the dream of sailing away with my wife. She refused to learn to handle the boat properly. Her actual statement to me was no man is going to tell me what to do. Well I suggested lessons from a club, or something. This became an issue. One day she said to me well maybe I just won't go.

After friends not showing up for my first 6 months of owning a boat leaving me to eat my lunch while still docked, and my wife's conflicting working schedule, and then this statement. My heart sank so deep that my dream of 28 years was vanishing.

The next day I took the boat out alone, and I continued to go alone several times a week. I sailed S.F. Bay, and the wind on a summer day hovers around 30-+knots. I was reefing, changing headsails, practicing gybing for hours on end. I learned to become one with the boat, and then I sailed single-handed into the slip one day. I stepped off onto the dock gently, and secured Frolic. I looked deep within my own soul at that moment. I declared my self a free man at that moment. A year later My wife found herself standing on the dock waving goodbye to me.

5 years, and 11 months earlier we had met. She asked me what my dream was that first night. I told her I had just bought a business.I would soon buy a sailboat, in 6 years I would sell the business, and sail away. She said it had been her dream too to sail away. That was 20 years ago we met. I turned my dream into a reality. I don't know what happened to her dream. I think she traded it in for a picket fence, and fly away vacations. In the very depths of my heart I hope she has found a new dream, and is living it right now.

That is how I got started single-handing. The safety issues, and all the other questions will have to wait. My work day is over, and I can hear Imagine calling me. It's time to go home to my boat.>/wub.gif

Istioploos 08-29-2008 10:26 PM

Well, I for one am a solo sailor. So let me add my two cents worth to this discussion.

I used to sail with my family, wife and 2 daughters, and that was great fun. But daughters grew and developed their own lives and wife has some time limits, nowhere near mine, to the amount of cruising she can take. So, I started looking for crew. Not any crew but people I have known and preferably had sailed together with before. I noticed that many friends were enthusiastic about sailing trips but as the time of departure got near they often back out for all sorts of reasons. So, I said to myself that maybe, if I can learn to single-handle, then I can tell my friends where and when I am going and invite them to join me.

It was not easy to start sailing solo. The first time I had to maneuver, anchor, and moor stern-to in a crowded Greek harbor with a cross wind was almost traumatic bur I persevered. My first, solo long distance came from necessity. My friend had to fly home because of a family crisis. I was in Sardinia and had to get the boat back to Greece. The weather was not good and I had to wait for a window. While sailing I listened to scary weather reports. But again, I did return safely if not on time.

That was over 12 years ago. Since then I have realized several things:

1. What started as expediency has turned out to be a source of great pleasure and relaxation. An almost metaphysical experience.

2. Not being dependent on crew (friends, family) turns out a great motivation for them to join me. I often, now take a trip without seeking crew, just because I do enjoy it so much.

3. It is true that when you are by yourself the margins for error are much, much smaller. You have stay very focused and plan every move way in advance and have a whole mental list of contingencies. I do find that when I am sailing with crew, especially with good crew, I can afford to concentrate less. Not sure if this is good or bad. Again, when sailing with friends one, no matter how much he/she resists, falls under the time constrains of the crew. In my 40 years sailing experience I find that time constrains along with panic (and crew often does panic), are the two most dangerous conditions. I never thought of this before, but now I firmly believe, as paradoxically as it sounds, that often I am safer when solo sailing. When I found myself in an forecasted force 11 wind (I started with engine because there was no wind, whether deteriorated within an hour) all I could think was that at least did not have to deal with a panicked crew, only the skipper.

4. I realize that solo sailing is not everyone's cup of tea. But once you learn how to do it, it expands greatly your sailing experience and it does make you a much better, and yes, safer sailor.

5. When I sail now with family and friends, we both enjoy each others company much more. I do not need crew, so sailing with crew is optional and not a necessity and that makes it more fun for everyone.

Fair winds!

Bill 08-29-2008 11:43 PM

Just to address the first part of your post, the numbers are against you. Despite the more-than-justified enthusiasm of cruisers for the lifestyle, the percentage of the world's population that want to do it is probably pretty small, especially when they find out what it entails. Then from that small number subtract the ones who cannot or will not, for whatever reasons, and those who have tried and failed. Then from that smaller number, figure the odds of two or more of them winding up at the same time and place with compatible personalities and reasonably similar plans that can be coordinated. Not much left. If you consider further the number of men and women left who have the intestinal fortitude to go it alone anyway, it's a wonder there's anyone out there at all.

And yet, there they are, together and/or alone. I'm impressed. I have no experience of successful solo sailing and I look forward to hearing from more of those who have.

MMNETSEA 08-30-2008 06:42 AM

2 Attachment(s)
Although Yoda was a fictional character on a fictional journey somewhere

Attachment 600

- Perhaps he had studied

Abraham Maslow's Self Actualization when he said 'Do or do not. There is no try."

Characteristics of Self Actualizing People


Realistically oriented, SA persons have a more efficient perception of reality, they have comfortable relations with it. This is extended to all areas of life. SA persons are unthreatened, unfrightened by the unknown. they have a superior ability to reason, to see the truth. They are logical and efficient.

Many of the well known Single Handers fit that characteristic and other's in Maslow's study of Healthy people :- SELF ACTUALIZATION

Single Handing across the oceans :-

SINGLE HANDING is not as uncommon as one might believe. Cruising single-handers I can number off hand at least 20 who are not mentioned in Wikipedia, some I value as very close friends - these are well balanced people who are comfortable within themselves, certainly comfortable with their ability to single-hand - comfortable to maintain and repair their boats. Having Singled-Handed on relatively short passages - max 14 days. One finds that there is so much to do that you are not lonely - what with modern day communication : radio - emails, good books, music - the ever changing sea. When gunk holing in anchorages in interesting places - people will visit and one will join them ashore to explore lives and culture.

How about this little stretch of sand on the beautiful coast of Mozambique - often stopped there on my way somewhere, check out the shelter and the dugout canoe.

Attachment 601

babylonlarry 08-30-2008 05:07 PM

I have been singlehanding almost exclusively since I bought my boat in 2000. I was apprehensive of being able to handle contingencies on short offshore passages and when I was fitting out the boat, so I posted a crew wanted message on the SSCA board. A guy woke me with a phone call one night and talked himself aboard. The next day I thought about the restrictions that another person's - and a stranger at that - presence could impose on schedule and routine and called him back and cancelled.

On my first overnight runs from Florida to the Caribbean, I would set the alarm clock but be unable to sleep due to nervous concerns about traffic and other hazards. Once between Turks and Caicos and the DR, I got up during a "sleep" period and saw a coastal freighter crossing within a mile.

After running the rhumb between St Croix and Margarita and encountering little traffic and sleeping at will for an hour or two at a time, I became comfortable with the idea of running without a watch at all times.

I have always had an easier time sailing by myself, than with friends in the cockpit sometimes being in the way of the tasks necessary to sail. I enjoy the peace and not having to accommodate to another crew member's wants, but would like to have someone to share it all with. I have been a sociable loner most of my life.

On my last passage from the VI to Florida, I slept as usual and in the Great Northwest Channel, there was lots of traffic. Once I awoke and had a freighter on a reciprocal course close enough to hear his engines!!! That was scary and time for coffee and no more sleep.

Singlehanded passagemaking is inherently more risky than a fully crewed passage. Although I do not consider myslef foolhardy, I am willing to accept the risks.

imagine2frolic 08-30-2008 09:24 PM

I was told if I could sail S.F. Bay I could sail anywhere.....HAHAHAHAHAHAHA NOT much truth in that. Mother Ocean will nurture, or spank you all in a day. Your behaviour matters not to her. She has her own moods, and you will learn to cope, or go home.

As I motored out of the marina with my wife standing on the dock. I was afraid to look back. At this pioint in my life there was so much to fear. I wasn't running from life I was trying to adjust into a better stance to take on life's challenges.

I remember approaching the Golden Gate Bridge the day before Thanksgiving. It was a crisp, and beautiful fall day as I motorsailed out to sea. My mind was wondering if I was making the correct decision. I was leaving everything I ever knew. I was leaving comfort for the unknown. I looked up to witness the bottom of the bridge. I could hear the car's tires whistling along, and I asked myself. Is this what you really want to do? I looked back viewing the city front, Alcatraz, Sausalito, and I replied to myself softly without speaking....YES!

I dead reckoned my position every couple of hours, and then backed it with the gps. The night was cold, but I had found that doing my position had made me violently ill. I began to dread going below. It was like entering a chamber of death. I was questioning my answer of YES. I was questioning myself. OMG what relief to come back into the cockpit to the fresh air. It was late, and I was tired.

Sleep would not visit me. The cold kept me tossing, and turning. Add my nerves on top of the cold. Then the bakers alarm would go off. For 2 days motoring at low rpms depending on current going south, and finally wind. My sickness was passing. I have eaten so very little. I am ravenous. I never thought a ham sandwhich could taste so good. There is mercy after all. I am finally really sailing. I am seeing Big Sur for the first time from sea. Glimpses here, and there of the road I have driven so often. Frolic is doing 6 knots, and all is good.

The wind builds, and I tear the leech bringing down the big headsail. I hoist the working jib, and Frolic is singing her song of the bow as we travel. I sit on the forward hatch with my harness on, and sew. I sew for three hours by hand, and I have to admit it looks pretty good. It's 9am as I look around I can see homes scattered amongst the bluffs.

Ever so slowly the wind eases, and I raise the big headsail again. My stitching looks good from the deck. This is living, this is how I want to live. I gybe back toward land. I begin to approach Morro Bay, and the wind slips away to nothing. I fire up the Atomic Bomb, and set a course for Morro. Fuel is dwindling, and down to fumes as I enter the harbor at 3am.

I ask a fishing boat where I can tie up. He tells me the empty slip next to him belongs to his other boat which will not be back. I secure Frolic, and sleep the sleep of the dead. The morning sounds of a working dock cause me to rise early. I am told where the showers are, and it is fantastic. The warmth of the water rinsing me clean from nearly 3 days of sailing. Now for some warm food from the restaraunt. I place an order to go, and as I stand there. I getting a familiar feeling, and it is not a pleasant one. I am seassick as I stand on tierra firma....OMG will this ever go away?

Nausikaa 09-02-2008 09:12 AM

What an interesting discussion with some fantastic responses.

Why indeed do we sail solo? Given that I enjoy sailing in the company of others as much as I enjoy sailing solo I would say, in my case, that I am prepared for either eventuality - I just like to get out to sea. However, that answer is too simplistic because, given the choice, I would opt to sail alone but spend my time in port in good company.

I enjoy being in port or lying to anchor in a sheltered bay, taking life easy and being in good company. This is a time for exploring new places and socialising.

At sea I enjoy being alone or sailing with a proactive, young person who is keen to learn the ropes. I like solo-sailing as it gives me a great degree of satisfaction. It is not just a question of getting the job done but of being able to do it without assistance. It is also a feeling of freedom as I am not responsible for anyone elses well being. But it is more than that; it is an opportunity to reflect and distance oneself from the stresses of life. I regard myself as a teamplayer but that does not mean that I cannot function when alone.

There is a great difference between being alone and being lonely. As long as one does not suffere from lonliness, solo-sailing is a wonderful way to reduce stress and have the satisfaction of doing a job well.

Aye // Stephen

Swagman 09-02-2008 10:08 AM


Originally Posted by Nausikaa (Post 25006)
What an interesting discussion with some fantastic responses.

Quite agree.

I've never completed a real passage solo but like most have to say I've enjoyed the satisfaction of short coastal hops, managing everything the elements throws at you single handed.

It's man, craft, elements. All fun.

But here I am going to stoke the fire on this discussion, as I've never ever cat napped to get through a night when in charge of a yacht nor have I ever not had an adequate watch system with a lookout. I think anyone who does not maintain a lookout is taking unacceptable risks by personal choice, and to my mind that is simply not a right anyone has.

It's not that I'm against anyone else experiencing a solitary existance - or indeed breaking speed sailing records around the globe. I simply think its wrong to create a solo experience when you are moving an object across an ocean and using or crossing routes others are also travelling. If anyone wants to break a record - do it with crew.

And if another wants a spiritual connections arising from time alone, then consider doing it on a mountaintop or in a cave or even on some day sails. But not at night, and P L E A S E not across the path of my yacht.



redbopeep 09-06-2008 06:29 PM

I nice quote I just ran across:

"For one thing, I was no longer alone; a man is never alone with the wind-and the boat made three." - Hilaire Belloc

Calliste 09-07-2008 12:59 AM


Originally Posted by redbopeep (Post 25181)
I nice quote I just ran across:

"For one thing, I was no longer alone; a man is never alone with the wind-and the boat made three." - Hilaire Belloc

Hi All, if I didn't start out sailing solo, I would never have made the open ocean passages, that I did. I just have not ever found crew that could go, when I was ready, to go. Bad timing, Huh ?

My solo boating started early at 8 years old, in Morro Bay, CA. Even at that time I would invite a friend to go with me, but few ever did, so I just learned to accept it, with the saying in my head,,, " If it is to be, it is up to me " !

Once I was out there doing it, something became clear to me, it is that I do need to walk the edge, from time to time, and nothing does it better for me, than solo sailing on a long ocean passage.

Of course I have my ship rules, while underway, established from what I have read and studdied, then modified them to fit the passage.

What nobody told me was the huge amount of work that solo sailors have to do, with out crew help. How surprised I was by this.

As for the watch standers, somewhere I realized that it takes two boats not looking out, to have a collision between them, on the high seas.

One of my fears, is that I might cause some one else to die, by my actions , while I was living my dream, of sailing away into the sunset.

It brings me to tears, the thought that if I lost a crew, I might have to confront the family and loved ones, with the news that there was an accident, and they won't be coming back.

Douglas, S/V Calliste , Singapore

islandseeker 09-07-2008 05:31 AM

Sometimes it's either sail solo or not at all. If it comes down to living the dream or not, there's only one right decision...Live it!>/cool.gif

tel 09-08-2008 12:00 AM

I have a frined (aged in his sixties) who sails solo from time to time. Not just around the bay - around the Pacific. A couple of years ago, I sailed with him from Hobart to the Bay if Islands in New Zealand and then flew home. He contintued alone to Fiji and then to other places. His wife flies in from Hobart to join him at island destinations, but does not enjoy ocean sailing. I think it boild down to personality. My fried in a calm, rational engineer who has been sailing most of his life. He is happy to sail with a known crew (me) but does not take strangers on board for long trips. He would prefer to sail alone. He is a capable sailor whose personality does not require company for long periods. On the other hand he is pleasant company to sail with. So to me it boils down to a few things - confidence, capability, an introverted personality, and a need to venture. ....Tel

Calliste 09-09-2008 09:33 PM

Hi Redbopeep ,,,,, as an after thought ,,,,, I forgot to mention about the San Francisco Bay, Singlehanded Sailing Society,

as they probably have a heap of information, on solo sailing ,,,,,, located at:

Now that I am married to an enthuastic sailing partner, and when we sail together, I am required to sail the boat "her way" , not my usual tried and proven, way.

Douglas, S/V Calliste , Singapore

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