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Old 02-09-2010, 10:19 AM   #1
Join Date: Feb 2010
Posts: 4

Hi everyone,

I've been lurking for a few days, reading the threads after deciding a week ago to fulfil a childhood dream to take a year off sailing around the world. Thing is, timing's not right at the moment (have a 9 month old and 4 teenagers) so am planning to build up to this trip over the next 8 or so years.

I have no blue water experience but long history of successful dinghy racing so am planning to develop the skills over quite a long period!

Next year I'd like to crew on a Sydney-Hobart return and then maybe do this a few times. Next year we'll hire a little trailer-sailer, 22-25ft or so and spend a week in gippsland, the year after step up a bit and spend a couple of weeks in whitsundays and do this a few more times before we head off. I want to get some big boat miles under the belt before heading off into the deep blue. My idea is to get a 45-50ft ketch that's already live-aboard equipped in 2017.

One thing I've been staggered about is the level of technical and mechanical expertise that's involved in keeping a long term cruiser afloat! So, I've been thinking and would like to get your input... for a landlubber who knows how to steer and trim a sail what are the key skills I can learn about OFF the water that will give us the best chance of having a fun year at sea (and avoid dockside repair sharks!)

Things I've been thinking about include:
  • diesel and gearbox maintenance/teardown/rebuild
  • sail repairs
  • epoxy/glass magic
  • marine electronics
  • navigation (but I can always just rely on GPS right??)
  • "staying happily married at sea" course
  • seamanship skillls (e.g. never had to cope with seaway, big current, Cape Horn type storm)
  • planning a passage, dealing with authorties
  • provisioning, cooking at sea
  • equipment and safety
  • OMG... this list is getting crazy already!
What are your thoughts and in what order would be helpful do you think?

Am I being too ambitious? Do you think we need to do a few ocean passages prior to setting off for a year?



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Old 02-09-2010, 11:16 AM   #2
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Welcome to the forums Ric - make yourself at home. You are sure to get some input on your questions shortly.

My short answer is; don't worry TOO MUCH about the complicated technical stuff - just ensure a basic knowledge. Know your navigation!!


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Old 02-09-2010, 01:07 PM   #3
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Some of my suggestions:

diesel and gearbox maintenance/teardown/rebuild

Much too ambitious, WRT teardown/rebuild. You get a boat with a decent engine and learn how to maintain it properly. I.e., regular oil changes, proper fuel filters, be sure the fuel tank is clean and the fuel is clean before you start and keep it that way. You don't do an engine rebuild on a one-year or two-year cruise, and you shouldn't have to if the engine was in good condition when you started. Gearbox? If it's not right you need an expert. Pure and simple.

sail repairs

Minor sail repairs are no big deal. Go visit a sail loft for a couple days to get an idea of how they're sewn and laid out. Get a sail palm, good sail needles and thread, some two-sided carpet tape for the emergency repair. More important is the condition of the sails when you start out, and proper sail handling and sail trim as you are sailing. The better you treat the sails, the more prudent your sail trim, the lower the risk that you would need major repairs. In our 18 years we had few sail repairs, and the most serious was because we should have been using a storm sail, not our mainsail, in 50 knots of wind.

epoxy/glass magic

Again, not a big deal. You can learn quite a bit just by observing work done in a boat yard. However, be sure you're observing the pros, not some do-it-yourselfer cobbling something together. Some of the DIY guys are very, very good, but until you can tell the difference between the good and the bad, watch the pros. Accidents happen, so you are likely to need to make some repairs, but again, for minor problems in a well-found boat, you don't need magic.

marine electronics

This is a big issue, and one I'm not the best person to give advice on. The most expensive isn't necessarily the best (I won't go into my long rant about that, but sometime in the future, maybe). My opinion is: you find the one that is most recommended by cruisers who have used the equipment extensively. You then get that for your boat (if it's not already on the one you buy), and use it as much as possible for at least 30 days before you plan to leave. "burn in", defective units will show up problems rather quickly under most circumstances. Most of the gear on SV Watermelon lasted the entire 18 years we sailed her, except for what was fried by a lightning strike (and even some of that was repaired!)

navigation (but I can always just rely on GPS right??)

Navigation is not simply punching in waypoints on a GPS. In my opinion, this is one of the most important skills that you AND your wife need to learn. This is coastal cruising, reading charts, calculating and following a rhumb line, being able to translate and relate the 2D chart to the 3D scene you are approaching. This is something one needs to train themselves for, it is not intuitive.

"staying happily married at sea" course

You wife needs to learn to sail as well. She needs to have her own voice and you have to know how to listen to her. There should not be rigid gender roles on board (but some jobs are "pink" because I like doing them, some jobs are "blue" because Peter is better at them and doesn't mind doing them, and we have friends whose blue and pink jobs are the opposite of ours). And you can't yell at her.

seamanship skillls (e.g. never had to cope with seaway, big current, Cape Horn type storm)

I don't think that any sailor has encountered even a significant number of difficult or problematical sailing conditions before setting out on their first two dozen passage. What is important is a well-found boat, a knowledge of sail trim, an understanding of weather in general and how your boat behaves in various weather situations. Good navigation skills - how close to land you are, how fast you will move, etc. And calm.

planning a passage, dealing with authorties

Planning a passage isn't so terrible, but remember, if your boat averages 6 knots, plan on a 5 knot passage. And add 12 hours in case you arrive just at sunset. Dealing with authorities isn't a big deal, so long as you (a) dress conservatively (no bathing suits, running shorts, bare chests or raggy t-shirts; ( recognize that they are the boss, and you must complete forms exactly as they wish; © smile. And bring a book or magazine with you so you don't get annoyed when they take their time. In fact, you do the last and you will often be the first one to be cleared, and quickly. It is the rare official that sets out to make your life miserable, though there are a lot of unknowledgeable ones, and you can't argue with them. But rarely did we encounter any problems at all - the worst were those who were looking for a little bit of "baksheesh" (cash gift). I don't think that we encountered it more than two or three times, and only once did we feel the need to make a little "contribution" to an official's ** fund. Not the issue you're worried about as long as you observe the law.

provisioning, cooking at sea

Practice. You've got plenty of time. It isn't rocket science. Your first forays are going to be coastal, probably weekend trips, and that's when you'll learn.

equipment and safety

Read through here, read lots more, and ask questions of us. You should take your time learning about this.

OMG... this list is getting crazy already!

Do you think we need to do a few ocean passages prior to setting off for a year?

How did you learn to drive a car? Buy a car and immediately get in it and drive cross-country? Yes, I think you need to sail as much as possible on weekends, a vacation or two, before thinking of setting out. And a few ocean passages as crew on somebody else's boat will help you get an idea of how things are done, right and wrong ways.

Finally, you aren't even going to get halfway around the world in a year. Those we met who took a one- or two-year sabbatical succeeded in getting from California to Australia. To expect to get further is unrealistic or working 'way too hard for it to be fun.

Pretty much how we did it.

Fair winds,

In 1986 we went cruising for a few years. After 20 years and 50+ countries and several oceans, we are STILL "cruising for a few years".

MV WATERMELON (New) | Cruiser's Dictionary, free ebook

= Cruiser's Dictionary, North America,
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Old 02-09-2010, 01:32 PM   #4
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Hello Ric,

You're right mate 'tis a long list, but my view is that you can really reduce it a good deal. Considering the time factor between now and when you get close to your first voyage, I would say forget about getting too involved in the electronics side of things, for now at least. All those shiny Gizmo's you see aboard boats today will be obsolete by the time you are ready to sail. I can remember the first mobile 'phones, they were the size of house bricks and weighed about the same. Now look at them, you can take 'photos and get on the Internet with them!! I suspect there are still many advances to be made as for as boat electronics are concerned, so personally I wouldn't bother until much nearer the time.

When I lived ashore and owned a bungalow, I was horrified when I got a quote from a builder to re-roof it when the roof started to leak (built in 1910) I asked a local roofing firm if I could help them out as a general labourer and dogsbody for a few weekends. It was a small firm and they were glad of the extra help for no wages. Six weeks later I'd picked up enough knowledge of the little tricks of the trade, how to lay the battens, overlap the roofing felt, set the ridge tiles etc: and I re-roofed my bungalow. Boat yards are good places to find people who might need a hand fibre glassing or even stripping a diesel down. Before I left England I helped a fellow put a bow thruster in. Well! well! so that's how they mark out the area to cut the hole in the bow for the through tube!! Reckon I could do that now..

Your Sydney-Hobart and trailer sailing plans look good. Basic navigation techniques you can learn first in a class ashore, maybe out of season night school?

Don't worry about dealing with foreign authorities yet either. Half the time they can't make their minds up and change the rules when it suits them. When the time comes, forums like this one are great for current info on rules and regulations in other lands.

The above is just my personal opinion,but if you're a reasonably practical bloke you will pick up enough knowledge and experience, especially if you can get some practical sailing in. Sydney-Hobart I know can be hard going at times, so with a couple of those under your belt at least you'll have a fair idea of offshore sailing.

Now cooking at sea...I've got no idea! I've been wandering around now for 13 years, still a bloody awful cook and glad to see land sometimes..at least I can eat ashore..

Good luck with your plans....Saxon
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Old 02-09-2010, 03:04 PM   #5
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Good, helpful replies JeanneP and Saxon.

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Old 02-11-2010, 10:00 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by Lighthouse View Post

Good, helpful replies JeanneP and Saxon.
Wow, I second that. Thanks so much for your insights, you've really reduced the "trepidation factor" !!!

Saxon: thanks for your practical tips on getting alongside those who already know the ropes and just watching. I've just finished renovating my 1950's timber house and extending it from a little 3 bedder to 5 bed plus study and deck and apart from some major structural stuff I did most of it by watching what the "tradies" did. Great tip!

JeanneP: I never expected such a well thought out and systematic response! Thanks for being so diligent for the dilettante! Great tips on all aspects of the seemingly endless list of skills everyone on this forum seems to possess. My wife loved your comments and I need to work out ways for her to "own" the adventure as well.

So... it looks like practical blue water experience, hanging around the docks and lending a hand and a couple of Nav courses are the go.

Thanks again for your input.



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