A circumnavigating catamaran

Swingin’ on a Star

One Year Departure Plan

Leaving land is complicated

There exists no perfect formula for leaving your shore based life and taking off on a sail around the world. It can not be the same for any two people, couples or families. However, your chances of actually succeeding increase greatly if you create a plan with hard deadlines. During the process you will run head long into hundreds of details you didn't address up front. It is amazing how deep and wide the roots go when you start to pull up the tree. We gave ourselves one year to go from land to sea.

Your skills are more important than the boat

Getting a safe and capable boat is certainly very important. However the boat doesn't sail itself and a competent skipper on a so so boat is much better than a crew that doesn't know what they're doing on the finest sailboat made.

With proper care, sailing off to the islands probably isn't initially much more dangerous than driving to work on the 405 in Los Angeles (maybe safer). The problem is that if something unpleasant happens there's no calling 911 on your cell phone, a greater level of self reliance is required. Ensuring the safety of one's family while on board a sailing vessel requires a tangible set of minimum skills. Without those skills you are likely to fall short in the process of outfitting a safe and reliable boat.

Many folks new to off shore sailing who are preparing to set out on an extended cruise spend far more time thinking about their dream boat than they do building their skills. One of the main reasons to travel in this way is to defocus on the material and refocus on experiences and relationships. It would seem that buying a dollar less boat and having a dollar more training, up to a point, would not only be more fulfilling and in spirit with the entire adventure, but also more effective.

We put together a skill development plan for ourselves side by side with our boat acquisition process. My guess is that we spent ten hours building cruising skills for every hour we spent looking into the boat to buy.

Anyone can sail a boat

Just because it is important to have solid skills doesn't make it hard. Unfortunately there are many who would rain on the parade of anyone with the dream of sailing the world with no initial experience. No one learns to drive a car overnight but everyone can learn fairly quickly. Sailing is similar. If you can find the time to apply yourself you can develop the diverse skills and confidence necessary to cruise the globe in a reasonable period of time.

Sailing is a subset of Cruising

Cruising is much more than sailing and, as so often is the case when outside of ones native society, resourcefulness is at a premium. That said a competent cruiser understands weather and how to predict it, navigation and piloting, use of electronics and radios, basic maintenance and repair of boat systems, and other boat oriented skills. A good cruiser also is a global citizen and requires flexible language skills, knowledge of different cultures, maritime legal experience and knowledge of bureaucracy in various nations, an understanding of world flora and fauna ("hey Mom, can I eat this?"), first aid and basic family medical skills ("oh no, did you eat that?!"), as well as a respect for the sea and its conservation. No one can be an expert in all of these areas but everyone cruising off shore should have some bearings in each category.

These skills don't come overnight and, with good on board resources, many can be developed as needed along the way. Preparation reduces risk and everyone has their own risk tolerance. If you blast off with no experience, you may find yourself in an awful boat and with no skills to handle situations that you could have otherwise easily avoided. If you are anal about the process your brain won't be ready for another 25 years at which point your body no longer will. The answer is somewhere in between and everyone will find a different point of safe departure. If you are a couple planning to hop from metropolis to metropolis, less preparation is needed, if you are a family of five planning to spend 10 weeks in the Amazon basin, more prep would seem to be in order.

Putting a plan together

For us it was a mixed set of needs. Randy had been sailing on various types and sizes of boats all of his life but was rusty and didn't have any formal cruising boat training. Hideko had never sailed before. When we tentatively decided to take the plunge we laid out a plan including a fair amount of professional training blended with hands on practice. This plan gave us enough preparation to feel confident but still got us out there in a year's time. The information below details our education process prior to setting sail.

Our One Year Training Plan

November 2005 - November 2006

Sailing Skills

We spent most of our training hours with Captain Peter Damisch at Blue Water Sailing. We highly recommend Captain Peter and his school. The experience was rigorous but we both feel very lucky to have the skills rather than a rubber stamp.

· ASA 101 - Basic Keel Boat

· ASA 103 - Basic Coastal Cruising

· ASA 104 - Bare Boat Charter

· ASA 105 - Coastal Navigation

· ASA 106 - Advanced Coastal Cruising

· Marine Radio Operator's Permit (MROP)

· IYT Coastal (MCA Recognized License)
(a slight step above ASA 106, this is the level that I would hope most cruisers achieve before venturing to distant islands, and it is now required to charter in many locales which previously accepted ASA 104)

· ASA 107 - Celestial Navigation

· MCA 200 ton Ocean (MCA Recognized License) 
and US Coast Guard 200 ton Masters License **
(this step is a little excessive for most folks but might come in handy for any couple crossing oceans or planning on running a chartering business at some point)

Diving Skills

We have taken diving courses at locations all over the planet. In retrospect I am fond of the thoroughness and safety inherent in the first world operators.

· Open Water *

· Advanced Open Water *

· Rescue Diver 
(this is a great rating to have for cruisers, you spend a lot of time in the water covering safety/emergency preparedness which can not be over rated.)

· Dive Master **
(This and Instructor are professional ratings and not really necessary, yet nice to have if you plan to have inexperienced guest who might want to try diving.)

· Dive Instructor **

Medical Skills

These course are dive related, though many great first aid CPR courses exist.

· Emergency First Response (this is basic first aid and CPR)

· Emergency First Response Instructor ** (not necessary but useful for dive instructors)

We completed all of the courses above during our one year preparation with the following exceptions:

*   Courses already completed prior to our training year
**  Courses we completed in our first year on board

Experience Building

We lived in Los Angeles and made use of various organizations in Marina Del Rey and the Caribbean during our preparation phase. Blue Water Sailing and Marina Sailing provided boats for charter in Marina Del Rey. Fairwind Yacht Club, a non profit outfit, gave us opportunities to work on boats and sail with other experienced sailors. We chartered through various companies including Sunsail, The Moorings and Voyage Yacht Charters.

Our less formal educational goals included the following activities:

· Join a local yacht club and help work on boats

· Day sail weekly on different boats

· Charter for 4 weeks on 4 different kinds of boats

· Read everything you can (books, magazines, online boards and users groups, etc.)

· Talk to real cruisers and experienced sailors (you will find a wide range of perspectives out there and each has a nugget of wisdom to share)

· Visit several boat shows to get a feel for the market and the types of tools available to the modern sailor (Miami and Annapolis in particular, but also Seattle and Oakland)

· Purchase a reference library for the boat covering the cruising topics we'd like/need to have on hand and read as much as possible

We assumed that our first year of cruising would bring many trials (and it certainly did). For this reason we chose to spend our first year cruising in the eastern Caribbean. The eastern Caribbean is fairly well developed with regard to cruising boats and most any service you may need can be found. It is an area where the longest passage you must make in the course of a trek from Florida to Trinidad is an overnight. We decided to save crossing oceans for year two.

The Swingin' on a Star Library

These are the reference books that we carry aboard.

· Nigel Calder's Cruising Handbook, Nigel Calder

· Tropical Cruising Handbook, Mark Smaalders & Kim des Rochers

· Chapman Piloting & Seamanship, Elbert S. Maloney

· The Annapolis Book of Seamanship, John Rousmaniere

· World Cruising Routes, Jimmy Cornel

· Dutton's Nautical Navigation, Thomas J. Cutler

· Current Nautical Almanac & Air Navigation Sight Reduction Tables Volumes I & II

· The American Practical Navigator, Nathaniel Bowditch

· Chart #1, Sailing Directions, Pilot Charts, Nav Rules — all free USA publications (or pay for them in print)

· Full complement of paper and electronic charts

· Cruising Guides and Lonely Planet Guides for various destinations

· Guide to Flags of the World, Firefly

· Sailboat Electrics Simplified, Don Casey

· The Boatowner’s Guide to Corrosion, Everett Collier

· Marine Diesel Engines, Nigel Calder

· Sailboat Hull and Deck Repair, Don Casey

· Your Offshore Doctor, Dr. Michael H. Beilan

· The Morrow Guide to Knots, Mario Bigon

· The Sailmaker’s Apprentice, Emiliano Marino

Notes from a family going cruising for the first time

Copyright 2006-2011 Randy & Hideko Abernethy, all rights reserved