Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Real Work

Two of Elias' favorite things about living at the dock - 1) his friends who live on their family's boat just down the way; and 2) lots of space available for art projects.

I imagine that a lot of people reading this blog have their own plans for setting off on a sailboat at some time in the future.

It's a common enough dream, after all, this sailing-the-world stuff.  And there's a high bar to acting on the dream, since you have to break your links to life ashore before you can set off on a new life afloat, so that the dreaming-about-it and planning-for-it stages typically last for years before the actually-doing-it stage arrives.

So while people are getting ready for making the jump, they're naturally interested in what they might be doing to prepare themselves.

The same answer always runs through my head when I hear people talking about what you can do to prepare for full-time sailing while you're still living on land.

My answer?  "Nothing much."  (Exceptions to follow, though!)

Travelling long distances on a sailboat is just an incredibly multifaceted, irreducible, grease-under-the-fingernails sort of thing to do.  You can't learn how to do it without doing it.  You can't know if you're going to like it without giving it a try.

So the only meaningful preparation that you can undertake is to go sailing.  You can only learn on the water.  That's where the real work of the life afloat takes place - the sea is where you slowly, and ineluctably, turn yourself into a sailor.  Every time you round a headland too close, or miss the tide through a pass, or wrap your anchor chain around coral, or put a brass fitting in your boat below the waterline, or let a full pot of coffee slide off a counter, you're getting ready to sail.

The very best thing that Alisa and I did when we were thinking about chucking it all to go sailing was to buy a 25-foot trailerable boat for $6,000.  We sailed the heck out of the Little Auk all around the northeast side of Kodiak, summer and winter.  And after a couple years of that, we knew we were ready for more.  Pelagic soon followed.

Maria Island, Tasmania.

OK, now for the exceptions I mentioned.  I will admit to three things that you might do to prepare for full-time sailing while you're still living on land.

The first two stem from the Mike's First Law of Travelling Under Sail: It's all about the people, and the boat stuff is mostly a distraction.

Kind of hyperbole, but it does get at a truth - the best predictor of how well you'll take to the life afloat is the strength of your relationship with your life partner (assuming that, like most people, you'll go to sea as a couple).  If your relationship is strong, you'll get through any number of miserable days on the water with a "we'll look back on this and laugh" mentality.  If your relationship isn't strong... well, it likely won't get any stronger at sea.

So the first thing you can do to get ready to live on your boat is to make sure you have a totally bitchin' relationship with the one you love.

The second thing you can do is to smooth out the rough edges of your own personality.

The little theater of the absurd that will be your home afloat will quickly see you stripped of all pretense and camoflage and, under the pressure of one learning experience too many, reveal you for the person you really are.  Won't it be nice to get to that point and find that you're revealed as a decent and considerate person?

All of which is to say that a little therapy now might make you easier to live with when the dream starts showing its ragged edges on the eigth day of some passage or another that you had planned to finish in six days.

And the third thing you can do to get ready?

Read How To Sail Around the World, by Hal Roth.  It's the only "how to sail" book I know that's any good.


  1. spot on mikeeee! although i havent read the book you mentioned...
    love from a-low

  2. hey Paul - glad you liked it... during your 40+ day passage to the Maquesas, I'm sure you knew all about how important the people side of sailing becomes...