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Making Your Cruising Dream A Reality

Q: What advice do you have for people who want to go cruising, but cannot decide when to leave?

A: The answer is simple. If I had started my sailing career today being a veteran sailor, I don't believe I would have left the dock at all, ever! The more I learned about what a boat should look like, how big it should be, the right gear, the training needed, funds needed, piracy on the high seas, the requisite and endless to-do lists, books, blogs, and seemingly endless advice from the "gallery", the more it seems that what we had done when we cast the dock lines off in Cape Town harbor in 1992 was insanity! Looking back now, I am thrilled that this particular "treasure trove" of information was unavailable to us in the third world because had it been, we would still be in Cape Town reading about other people's sailing adventures!

When we left Cape Town, I (Estelle) had no idea how to sail. We did do a sailing course with an instructor one weekend but it never sunk in that 'world cruising' is not quite like a day sail, you know...when you can actually get away from the nightmare rocking and sea sickness. Navigation was merely a stack of charts taking up space in my saloon and passage making was never discussed...or was it?

I was astonished when at around 5 o'clock in the afternoon on our first passage I learned that there will be no stopping for a hot bath and cocktail and that I have to cook while underway. Cooking on the high seas (high being the operative word around the Cape) was like trying to keep the tea in a full teacup on the back of a bucking bronco. The stove (or cooker as they are more frequently called) was swinging on it's gimbals like a drunken sailor, splattering hot gruel all over my (until then) spotless galley. The pot seemed like a living, breathing deranged beast, determined to tip it's scalding hot contents all over me! I had dressed in my oilskins to protect myself from the flying food as I was determined that the crew WILL eat a hot meal. As I was trying to dodge yet another incident with the pot and it's projectiles for which I had developed an intense hatred by then, I remember thinking..."Is this for real"?

Before setting off, I had never even read a book about the subject and did not think about it much. I was absolutely ignorant...I did not know what I did not know! I was merely a passenger going on an adventure on a boat...what more did I need to know? Even with all the commotion of quitting our jobs, selling or giving all our stuff away, renting the house, employing an accountant to take care of our financial affairs (in those days we did not have computers), saying our goodbyes, it never really sunk in and all I can say is: "Thank the good Lord for small mercies" for had I been fully schooled in the art of sailing I would never have believed that I was ready. 

Stephen did plan and prepare. He set up our nest egg and cruising kitty, fitted the boat out with the best equipment we could afford, and planned the route and timing. Unfortunately, even the best laid plans sometimes don't quite work out. Within the first two years our nest egg was depleted almost overnight when our South African currency crashed, our dinghy and outboard were stolen twice, the brand new top of the line generator was such a nightmare that we pitched it over the side eventually and our cruising shoot was torn to ribbons. It put a huge dent in our cruising budget but even so, we checked and adjusted and made do with less, worked along the way and altogether lived a simpler but rich life. Life is full of obstacles, whether on land or sea...only life at sea makes it a little more adventurous, if unpredictable.       

So the lesson here is: People, stop making to-do lists! Go sail your boat. Bond with it! Forget the books, websites, forums, and armchair sailors' advice and get some personal time with your boat and then leave. The time will never be right enough, you will never have enough money, you will never know enough and you will never be prepared enough, so just leave. The decision to go cruising is not a matter of fate. It is a conscious decision. Just do it! You will never regret it, that much I do know!

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