Landlubber to Cruiser in 3 easy steps
July 12, 2009 11:07 AM   Subscribe

Long term goal, become a permanent solo sailboat cruiser. Immediate goal: I just want to learn to sail and maintain a sailboat proficiently. Advice?

1)Long term, as I said, I want the freedom of a permanent (or long term) mostly solo cruising lifestyle... and also the chance to fish, snorkel, scuba dive, travel the world, see new places... and so on.

2) As a dream that sounds well and good, but the reality is that I am a mid 20 something with limited sailing and sea going experience (almost none).

So lets change #2 now, in a financially responsible manner and without disrupting my current lifestyle, and then see if a few years from now #1 still sounds so appealing.

Advice on the larger goal is welcome (How to finance a boat, where to buy a boat, skills to learn so as to maintain income while sailing around the world, how to learn boat maintenance/diesel motor repair, certifications and other trainings to get, books to read etc)

But right now I am primarily focused on the fundamentals of learning to sail ANY sailboat, and eventually, an ocean worthy vessel, by myself

I do live near a very large man-made lake but the US Coast Guard Aux does not have any classes for ANYTHING, let alone sailing, scheduled near me for the remainder of this year. There are some classes for non-sail boats on the coast (about 3-5 hours away depending), but maybe there are some more preliminary steps I could take? A boating club?

Basically: What is going to responsibly and affordably get me the taste of manning my own vessel, being out on the water by myself and the skills and experience needed to build upon so I can discover if this is something I want to pursue further.
posted by DetonatedManiac to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Start out small. Find out if there is a local sailing club, and contact someone there (there probably is, if the lake you're near is very large). See if they offer basic sailing lessons, and go learn how to sail a sunfish or hobiecat. If you like that, join the club, get to know people with boats, and start spending more time sailing. Once you're proficient, offering to help crew for a race would probably be welcome and a great way to gain more experience.

Depending on how far away your long term goal is, buy a small-ish boat to sail on your local lake, and go from there. Lots of people start out with small boats and continually upgrade over the years as their finances and available free time allows.
posted by entropic at 11:16 AM on July 12, 2009

The book, Sailing Small: Inspiration and Instruction for the Pocket Cruiser is a wonderful book of personal essays by people who have done exactly what you want to do. The writers discuss how they learned to sail, the pros and cons of various boats, and their experiences sailing. Definitely worth getting.
posted by jayder at 11:19 AM on July 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

If there's no sailing school near you then you're going to need to take sailing vacations, starting with a learn-to-sail vacation, ideally to a US Sailing or ASA certified school. Start with the Basic Keelboat and Basic Cruising courses and work up to Bareboat Cruising.

If you get through Basic Cruising by this winter you could then fly down to St. Martin and rent the Beneteau First 21'7 (glossy brochure w pics) from at Orient Beach for a few days. They don't require bareboat certification, and it's a perfect boat for one sailor to take up to Anguilla (just 6nm) and down to St Barths (12nm or so).
posted by nicwolff at 2:07 PM on July 12, 2009

This is my opinion, and is only an opinion.

Small boats (Sunfish, Lasers) are the best to learn on (Used Sunfish are sometimes free to someone who will take them). On a small boat, you can push the boat beyond it limits and dump it without worrying about it. You can adjust the sails by hand instead of through a block. When you get hit by the boom while jibing, and it is a when, it won't knock you off into the water. You will learn how to feel and read the wind and your boat. You won't be stuck with big maintenance and storage costs. Getting on the water may be as simple as strapping the boat to the roof of your car and heading to the lake, giving you more time to sail.

These kinds of small boats won't teach you about jibs, spinnakers, engine repair, and etc. of the larger boats, but you can learn that later because you'll actually know how to sail.

What you should NOT do is buy a boat and a book, take them to a lake on a sunny day, and try to teach yourself how to sail. This could be disastrous, but more likely it will just be bloody frustrating and not fun.

What you should do is go down to that local man-made lake and start talking to people who sail. Ask them where you can rent a small boat for the day and where you can find someone to teach you how to sail. There may not be any official sailing classes, but there will always be someone who will teach you how to sail.
posted by 517 at 4:07 PM on July 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Like 517 said. If there is a sailing club at the lake, I'm sure people will offer to take you out. I learned to sail by showing up to regattas. There was always a boat that needed extra crew. More times than not, I was invited to a restaurant/bar afterwards. Some great times.
posted by JABof72 at 5:54 PM on July 12, 2009

Definitely small. I'd go for something with a jib, versus a sunfish or a laser. An old lightning would probably be perfect. Actually a Bluejay would be perfecter. Try it without the jib first, then when you get comfortable add the jib.

If you needed to teach yourself to if you absolutely have to. Maybe videos or things like that? It will take you longer but it's possible. Better to find someone to teach you though.
posted by sully75 at 6:15 PM on July 12, 2009

I learned how to sail on a Laser, and I can't recommend it enough. Small and light enough for a 12-year old to man solo, yet it's used in the Olympics. I've also sailed Sunfish and El Toro-class boats, both about the same size as a Laser. El Toro was okay, though I couldn't shake the feeling that I was sailing a bathtub, and I hated the Sunfish. Maybe the ones I used were particularly crappy, but they were slow, unresponsive, and tipped over every time I tried to jibe (or just caught a slight gust of wind. You're probably larger than I was at the time, so hopefully it won't be a problem). Oh, and when they capsize, they don't lay on their side with the mast and sail on the water's surface, they flip over completely with the daggerboard sticking straight up. Much harder to right that way.

And get a high quality, properly-sized and well-maintained PFD. I was once knocked silly by the boom, and I'm pretty damn sure my life vest did exactly what it was designed to do: save my life.
posted by clorox at 8:21 PM on July 12, 2009

Best answer: I contacted a friend of mine who is planning a solo trip around the world, and this is what she sent to me, in answer to this.
Someone a lot smarter than me said that you can learn to sail in an hour, but it takes a lifetime to perfect.

I'm seconding all of this advice to start small. In a very small boat (think 14'), everything about sailing is intuitive, and you can roll it without damaging anything. My local swimming pool, growing up, offered classes on righting small sailcraft. They took kids as young as four, and I never saw anyone fail at getting these boats back up. The worst thing that might happen in your manmade lake is the mast getting stuck in the mud.

From there, step up to a pocket cruiser. Something 20-25', with a day cabin or just a shelter. San Juan 21s are excellent for this, as they're common, cheap, simple, and lightweight. If you get one with a trailer, you can store it in your front yard and not have to pay moorage fees. My family (of 4) cruised in one of these until we two children were in our early teens. I can shove it around on its trailer by myself, it's so light. They sail very easily, and you're learn everything you need to know about sloop sailing rigs in one. But it's not a boat for going around the world.

For that, you're going to want a bluewater cruiser. Something with a full keel, small portals and hatches, and a very sturdy mast step. Albin Vegas are great. I'm hoping to find me a Contessa 26 for the same purpose. Sailing these is a little more advanced. They're deep and narrow and can be anything from 22-55' (for single-handing, anything bigger than 35' is ridiculous). If you get knocked down or capsized, they'll right themselves, every time, but that's because they're heavy, so you'd better trust your drainage system. You'll want a wind-vane self-steering rig like a Monitor, and solar panels, and if you visit New Zealand without an actual life-raft aboard, they will confiscate your boat.

You can't learn sailing from a book. It's all muscle-memory and reflexes and sunburn. But there are a pile of books that have been helping me.

Anything by Lin and Larry Pardy is valuable stuff. They've been around the world six times together in a variety of boats they built themselves, with the mileage logged for another 5 go-rounds, probably. Even their website is filled with great little tips. One particularly excellent book of theirs is /The Cost-Conscious Cruiser/. Another is their book (and DVD!) on storm tactics.

/Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Started Sailing/, by John Vigor, is another one I couldn't live without.

And a few books about other people doing this too: /Maiden Voyage/, by Tania Aebi. She had a great circumnavigation; never got dismasted or caught in a storm. /Dove,/ by Robin Lee Graham. He was the youngest to do it solo until just recently. Didn't have the easiest time of it; hallucinated often when he was alone, lost two masts and a boat, and lost a cat overboard on his homeward stretch. The first guy ever to do it alone, Joshua Slocum, wrote /Sailing Alone Around the World/, which I'm reading right now. He was a bit of a strange one, but it was 1895.

And blogs, too. BIKA is a Contessa 27 from Norway currently sailing in the Gulf of Mexico. Zac Sunderland just became the new world's youngest solo-circumnavigator, at 17.

As for local resources, go down to the nearest marina and ask around, or even put up a flier. Most sailors love nothing more than to talk about their boats and cruising, and if you find the right day and the right person, that could mean an invite out for an afternoon's sail. The office would know if there's a sailing or cruising club around, too. I was in Sea Scouts when I was young, and that was an incredible learning experience. I know they take on passengers for summer sailings to help defray costs.

The really important thing is to by God never let anyone make you feel ridiculous for wanting to move to this lifestyle. People live it. Successful, ambitious people live it, and it's a whole different plane of living.
posted by mephron at 8:33 PM on July 12, 2009 [12 favorites]

Mephron's friend is all over it.

You should consider camp cruising, which is pretty sweet if you have a good place to do it. Basically it's like backpacking with a boat. I did it with a group on islands in Maine, and it was a pretty mystical experience. You can do it in any boat that's big enough to carry a tent and food. Which is pretty much any boat. And you'll learn a ton about boat handling. Something to work towards.
posted by sully75 at 12:38 PM on July 13, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you to everyone for responding. I am following up on all your advice, keep it coming.

Mephron had the best summation and compilation of what everyone was saying, I'd like to best answer more, but if I did I think I would just best answer everyone :)

I have contacted a few ASA and US Sail instructors, and gotten 2 independent strong reviews for an instructor in Oriental NC (about 3 hours from me). I will probably go with him because a local instructor (who even recommended this guy on the coast) informed me that the wind on my local lake is only consistently good in Winter and Spring months.

Also this talk seems to have sparked some interest with my dad, who grew up sailing small boats in the Long Island Sound 40+ years ago. He and I were looking at boats and we have found some small (14'-18'), used "pocket cruisers"/"overnight cruisers" for sale under $4-6k. His quote was something like "Wow, it would be all the fun of an RV [his dream] with one less 0 in the cost". And we could trailer it and store it in the garage.

So I guess as a follow up question: I see the wisdom in starting small, but if I have the opportunity to jump directly to this type of boat, should I? Or should I still go through my paces with a smaller boat on the lake? Would it make sense to swap off, with both a smaller inexpensive lake boat and also this larger boat to do overnight excursions in the coastal sounds and such?

Obviously any of the above decisions will happen AFTER my dad and I do that initial training. Thanks again for the advice.
posted by DetonatedManiac at 7:22 PM on July 13, 2009

Well there are two primary things to learn: sailing, which is how to keep the sails full and the boat moving forward; and seamanship, which is how to rig and maintain the boat, and how to deal with emergencies. You can learn to sail on a Laser, and you can spend a lifetime learning to sail a Laser really well, but except for patching fiberglass you won't learn much that applies to bigger boats after the first few days.

So go ahead and get a Laser to blast around the lake with — they're a lot of fun! but I'd say it'd be smart to jump right in with an 18' boat with a jib and simple standing rigging and a little cabin. And it'll teach you not to underestimate the amount of work it takes to keep an old cruiser ready to sail...
posted by nicwolff at 11:31 PM on July 13, 2009

My friend read your comments, and sent this reply:
By all means, skip straight to the small pocket cruiser. Find one with a centerboard instead of a fixed keel: You can run them right up on the beach if you need to. (If you leave the pin out. Some have a locking bolt or pin for when they're down. It takes the tension off the cable used to raise and lower them, but you need to take it out of you're in shallow waters.) A boat like that'd be fine for sailing in both lake and coastal waters, and the smaller ones are really, really fun. I've raced in a 21, and they can pull very close to the wind, which is nice. And they handle very lightly, meaning you can do some maneuvers in light winds that a larger boat would never be able to match.

If you're going to be doing anything coastal in your pocket cruiser, you'll also want a small outboard motor. Nothing big, 4 or 6 horsepower at the most, burns about half a gallon an hour. A small sailboat has a hull speed of about 4-6 knots, so a big motor's an absolute waste and a lot of unnecessary weight. You won't use it often, hopefully, but getting becalmed in the shipping lane without a motor is a terrifying experience you'd rather not have.

And have someone show you how to anchor. It's not hard, but getting it wrong once can cost you your boat. Rules of thumb: 1lb of anchor per foot of boat, carry a spare, and lay out seven feet of rope or chain for ever foot of depth.

Learn to varnish, and to tie knots and splice rope. Learn celestial navigation. A GPS is great, but batteries only last so long. A sextant lasts a lifetime. Learn how to read coastal charts and pilot charts. You won't need most of these for the little pocket cruiser, but they're a necessary foundation for the lifestyle. And they're all things you can learn on your own. Look to youtube for help, believe it or not, if you get stuck and don't have anyone to ask.

Get a little camp stove, and a tupperware bin for a larder, and you'll always be ready to go. Waking up in your own boat, tucked into some gorgeous and silent little cove is absolutely fantastic.
posted by mephron at 11:38 AM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Remember there's a sort of eyes bigger than mouth thing with boats. Seems like a bigger boat will be more fun, but that's rarely the case. Actually, almost never. So often people have great fun on a small boat but man...our elbows are hitting each other. It'd be awesome to have a big boat we could stretch out on.

But then, the bigger boat (and not even that much bigger) is more stress, more work. Harder to manage. Much more money.

One thing to think about is that small boats, they may say "sleeps 6" but really that means, sleeps 2, uncomfortably. That's a great thing about camp cruising. You get to camp in awesome places, have a nice tent and a lot of gear, but you can sail in any little fun boat you like. You could even do it with a sunfish or laser.
posted by sully75 at 4:37 PM on July 14, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice Everyone!

Here is what has happened:

1) I have signed up for a US Sail class for basic keel boating - I intend to get certified with that. It is next month
2) I have bought a 1978 O'Day Daysailer 17' . It was it was well priced and only requires a few superficial touch ups and cleaning - My dad and I intend to sail on the local lake as often as possible, along with the rest of the family, who are all very excited.

I have also been reading like crazy about sailing, circumnavigation, interesting sailor biographies, anything sailing related... most recently I picked up Chapman Piloting: Seamanship & Small Boat Handling from my library. I have yet to delve into it fully but just breezing through the pages it seems like this is the ideal way to go from 0 to Armchair-Skipper in one (very large) book.
posted by DetonatedManiac at 3:41 PM on July 28, 2009

Excellent choices! An old Daysailer is a great choice; it's easy to sail but has a full sloop rig with a spinnaker (I assume you found the rigging page). And I or someone should have mentioned Chapman, it's the bible of sailing and seamanship. Welcome to the other 70% of Earth's surface!
posted by nicwolff at 9:38 AM on July 29, 2009

For maintenance, I'd recommend Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual
Its author, Nigel Calder, has written another good book, Boatowner's Practical and Technical Cruising Manual
posted by James Scott-Brown at 2:14 PM on August 6, 2009

« Older IT managment for dummies?   |   macbook wifi degrading connection Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.