I want to sail around Australia. Help me!
April 26, 2011 12:46 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to circumnavigate Australia in a sail boat one day. What's the best way to learn about sailing to prepare me for the trip? what do I need to know to survive? and more...

I have a lot of questions... please answer or add anything useful please :)

Australia's coastline is 25,760 kilometers, or a little over 16,000 miles.

How long would the trip take all the way around?
Will reefs be a problem?
Is it possible to do it solo without much experience?
How much supplies would I need?
Any other important things I should consider?

I don't know much if anything about sailing at the moment but I've bought about 40 books on sailing I plan on reading.

I recently found out my sisters boyfriend's uncle has a catamaran sail boat and I've asked them to hook me up with him in a few weeks to teach me some of the basics.
posted by Bacillus to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Sailing solo in the ocean away from other boats is quite dangerous. I wouldn't attempt it with less than say, three years of dedicated practice.

Forget about supplies, learn to sail first.
posted by j03 at 1:28 AM on April 26, 2011

Sharks patrol those waters...

I think it would be pretty tough - just glancing a map, there's places where there's not so many ports close by to dock for resupplies, etc. The southern part would be in the, "Roaring 40's" as well. Also sailboats are f'n expensive. If you have never priced one out, make sure you're sitting down.

I think it's totally doable and I think you should do it, though.

Check out the kooky documentary about Donald Crowhurst that wanted to race across the world, but had no idea how to do it. It's great.
posted by alex_skazat at 1:58 AM on April 26, 2011

Here is how soloing long distances works, well here is how people I have sailed with do it.

First read a book, fall in love with the sport before you spend money, heck know the history and learn some knots.

Second take a small boat class. By small I mean REALLY small, like under 10 ft. All of the basics of sailing can be learned on a small boat, they are less forgiving and you will learn faster.

Third, buy a small boat. Take it out and gunk hole on your own free time, learn to love the sport and learn to feel the points of sail.

Fourth, repeat steps 2 and 3 with larger boats, start with keel boats, mono hulls around 15 ft and work your way up to 30 ft.

Fifth, by now (its been at least a year or two) ask around and see who needs a able body for a long sailing trip, repeat this three or four times. Become seasoned, learn from people who have been there and done that.

At last, save up some cash, and by some I mean tons. By or rent a boat and go for it.

This is really one of those questions that if you have to ask your not ready. Start small with a low cash commitment and work your way up. Learning to sail by reading is like learning to drive by reading. It will help, but only time behind the wheel will teach you. Take classes, be safe, good luck, its loads of fun.

An after thought, cats are great fun but harder to learn on, find a F-J or a laser.
posted by Felex at 2:00 AM on April 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

On my long yacht trip, we seemed to do about the same speed you might go through a supermarket carpark. So yeah, 25,760km will take a while!

I knew nothing about sailing and had been on a yacht once, when I signed up to crew on a yacht from Panama to Australia with people I found on the internet! I did buy one book, but to be honest, it made little sense to me. I had to see it to be able to get it. As we never did manage to get the self-steer gear to work on the yacht, we handsteered the whole way, so I got plenty of practice in. You can set up a yacht to steer itself in the right conditions, either using self-steer gear, or autopilot (but this requires power, which you must generate).

I don't think that I would still go out solo with that experience. It is easy enough - until something goes wrong.

Anyway, my trip took 6 months (with stops along the way). I think this is a good way to learn because you will also learn a lot about what you like and don't like in a cruising yacht (ie. one you live on and are not racing). So perhaps take a few lessons, and then try and get some crewing experience - a good time might be around September/October, when you should be able to get the last of the yachts coming out of Fiji/Vanuatu back to Australia before cyclone season.

Also, are there any tall ships or similar around you? I volunteered for a while on the Enterprize in Melbourne, and while obviously a tall ship is not a cruising yacht, they did teach a lot about sailing and navigation etc. Also, you could try out a sailing holiday, just to see how you feel about the whole thing.

See if you like it. Some people find they don't like being out in the ocean so far from everyone. Australia probably isn't so bad. Our longest stretch at sea was 22 days, but we were expecting it to be at least 30 days.

Your questions:
1) Answered above, indirectly!
2) Reefs are a problem if you sail onto them. Good navigation skills and occasionally, good technical sailing ability will help.
3) Yes, it is possible, but I honestly wouldn't advise it.
4) Supplies? Water, fuel, food? Are you talking about doing it non-stop? I think it would be more enjoyable to stop along the way.
5) Anything else - yes, see if you like sailing much. Go and do it on someone else's yacht first. Every time we finished a passage, we'd have a long list of repairs (some big, some small). I was always pleased that I didn't have to pay for those!
posted by AnnaRat at 2:09 AM on April 26, 2011

I'm in the US so not totally familiar with Australia's coasts, but I believe they are fairly tricky--I bet navigating around those reefs can be quite tough! Probably still easier than open ocean sailing.

I think you can concentrate your learning by joining a good sailing club. It doesn't have to be a fancy-pants yacht club, there are plenty of good "regular" sailing clubs in Australia. They tend to have classes and you can go from small centerboards (if you want, I've never been a fan) up to medium-sized keelboats. By the time you've taken some coastal cruising courses you'll be able to help crew boats for folks at the club (there's almost always a demand for crew members).

Although your sister's boyfriend is a good start, at a sailing club you'll find a greater variety of people as well as folks with quite a bit of experience. This would help prepare you much better for your circumnavigation. Books contain a lot of information, but your personal experience as well as what you absorb from other members will help you prioritize for your local conditions the best. There are things you learn from someone who just came back from a particular route that you won't find on the most up to date chart.

Sailing clubs aren't cheap, but the ones that aren't super fancy aren't all that expensive either. Compared to the costs of getting access to a boat and all the attendant equipment it's not that steep (unless you have some surefire way of getting sponsored).
posted by anateus at 3:08 AM on April 26, 2011

While about kayaking rather than sailing, the book Keep Australia On Your Left gives a very good feel for the possible tribulations that await one who takes on this odyssey.
posted by fairmettle at 3:24 AM on April 26, 2011

I sail with a local club in Sydney harbour for little more than a smile and a thank you but owning your own boat is a more expensive hobby than tossing fivers into an open fire. Nearly all Australians live in the urban centres so vast stretches of the coast are as near uninhabited as makes no difference and if you get into trouble you're on your own. You've bought 40 books but how many solo hours have you put in? It's great to have ambition but your question is like saying "I'm keen to do the English channel, how do I learn to swim?" If you do end up doing this, then for heaven's sake do it with a really experienced partner otherwise, at best, you'll end up paddling ashore amid some really expensive firewood.
posted by joannemullen at 3:52 AM on April 26, 2011

Do you want to sail single handed or as part of a crew? If you are part of a crew then do you want to be skipper?

These are important questions to ask yourself at the outset since they will determine everything from training to fundraising and your eventual itinerary.
posted by rongorongo at 3:54 AM on April 26, 2011

16,000 miles is a longer distance than the circumference of the globe, and nautical circumnavigational routes need to be 21,600 nm to count. So basically, you're talking about sailing 3/4 of the way around the world. The fastest anyone has done that single-handed is about 57.5 days, but that was non-stop. The next fastest is 71.5 days. So 3/4 of that would be a bit more than 53 days.

I'd say you're looking at a two month trip, minimum.
posted by valkyryn at 5:26 AM on April 26, 2011

They do call part of the southern shore the Shipwreck Coast.
posted by smackfu at 5:43 AM on April 26, 2011

In terms of potential qualifications the RYA "Yachtmaster" qualification is probably the sort of thing that would be recommended for somebody from the UK contemplating the same sort of trip - the scheme is also used by the NZ Coastguard and is quite popular in Australia apparently. The steps to gain this qualification involve two strands: theory and practice. In general the assumption is that candidates will have worked their way up to this level over several years by starting off as crew or by skippering in coastal waters during the day. It is possible to study intensively so as to take the final qualification straight away - but the fairly large number of requisite trips to be logged make this an expensive option.

Taking just the theory part of the qualification from scratch, however, is fairly easy and inexpensive. You will need to know all about navigation, weather, tides etc to plan and execute your trip - so you could start on that right away.
posted by rongorongo at 9:50 AM on April 26, 2011

Bob did it. When he stepped onto the jetty it was 7,844 nautical miles and 203 days since he and Emil had sailed north to begin the circumnavigation of the big island of Australia.

And here's another way.
posted by Kerasia at 4:32 PM on April 26, 2011

...and yet another way.
posted by fairmettle at 12:35 PM on May 7, 2011

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