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What We Wished We Had Known Before We Started

Aug 9, 2008
"Boy, if I'd only known then what I know now," is the wish of all adults thinking about their youth, and of most cruisers more than a month into their voyage, thinking of before they left.

After six and a half years of sailing around the world in Dolphin Spirit on top of twenty years of sailing, five years of planning, one year of searching for the right boat, and three years of real preparation, we think we now know what we should have known before casting off.

Actually, we thought that we had most areas well covered. I was an experienced coastal sailor, we subscribed to all the cruising and sailing magazines, read all the books by Slocum, Roth, Pardy, Hinze, Dashew and others too numerous to mention, bought every cruising guide published, got our Ham licenses, attended Medicine at Sea, weather forecasting, engine maintenance, and refrigeration courses, learned celestial navigation, went to every cruising seminar, and were on first name terms with every marine, boat, engine and sail related shop and technician within 50 miles of the marina.

Towards the end of our circumnavigation, in Mexico, we were asked what we wished we had known the most. Carole and I immediately said, in chorus, "That we would survive." The wonderful time we had would have been even better had we known that. Statistics demonstrate that cruising is safer than driving on the Los Angeles freeways (what isn't?), but that is cold comfort as you cast off the dock-lines and face a twenty day passage across the Pacific to the Marquesas, or set off up the Red Sea.

We went through hell provisioning in the last weeks before we left. Canned meat, soup, fruit and vegetables, pasta, dried fruit, beans, peas, flour, rice, tooth brushes, tooth paste, bath soap, laundry detergent, shampoo, and the list went on. Did we have enough? Had we thought of everything? Where are we going to put it? How are we going to find it again? We still haven't found that jar of Grey Poupon, but have survived anyhow. We ate the last of the Costco purchased spaghetti in Italy, almost four years later.

All our reading indicated that the US was the last place where we would be able to find all sorts of foods and staples. In fact, at every place we visited, there was at least one store where we could buy canned goods, flour, rice, meat, vegetables and fruit. The prices may have been higher for individual items than in the US, but when the costs of storage, spoilage and wastage are factored in, the real price difference is negligible.

We wished we had known that the locals at every place we visited would treat us so well. During a visit to the US Embassy in Singapore we noted there was a travel advisory warning not to visit every place we had spent the last year in, and every place we were about to spend the next year visiting. We had no problems other that being arrested by the Secret Police in Sudan.

We thought that all cruisers were good guys, eco-friendly, party happy, and ready to assist one and all in times of trouble. That impression, generated through inhalation of SSCA bulletins, cruising books and magazines, lasted just 19 days, to our arrival in Taiohae Bay. The already anchored yachts ignored us, other than to ensure that we didn't anchor too close.

To be fair, we had arrived just after one of those "Round the World in Eighteen Months" had left. This group had completely alienated the locals and the other cruisers. The formation of cruising friendships didn't really begin until Tahiti, by which time the "Class of 96" had begun to sort out and stratify. Boats with the same cruising rhythm tended to be in the same places at the same times. The westward flow of boats became lumpy, as groups formed and began to move together. After French Polynesia, the separation became even more pronounced, one lot going to Samoa, another to Tongs, another to Hawaii.

Crew

Believe all the horror stories you read. No matter how good a crew person is you will want him/her off the boat in three weeks. The only exception we found was an Australian boat with a male captain and two young, good looking, female crew, who were both exceptional sailors.

Radio Nets

It was possible to spend the whole day, microphone in hand, on one SSB/Ham radio net or another, filling in spare time on VHF. The father of them all is the Pacific Maritime Net, which tracks boats from Alaska to New Zealand to Mexico and the Philippines.

Each cruising group sets up its own net. Ours was the Hope To net, begun by "Hope To" and carried on by other intrepid controllers as the previous one moved out of range. Then there are the sub-groups such as the Australians in Bora Bora. In each port there is also a local VHF net for weather, chat, advice, and sale and trade items. It becomes very difficult to finds a free frequency.
About the Author
Lawrence Pane circumnavigated with his wife and young son, and his expertise in the areas of sailing, cruising and travel, expressed through two books, numerous magazine articles and very popular seminars, has informed, assisted and entertained a wide audience of sailors and non-sailors. Visit Chasing Sunsets to enjoy the photos, buy the books, and check up on coming seminars.
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