Sailing’s Seriously Simple Stupid

16 Aug

After my post titled, Catamarans vs Monohulls, I received a lot of feedback. Most of it positive, because I am the utmost authority and I have now handed down judgement on the subject. But one commenter to our Facebook page said that he stopped reading the article after he read, “Sailing is not meant to be complicated.” He said I do myself and the sport of sailing a disservice by describing it as simple.


My reply was, “BUT IT IS SIMPLE!”


Maybe I should have added, because he may not have been aware, that I am the utmost authority.


I honestly find nothing difficult about moving a boat from point A to point B. I think doing it really well is difficult, but just doing it in whatever manner you can manage is not very hard at all. I fully admit that there is a vast difference between an accomplished sailboat racer, and me, a lowly world-wandering cruiser. Frankly I would never enter a sailboat race. I couldn't stand to be embarrassed in that way. And make no bones about it, I would be embarrassed.


My sails are rarely, scratch that, my sails are never trimmed properly, I'm usually below cleaning up baby vomit when I hear the jib flapping wildly, and if the wind is light you can bet I'll be motoring. Yet at the end of the day I always manage to get where I'm going. Forty-some thousand blue-water miles have gone under my hulls that way.


I tend to get a little tired of the harbinger of doom guys. Through the years I've heard from far too many of them. The ones who proclaim sailing to be dangerous. “You could die out there!” Or the guys who say things like, “The danger is that other idiots may see this story as a recipe for taking off across oceans…” with regards to my website. That's an actual quote by the way. I shudder to think just how many Likes that one would have gotten if there had been a Facebook back then.


I hate that the whole of the sailing industry seems to revolve around placing fear in people. Or if not placing the fear, at least assuaging a fear that the industry knows full well is overblown to begin with. Sure the ocean can be a dangerous place. Yes, we get it. Nobody is disputing that fact. But more dangerous than what? Driving to work? One in five thousand die driving. The ocean may be scarier at times, but certainly not more dangerous. More dangerous than being killed by poisoning? One in eighty-six thousand of us will go that way. Who amongst us honestly believes we are more likely to meet our maker whilst cruising the Bahamas? Come on. And even if it were more likely, which would you rather?


I mean, if you take away alcohol related deaths, heart attacks, and deaths occurring during sailboat races, what would the numbers really be? I have no idea, but I imagine the odds of dying on a sailboat are pretty damn slim.


So like I said, I get sick and tired of people expounding on some perceived danger in sailing. For years now I've been answering e-mail from cruiser wannabes, and for years I've been telling them to simply get out there and do it. (Damn Nike for coming up with Just Do It, and leaving the rest of us to feel cliché every time we use it) To go. Not to wait, not to buy a Hobie Cat and work their way up from there, but to get in a boat and go now. Time is precious and if an opportunity is available now it should be taken. That goes for everything in life. That's my feeling and I know a lot of people feel differently, but I don't much care. They're wrong.


Now my wife read this post up to this point and said, “You need to at least mention that it takes A LOT to get your adrenaline going. It's true. I've tried a lot of extreme sports/activities and generally come away with a sense of, “That's it?” I remember in particular walking out to the edge of the platform on the world's second highest bungee jump and thinking to myself, “This probably should make my heart beat a little faster. Why is that not happening? Maybe if I dangle my toes out over the edge and close my left eye.” That's when I realized there is something seriously wrong with me. Or maybe I just have an ingrained sense of playing the odds. The odds were probably a million to one that that bungee cord would snap and I would plummet to the bottom of that canyon. Those are great odds, so what's to be afraid of? Right? (Note: I often make up odds, and they are usually a million to one.)


So while I say that sailing is easy and it can be done by anybody I should also say that there will be times out there that will cause a good many people to crap in their boardshorts. They'll pray to be back on land. They'll swear to anybody they think might be listening that they'll never do anything so stupid again if they can just get their feet in the sand again. But again, just because they are praying to be back on land doesn't mean they are any closer to death and destruction. Remember the odds?


I just really want people to understand that cruising is not dangerous. It can be done safely with nothing more than some common sense, a decent boat, and a check of the weather.


There are a million people like me out there, people with the dream and the means to make it happen, but for too many of them the dream seems unattainable because of the dangers “out there.”


I was smart enough to ignore the naysayers and go, despite my lack of sailing experience. We don't all grow up on the water and for some of us, when it's time to go it's time to go.


Here is my story:


I suppose a lot of people can trace their start in the world of sailing to their childhood. Sailing seems to be one of those things that families pass down. Or at the very least it seems to instill a love of the water which inevitably, at some point in one's future, leads back to a sailboat.


My start was different. Much, much, different. My father bought our first boat when I was twenty years old. It was a seventeen-foot aluminum fishing boat for use at the new family cabin on Lake Washington in south-western Minnesota. A walleye fishing lake whose deepest point is about twenty feet. Prior to that we spent a couple of weeks at a lake resort when I was about six. We rented a fishing boat there too. My family has exactly one picture of any of us on a boat. However, in it you can clearly see that I was destined to be a sailor.


So despite Minnesota's ten thousand lakes, including that little one called Lake Superior, I had managed somehow to avoid them. I doubt that I'd ever really been within fifty yards of a sailboat of any kind. If I was I don't remember it.


Ali's family never owned a boat of any kind. So that fishing boat of ours was also the extent of her experience on the water.


Which makes our decision at age twenty-eight to sail around the world all the more odd I guess.


We made the decision one night over a few too many beers. We were busy spending another Saturday night at our favorite pizza joint, Lou Malnatti's on Wells in Chicago, when the inebriated conversation turned to, “What are we going to do with our life?”


“Let's talk about that. After I eat another slice.”


Our friends were migrating to the suburbs to fill up big houses with kids, which is nice and all, but we weren't really into it. I'd had a good couple of years at work and our options were pretty much limitless. However our minds had never really been trained to think way outside the box. Fortunately my days in the trading pits were over by 1:15, leaving plenty of time at home in the afternoons to daydream. I had started following a few backpacker blog sites and then stumbled on some guy's boating in the islands website. Life on a boat? In the islands? Sounds perfect.


“How about we buy a motorboat and live in the Caribbean for a year?” I asked.


“Sounds good to me. One more pitcher?” was the simple response that would get the ball rolling. Ali has always trusted me too much. And drank too much.


The next morning, instead of waking up and coming to our senses, we were both on the internet researching.


Within just a couple of days I read a book called Sailing Promise. A couple our age buy a small catamaran and sail around the world. Well hell.


“Ali!” I yelled from the office to the bedroom, something she hates. “What do you say we buy a sailboat instead, and take four years to sail around the world?”


“We have enough money for that?”


“Sure,” was my non-researched reply.


“Okay then. I was starting to think it was stupid to sell all of our stuff for just one year anyway.” And that was that.


I think one of the great things about our lack of experience with the sailboat crowd is that before we left we never had to listen to anybody tell us how risky our venture was. Sure we read a few books, but in books disasters at sea always end with a cool story. Seventy-six days in a life raft eating turtles you caught by hand? That. Is. Awesome! No, we were surrounded by non-sailors, therefore I never viewed our plans to sail around the world as risky.


And after all these years I still don't feel that sailing is risky. Certainly not risky enough to be fearful of it. There are no hard and fast numbers for this obviously, but I'd venture a guess that ninety-nine percent of boats that leave on a circumnavigation make it around without sinking. Of that one percent that don't make it I'll bet a good number of the people onboard turn out to be okay too.


Those are pretty damn good (made up) odds. By those numbers I think it is safe to assure yourself that you will not die on this trip. If I could have gotten those odds on a soybean options trade before we left I could have bought a much bigger boat.


Anyway, we bought a thirty-five foot catamaran after boat shopping for four hours or so, sailed across the Gulf Stream with about eight hours of sailing under our belts, and just kept clocking up the miles from there until we'd sailed that tradewinds route all the way around the world, learning something new every step of the way.


We bought a monohull two years ago and I can't believe how much differently it sails compared to my catamaran. So I'm learning as I go again. I fully admit it. I'm no expert. But all that tells me is that nobody needs to be in order to get out on the water sailing.

en rout to ensenada
t occured to me later that I really should raise the boom a bit before going for a sail. 


So if you've been on the fence about pursuing your big cruising dream because everyone is telling you that you don't have the experience necessary to do such a thing, tell them to piss off. And tell them Bumfuzzle told you it would all be okay in the end.


Check your weather, check your engine, check your sails, and chuck your dock lines. Nah, that's too long a catch-phrase. Need something like three words long. Something that embodies a can-do attitude. Hmmm. Can't think of anything.



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