To go or not to go – that’s the question

2 May
The 33-foot sailboat Hecate aground on the beach. Screen shot from CBS SF Channel 5 click for link.


When I started out sailing for a living in the late 70’s there was no money in it, well very little. I made ends meet by repairing sails for other boats on my hand crank Singer sewing machine, banged out articles on an old manual typewriter and gave talks at local yacht clubs. When I started giving talks I had a 1960’s Sears box slide projector and a tape player as props and the shows were a big success. This was long before YouTube and online video streaming. Most sailors had never seen what the Southern Ocean looked like and what life was like on board a boat racing around the world.  One question that I was repeatedly asked was “what’s the hardest part about sailing around the world?” My answer was a bit facetious but it was also true. I would answer, “the hardest part about sailing around the world is leaving the dock.”


You see many people have ambitions to sail away over that distant horizon but there is always some excuse that keeps them from leaving. “I am waiting for that new weather routing software to come out so we will probably leave next spring,” or “my sons graduating this summer so we will probably leave in the Fall.” You see what I mean, always some reason to put off leaving the dock until it’s too late and you are too old to go. I belong to quite a few Facebook groups that are sailing related and it seems as if the story has not changed much. People are still waiting for something or someone and making excuses until the dream never happens.
Having said all that I was more than a little amused to read all the hue and cry on various sailing forums about the latest travesty where four completely inexperienced sailors took off from San Francisco bound for San Diego and didn’t get much past the breakwater before the engine crapped out and the boat ran aground. There was some downright indignation among the readers. “How dare they take to sea without taking to appropriate Coast Guard courses,” or, and this one was even worse, “what was a seven-month pregnant woman doing on a boat anyway?” One of the crew was apparently well along with child and in her defense she told the press that she would “probably not sail again until after the baby was born.”
The two American sailors

This story comes on the heels of Thing One and Thing Two, the two ladies and their dog who were rescued in the Pacific Ocean last year after having drifted aimlessly for five months. It also comes on the heels of the story of the two American sailors who left Norway bound for the US and had to be rescued nine times in seven months. They didn’t even make it past England. The sailing forums were full of indignant sailors once again asking how it was possible that these outrages could possibly have been allowed to happen.Well you know what, I am on the side of the hapless. At least they left the dock. Sure maybe they were ill prepared and had to seek rescue but we are becoming so risk averse that it’s bordering on ridiculous. Here’s a thought. People used to go offshore and navigate with a thing called a sextant. Some even circumnavigated without an engine, others used baling wire and duct tape to hold things together. At least they left the dock and gave it a go and I say that we need more people like them and less people snickering behind their anonymity as they smugly post on Facebook.

As the actor and author Sterling Hayden once said. “To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea… “cruising” it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about.”

I am sure that many posting have probably not undertaken any kind of voyage. If they had they would know that things can and probably will go wrong. It’s a sailboat after all. I have been sailing for 40 years and have managed to hit a reef, run aground and get a jump start from a passing Chinese freighter in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Do enough miles and sooner or later something is going to go awry. So let’s cut this latest lot to make News Headlines a bit of a break. At least they left the dock.

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This article was syndicated from Great Circle Sails Blog


  1. Faith Worthley

    Thanks for the encouragement. At 62 I’m trying to wrap my brain around single handing my Cal 2 34. Some would say “No big deal”, but the upper body strength isn’t what she used to be. My fellow sailors keep telling me I have the skills, just not the confidence….and yes it’s not going to happen by sitting on the dock. I live in the San Juans so there’s lots of opportunity to build that strength…just need to get out there.

  2. El

    The next headline should be: Brian Hancock pays for all rescues of stupid untrained and unprepared sailors that get stranded anywhere in the world because they dont know to hold a tiller.

    Hancocks stories are always on the downside but this one is a masterpiece of nonsense-

  3. Bob Fleno

    My wife and I did years of prep to get ourselves and our Island Packet 40 “ready” for our extended trip from NYC to South America. The best advise I received was to take an educated guess when that day should be, circle it on the calendar, and ready or not, no matter what’s happening on land, GO on that day. A boat, certainly at the complexity/comfort level that most cruisers think they need to be at, will never all be working at the same time. I ended up finalizing the water maker install and a few other “minor” projects on our run from Charleston to St.Thomas. We came back after two years. Can’t wait to circle another day after our proper retirement!

  4. Roland

    Do it! I’ve been sailing for 15 years, started out crewing on bare boat charters, worked up the confidence to captain myself, took a few courses along the way, and have been fortunate enough to have been able to crew on boat deliveries the last several years. I finally bought my first sailboat last September. She’s very sea worthy (as I learned taking her down from Connecticut to Florida) and along the way I had my share of nagging doubts about whether I’d done the right thing. Those doubts come back now and again, but the rewards of doing it end up outweighing the doubts. I’m never happier than when on the water, and day sailing doesn’t cut it anymore.

    Life’s too short folks, and human health and physical ability are very fleeting. She’s on the hard now and I’m working on updating/up grading the systems to make this a truly off the grid boat. The process itself has taught me more than any book could, and I can’t wait to get her back in the water on go exploring the Caribbean.

    I’m fortunate to have a supportive wife, the finances to do what needs/should be done, and have access to some knowledgeable people, without whom I’d be a whole lot more lost than I’d otherwise be. Doubts remain, but no regrets. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. And the author is right – there are all kinds of reasons for putting it off until tomorrow, and very often, tomorrow never comes. Life is an adventure – go for it.

  5. brad

    We’re in agreement with Clint! Brian this was a great inspiriation. My wife and I have been avid fresh water sailors for over 40 years and finally have the motivation (and a bit of wherewithal) to take to blue water. It’s been a bit intimidating, but posts like this are beyond a great motivator!

  6. Chris

    Well said my good man and sailor. Yes, we are becoming too soft and too risk adverse in all aspects of life.

  7. joseph driscoll

    What your brain tells you you must have and do before you leave the dock is always insurmountable and over-rated. Safety first, comfort second. If you work hard to the last minute before the weather window, just go. Every year when the yard puts my boat back in I have a sense of dread. Do I really know how to do this?? Same as aiming for strange ports on strange waters.
    Probably,never definitively,so what, just go. Learn to walk before you learn to tie shoes.

  8. Damon Cruz

    Correction to last post, I said “I’ll be out there, somewhere until I die” but the system edited out the ‘out there, somewhere’ due to brackets, I guess.

  9. Damon Cruz

    I started sailing in a dinghy at 18 in San Diego, working my way up until I left Alaska in a 40′ ketch and am now in Mexico rebuilding a 45′ tri. Along the way I dismasted my 18′ (high tide, low bridge) and went aground (softly) in unfamiliar waters my first day in my 40′. A few other mistakes, some scares, but mostly we did OK.

    I never took a formal course — I read a lot, asked older/wiser heads and practiced what I learned — so it pains me to hear that Tut-Tut’ers and bureaucrats are forcing all Californians to take boating courses and get a license…including anyone who arrives in California, no matter what they sail in aboard or from where.

    Risk-averse? A nice euphemism for the timid, squeamish lives so many are now living, where only video game avatars live real adventures. Me…I’ll be until I die. Feel free to join me.

  10. danny bewley

    My wife and I have sailed down the west coast of California to Panama through the canal into the Caribbean, and back over a 14 year period. We have a saying, usually after we have done something dumb, or after the weather has kicked are butts, or after a piece of equipment has wore out before we noticed its failure, or after not maintaining something like we should, or after getting tired, etc the list goes on and on.
    The saying is, “we should not be alive for all the mistakes we have made”,

  11. Alan taylor

    This was an awesome blog. I grew up next to water and did not take advantage of what it had to offer. I am now older and want to get back to the sea. I have a wife that is supportive and willing to try. I believe all you can do is try and experience life. Thanks again

  12. Mike

    Wife and I crewed for two seasons of racing aboard a Morgan 42 on the Great Lakes. The Captain was bold and we learned how to handle a boat in tight quarters and tough situations. I always recommend that as a way to get yourself started and energized. Never had a course but felt ready for anything after that. Took off for five years when our boy was nine. You are correct in that there are so many excuses to delay. Go now.

  13. Marguerite Becker

    I feel it comes down to the simple axiom – keep your opinions to yourself. The entire internet would benefit from that one!

  14. Clint

    This is great! As a bona fide landsman trying to see my way over the horizon with my young boys before the get too old (or I do), this is just what I needed. Thanks!

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