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How did we go from land to sea?

How did we learn to sail?

From One of our Readers:

My husband found your website and found it very inspiring!  We are at the point you and Bill were at before you bought your boat.  We have a lot of the same dreams that you did and caught the "sailing bug" a couple of years ago as we always enjoyed being near or on the water on our vacations, walking around the docks looking at boats, and I dunno, there was just something magical, yet intangible about the sailing world that appealed to us, as we love to travel and have a bit of the wanderlust in us. 

After reading your home page, I was left wanting more!  I wanted to know how you went from being inexperienced like us, with only a couple of times sailing, to buying a boat and learning to cruise.  Did you take classes first?  Buy the boat first and learn onboard?  I'd really love to read the "next chapter" in your journey as that is kind of where we are now. 

Any insight you could offer would be so wonderful.  Again, I truly enjoyed your web site. 
Fair winds,
Emily in North Carolina

November 22, 2006

Thanks for your correspondence and kind words, Emily.

Your questions are ones that are asked of us often, and I will add excerpts of our correspondence to our website.  We've had so many emails like yours and I usually answer privately when I can, however your email prompted me to finally get this up on our site.  Thank you!  As I surely should have done this long ago!  My reply is general and not directed to anyone in particular, it's just an open page of my thoughts on how we got from land to sea and the rationale that allowed us to do it. 

Bill and I are the type of people who live with a deep desire for freedom.  Having said that, we're also very athletic and have never looked at anything as something we simply could not do.  The biggest hurdle for us was learning to grasp the brass ring of freedom without always having a safety net beneath us.  Will it work?  I thought so... no-brainer, but my husband was more of a Devil's advocate and looked at both sides of this newly discovered, seemingly terrific, lifestyle with caution.
Me?  I'm a bit more spontaneous.  I told my husband that people have been sailing for centuries... no, for thousands of years...  how difficult can it be?  Long before fiberglass!  LOL  And what about that retirement plan?  Well... what about it, Darling?  You want true happiness and dividends too!!  LOL

Sometimes you simply have to let go of what society has drilled into our heads... the two cars and the SUV, the house and all that can possibly fill it it to the brim, the lawns and gardens, etc. etc.  It's not anything we can take with us when we leave this earthly existence, is it?  There's no guarantee that all our possessions from our life's work won't go to someone who sues us blind.. and leaves us with nothing but our love for one another and our families.  And there's so much truth to the adage that LESS IS MORE!  Especially when one tires of the routine of maintaining it all just to do it again the next season.  After the kids are grown and on their own (it was all for them, of course) what's the point of it all?  I've been dancing as fast as I can... for decades!


Hmmm.  Bill decided I had a point!  Because that was the point!
Truly that is the way it happened.  Once we realized that train of thought was a good one... everything else got easier!  It wasn't long before we decided that we didn't need experience...  we simply needed to fulfill the desire to get aboard a sailing vessel and change our lifestyle of so many decades.
Everything after that is pure gravy!  We have to live somewhere... right?  Be it aboard something we actively sail or not... it's still a home.  How can we possibly lose?  How can one lose when one has gained freedom?  We decided that losing was not a factor.

The audience just loves hearing simple philosophy.

We had sailed only once in our lives... and that was not a hand's on experience.  We were merely passengers.  But with our newfound philosophy... that was no deterrent.  So I read just about everything I could get my hands on... starting with a Beginner's Guide to Sailing... a simple sailing dinghy was used to instruct... I ate it up.  AND all the while I'm reading, I'm buying things for a boat we don't even have yet.  I may not know a lot of things yet... but I know I'll need protection from mosquitoes... so the hatch nets were purchased along with one large noseeum proof screen for the companionway.  I think I'm catching on!
My husband was busy working at the time and didn't have the time to devote to quenching our new thirst for reading about the How's and Why's of sailing.  So I did all the research and would fill him in daily -- sometimes hourly!  First he'd have to learn what each and every item on a sailboat is called... its proper name... for when the time comes you want to know exactly which item you mean.  It can be a matter of life and death... that's not a LINE it's a MAINSHEET.  Know it backwards and forwards, each and every thing aboard has a name.  Learn it.  Use it.  You won't forget it because you know the safety of you and your crew will depend on you knowing it all.
After researching boats and their pros and cons, we decided upon our vessel and have patted ourselves on the back ever since... she was an excellent choice for us.  We thought we had wanted a catamaran, but after going to many boat shows and seeing the space, or lack of thereof... and knowing a catamaran only heels about 5 degrees... it was more like an RV on the water.  We wanted to sail with the wind in our hair and heel over like we're ready for America's Cup before we were too old to do so.  There will always be time for that rocking chair catamaran in the future!  Not to say that everyone who has a catamaran is ready for the Old Folk's Home... it's just that we decided that adventurous, strenuous sailing -- TOE RAIL IN THE WATER -- if we were ever going to do it -- would have to be NOW.  That meant a monohull would be our first choice.

Well, maybe not that strenuous!

Bill wouldn't look at a vessel unless it was at least 50 feet.  Uh huh.  I decided that 50 feet is a lot of boat with a lot of potential maintenance issues.  More and more I would read of others who made the decision before us, and why they chose the smallest vessel that could suit their needs instead of a larger one.  Everything on a boat grows exponentially as the length grows... a 32 foot sailboat is not a 36 foot sailboat with 4 feet chopped off of it.  Everything is smaller.  The beam (width), the freeboard (the height from the waterline {where the boat's side meets the water} to the deck), etc.  Everything you can imagine gets much much larger as the length of the boat increases.  A 40 foot boat's roominess inside and out is about 50% larger than a 36 foot boat, even though only 4 feet separates their lengths.  It didn't take long before Bill understood these facts.  We looked at 50 foot boats that were so cut up there was hardly any room at all.  Lots of rooms... but no room!  We settled upon the Lancer 36 because she was the only monohull in her class with an open layout.  Even though she was 36 feet, her salon and living area was much larger and more accessible than the other larger boats we viewed.  My advice will always be to purchase the smallest boat in which you can be comfortable. It will be easier to maintain and far less costly than its bigger cousins.

We began sailing her immediately. 

Once you learn how a sail boat moves with air you'll get the hang of it.  What makes it go and what makes it founder.  It all makes perfect sense.  So you quickly learn before ever stepping aboard: AVOID BAD WEATHER LIKE THE PLAQUE.  No good sailor worth her salt would ever put her crew in harm's way because she didn't what the weather was doing.  I would never leave port with winds in excess of 20 knots without knowing I've just seen the radar and it will be over in two seconds.  It's just not worth the risk that the day will get worse.  Leave port in bad conditions and suddenly the conditions can be far worse than ever imagined.  The weather can take you by surprise if you are not inclined to learn how to read clouds and weather.  Radar helps a lot, but your instincts will help you more once you've learned some basic do's and don'ts.  The weather adages of old will help you on  your way: "Red sky at night, sailors' delight."  Meaning a red sky at night means the next day's weather will be beautiful.  However, "Red sky at morning, sailors take warning."  I'm sure you understand that second one.  Learn the weather proverbs and it will truly help you keep safe.  It's an easy way to begin to learn how to read weather.


We would only use the jib (foresail) until we learned how the boat would react and what her strengths and weaknesses were...   then we'd work our way up to using the mainsail alone... then ultimately combining the jib and the mainsail for optimal performance... and by that time we were ready!  I will add that long before we ever purchased our vessel, we learned to read charts!  It is imperative one knows how to read charts.  We draw 5'8 and live in the Keys... which is no doubt a testament to the fact that we know our charts!  It's very shallow waters down here... and we love it.  I've heard it said many, many times: "If you can learn to navigate the shallow waters of the Keys and the Bahamas... you can sail anywhere in the world!"  I believe it.

It took us only three months to go from sailing the jib only to having full sails and full adventures.  We were quick studies, no doubt!  We sail more than any others down around here.  We're always out and about sailing the Keys and beyond.  And yes, there are others who do the same, but we are among the few.  We love sailing and exploring.  One quick tip for night-time sailing, which we LOVE to do: Put a double-reef in the mainsail BEFORE going out when you know you'll be sailing overnight.  It never fails that no matter what the NOAA forecast is... the wind will always be 10-15 knots higher than what they say.  Putting the double-reef in the main ensures no one will have to go out on deck in heavy weather.  It might cost you a knot in speed but it's well worth it from a safety standpoint.  It works for us!

Many down here in the Keys (and elsewhere) don't sail at night because they're afraid of a crab pot fouling their prop.  We put "Spurs" on our prop shaft and haven't had a problem with a crab pot since.  No more dodging them.  Most of the time they move out of the way on their own.  When they don't, the Spurs make sure the prop isn't fouled.  We logged 96 overnight hours in a three-week period and not one problem, even though we were in Crab Pot Central.  Spurs have been used for over 25 years and are on installed on USCG, US Navy, Canadian CG, RNLI (English CG) and thousands of pleasure and commercial vessels worldwide (including s/v September Sea).  Thank you, Spurs Linecutters, because with a Spurs Linecutter installed on your boat your crab pot worries are over!

Remember, life holds no guarantees.  What we think about and want to do may not be what we wish to do forever... and you know what... so what! That's what life is... enjoying it to its fullest each and every day.  Don't wait too long to get all your ducks in a row before taking the plunge.  Life has a way to putting up barriers as fast as one is hurdled another one takes its place.
Like Nike says: JUST DO IT. 
When you want it you will find it.  When you wish to you shall do.
There is no doubt in my mind that anyone who falls in love with the romantic side of the sea and the living aboard lifestyle can also sail upon it.  It's a matter of sheer desire.  And there are plenty of those in this lifestyle who don't sail at all... and that's fine too.  The bottom line is that they got their alternative lifestyle just the way they want it... and so do we -- and so can you!
Our son, Bj, came down here and in just a few days decided that he too wanted to be a sailor and live aboard.  He was a quicker study than either of us... of course we were his teachers and he had the benefit of that.  Ha.  He left here after his first visit our very first Christmas down here and he said he'd be back in three weeks -- as that would be all the time he'd need to quit his job and sell all his possessions and get back down here.  He said, "Mom and Dad, look for a sailboat for me."  He was serious and we knew it.  We were so delighted.  Of course it was easier for him without a lot of the baggage we older one have that attest to our decades invested in the landlubber life.
You've done the land thing for how many years?  Or should I say decades?  So perhaps your first step may be a few charters to get the feel of things and to look over the shoulder of your Captain and get some hands on experience.  The sea is never the same twice.  Classes are fine for those who need them, who have faith in them, but truly your experiences will no doubt differ from boat to boat.  If it makes you feel better to have the certifications then get them.  But they are not a requirement. 
Every boat, just like every day on the water, is different.  The key is a comfort level which only comes with a love of the sea first and a desire to be upon it second.  Being aboard and feeling any boat will only help you in the long run to become more familiar and comfortable with the sailing and living aboard lifestyle.  It will be what ultimately gets you there... how comfortable you are aboard any vessel now.
If you charter you can find out the things you enjoy about a particular vessel, as well as expose your dislikes.  We too thought a catamaran was in our future.  I'm very glad we decided upon a monohull instead.  But it's not for everyone.  We have many friends who love their cats and are well suited for them.  However, the only way you'll know is to get out there and step aboard!  That's what we did.  We chartered a sailboat with a Captain from Dinner Key Marina in Key Biscayne.  We wanted to see what it would be like to be aboard a week and sail and go through the routine of buying groceries (provisions) and getting them to the boat, etc.  A dinghy would replace a car if we were moored... could we handle that?  We just wanted to get our feet wet.  We did.  They're still wet and we love it!

I wish you only the very best in your quest to find your life aboard the sea, Emily.
Again, thanks so much for writing and please stay in touch.  I truly hope I've helped you in some small way to make some decisions that serve to make you and yours very, very happy.  As you can tell, I'm quite passionate about the sea and living upon it.  Seems we just might have that in common, Emily.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Charmaine (& Bill) Aboard s/v September Sea

An update from Emily:

From: Emily
Date: 04/04/07 07:46:10
To: Charmaine
Subject: Update
Hello Charmaine!
It's been awhile, but I wanted to say hello and fill you in on what we've been up to vis-a-vis our cruising dream lately.   You, and the words you've written to me, have been on my mind throughout this journey.
My husband and I just returned from taking a five-day combined ASA class.  We received certifications in Basic Keelboat (we had to repeat what we'd already done with US Sailing, since the two organizations don't have the same certifications), Basic Coastal Cruising, Bareboat Chartering, and Catamaran Cruising.  Our classes were taught on a 40' Manta catamaran, on which we lived aboard for five days, four nights.
We loved it.  We learned so much from our captain and our experiences only deepened our desire for the cruising lifestyle in the future.  We have already signed up for the next two ASA classes, Coastal Navigation and Advanced Coastal Cruising, next month through the same school.

What we were most surprised by is that we started having second thoughts about catamarans while and after living onboard one.  We loved the boat, and the privacy of having a full hull to ourselves (and our captain in the other) was nice, but the sailing to weather wasn't very good, the "hobby horse" motion in weather was a challenge (and, had we been outside of the protected waters of the ICW, we would have been subject to more "bow slap"), and the boat was so wide that visibility was a challenge.  Sailing downwind was a pure pleasure, but there was enough that we weren't sold on about the boat that we are rethinking monohulls for a variety of reasons.   To get the space and storage we would need in a cat, we'd have to "go big" (and expensive!), as the smaller cats have narrower hulls and thus much more cramped sleeping quarters, and the second hull would be virtually wasted since it's just the two of us. 

Your experience with this decision, too, has been on the back of my mind ever since we corresponded.  You gave good reasons for choosing a monohull, and since we really enjoy the sailing part of cruising, we want to be able to really "sail". 
So, that is where we are. 
But part of me is still scared.  Even with these certifications, there is much, much more about cruising that we don't know than what we do know.  I hope I can find some of your courage to let go of my current lifestyle and break the docklines!
I hope this note finds you and Bill very well and continuing to enjoy your adventures!
Emily in North Carolina

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