Sailing Offshore Cruising Yachts – A Light Hearted Look at Offshore Passages
By Gord Kerr
So, do you dream of sailing azure seas, lot’s of sun, the wind in your hair, crossing oceans, venturing into remote areas, sensing what true adventure is really like?
All of these experiences can be realized sailing on your very own yacht, and yes for the most part, if you value all of these things while experiencing different cultures the undertaking of world cruising on your yacht could be a life changing experience. I know it was for me!
I can speak of these endeavors on a first hand basis as yes, I am, “living the dream” so to speak.
My intention here is to give you a taste of the real experience of life on a cruising boat and how day to day living really plays out, not just a slick glossy pictorial like you see in Sailing magazines of bikini clad beauties holding martinis while standing on the bow, windblown hair, looking through a pair of Gucci sunglasses at the boys playing in the sparkling white sand between the swaying palms on the beach.
As real cruisers, we get interrogated from land dwellers with the same myriad of questions everywhere we go. They repetitively ALWAYS ask the same questions!
It’s actually pretty incredible that as we circumnavigate the globe, we can meet people of different race, culture, background, and geographical location. And, they always ask us the same questions! Sometimes they are even in the same order it’ is amazing, but it is true!
In fact a couple of times I even thought it would be fun to tell them that I’m actually clairvoyant. And “yes, I can read their mind”, Then proceed to sit with my head in my hands with an expression on my face (like I’m getting a really good whiff of some rank mouldy cheese). Close my eyes and moan a little. And then tell them what their question is! I have not actually done this as of yet, but I keep thinking it would be a lot of fun!
The first and number 1 question is “Have you ever been in a really bad storm”? This usually accompanies, “How high are the waves out there”? “What’s the biggest waves you have ever seen”? “Have you ever been really scared for your life”?
Question number 2, “What is it like crossing the ocean?, what do you do all day out there”? “Do you stop for the night to sleep?”
And the 3th question in sequence is “What is your favorite place is so far”?
So, from the top of the list, “Have we ever been in a really bad storm?”, the answer is… YES!
I call sustained 70 Knots of wind while being more than 60 miles from shore a really bad storm! In fact this was on our first week of inexperienced offshore cruising! Did it scare us? Hell Yes! Did we think we might die? Hell Yes! What did you think I was going to say, we were clapping high fives and passing Mai Tai’s around the cockpit? We spent a lot of time trying to hang on and we were very focused on the laws of sailing, something about keeping the larger amount of water on the outside of the boat!
How big were the waves? they were monstrous! (They are difficult to measure when you’re trying not to drown). They looked like blue and white alpine mountains! At least that’s how our only crew member described it, I’m not sure what he was taking besides sea sickness med’s at the time; it just seemed like an outstanding light and frilly description of some absolutely terrifying seas.
How big were they really? I took the opportunity to add the “really?” part here, as the documented height of the waves came from a third and legitimate source and not yours truly.
According to the Coast Guard, who was busy flying over us in helicopters picking people off yachts in the area, they said the wave heights were averaging around 45 feet! Our boat is 37 feet long.
So as you can imagine it was a bit intense. OK now…quick flash back here to bikini clad girl on bow, looking at the…well, you get the picture.
That experience was years ago, and we have gotten much better at reading weather charts and interpreting all those squiggly lines and arrows now! Nothing like the fear of impending death to create a little good old 8th grade cramming on the weather charts now before a passage. And the reality is we have never seen anything like that again in our seven years circumnavigating. Access to weather information and its precision has exponentially improved even in recent years.
It has become very easy to get a good read on forecasting for sailors now. In fact professional routers will tell you what course to sail depending on the conditions and capabilities of your yacht. They do charge for this service, which I’m at a loss to understand, as I have people I don’t even know trying to tell me where to go all the time!
OK so with that put to bed, The next big one. “What’s it like out there”?
Well let’s see, if you have a really good weather window and you decided to leave on, let’s say, a Pacific crossing. You get out there and the sailing’s good, the wind is brisk, the boat is speeding along, and you are at one with the universe. Wow, isn’t it grand. We relish these moments because we know that in our hearts this is where we are meant to be.
And I say that because if we weren’t there, I have no idea who would fix all the crap that’s about to break, fail and otherwise explode in pieces all over the deck! “What do we do on these passages”? We try and keep the boat and all the systems working and concentrate on pointing in the direction we actually want to go, while obsessing over those little squiggly lines and arrows on the weather charts, at the same time dealing with sleep deprivation, heat exhaustion and hours of boredom (after you’ve read every book on board) looking for the ship, submarine, whale, fishing boat, floating debris, half sunken container or____ (this section left blank to insert anything you would like to not collide with) while surfing in 12 tons of plastic yacht down a wave at 10 knots!
Oh yeah and then there’s cooking. My wife pre cooks (or prepares) most of our meals before we do passages. This way we can control the amount of food that needs to be scraped off the headliner, bulkheads, and cabin soles, clothing and ourselves. Ok, so scratch the clothing part out, after all it is hot!
We keep a “ship’s log,” and no, it’s not a piece of wood. In the ship’s log we enter all the events of the day, the weather, (that would be, yeah you guessed it, the squiggly lines and little arrows again), the sea state, (which is almost always best described as uncomfortable), and position. Position is where the boat is geographically, not what you and your partner were focused on a couple of hours ago when you should have been on watch.
We plot our course, which refers to the boat’s true or magnetic heading, and the date. I’m always particularly fascinated with the date thing, because yesterday was like today, and today kind of ends up like tomorrow, and I have come to the conclusion that we keep a ship’s log for two reasons. One is to keep us occupied while on watch so we don’t have mental avalanche thinking about all the things we could run into. And secondly, if we didn’t write the date….well, after about four days at sea you totally lose track of what day it is anyway, and furthermore you don’t really care! Your scenery looks like what you saw yesterday and you by now have figured out that it’s going to look pretty much the same tomorrow and for the next couple of weeks. It all turns into a great big watery ground hog day!
So let’s recap here. We spend a lot of time reading books and sitting in the cockpit sipping Martinis while the crew attend to the yacht!
Our “most favorite place”. This one is very difficult! Personally my most favorite place is in the bunk, after completing say, a 20-something day ocean passage and about half a dozen beers! But I don’t think that is really what the question is about.
Truth is we don’t have a favorite place, we have favorite places. We love almost everywhere we have been, for various reasons. Sometimes it’s the people, sometimes it’s the food. Could be snorkeling, diving, activities, scenery, sea life, seclusion. It’s really great to have your own private island for days on end. And sometimes, our favorite place is at sea surrounded by nothing but water. The truth is the reason is different for everywhere, because everywhere is different.
I guess the long and the short of it is we love it all. It’s a big world with lots of adventure and although it can be a challenging lifestyle, I maintain a light hearted approach to the trials and tribulations that we run into on a day to day basis. Stayed tuned for more because we are still happier being sea gypsies out here than being land dwellers back there. To us it’s worth it!
Gord Kerr hails from homeport of Victoria, B.C. Canada and has been cruising and racing boats since the early 1990’s. After years of cruising with his wife Ginny in the Gulf Islands and San Juans in the Pacific Northwest, they left Canada in 2003, sailing Ascension, their 1985 Beneteau First 375 sloop.
For the past 7 years Gord has been cruising on a circumnavigation from Canada, to Mexico, across the Pacific Ocean to the South Seas, then onto New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu, and Australia. Passage through Indonesia and Malaysia brought him to Thailand, then across the Indian Ocean and through the Red Sea to Turkey. Following that he sailed the Mediterranean, crossing the Atlantic Ocean in 2009. Gord is currently in the Caribbean closing the gap on his round the world adventure.
To read more of the adventures of their circumnavigation, go to http://www.ascensionatsea.com
Contact: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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