The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Taming The Wimp Within

I  have never thought of myself as adventuresome or brave. I don’t like gales offshore and I raise worry to an art form. So when a friend exclaimed, “John, I didn’t think you were afraid of anything,” as I admitted to being a white-knuckle flier, I was stunned.

My friend’s misconception, brought on by the number of voyages that I have made as skipper of a sailboat to the high latitudes, was about as far from my own perception of myself as it’s possible to get.

This startling revelation got me wondering: Do other high latitude sailors have the same fears I do? Did my heroes Tilman, Smith and Brown (H.W. Bill Tilman, yachts Mischief, Sea Breeze and Baroque; Newbold Smith, yacht Reindeer; Warren Brown, yacht War Baby) feel the same sense of dread when they saw the black-sided, ice-capped mountains of Greenland for the first time? Did they lie awake in their bunks, hove-to in a gale, systematically worrying about everything that could possibly go wrong? Did they experience the same feeling of anxiety the first night of every ocean passage?

If I am not the only wimp hiding behind an air of projected indifference to the risks of offshore sailing, maybe my coping strategies learned while accumulating 100,000 miles of ocean cruising and racing experience, much of it in the less hospitable parts of the world, can help others to achieve their cruising dreams.

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Love it. I’m constantly working through my mind all of the things that could go wrong at any moment. I think, before too long, I’m going to go step offshore to see how the world looks from there.


The oldest saying in the sailing world is:
Prepare for the worst and pray for the best.
I strongly believe in this as when things go wrong you will wish that you had bought that bigger bit of kit but then of course it will be too late.
Keep this in mind when you are getting the yacht ready for off shore


Anche se con qualche problema di lingua, credo di aver compreso cosa vuoi dire e condivido appieno cosa dici.

Trond Hjertø

This is one of the most useful sailing article I have read. I do know my wimp within. It certainly was there when we almost dragged onto a beach in Labrador. I felt uneasy and I listened to the wimp. The wimp saved our asses that night. T



Interesting, and thanks for being so frank about the wimp within.
I can be one of the wimpiest sailors I know, fretting and worrying over small and big things.

But then I have also managed to safely sail a small engineless 26 footer, singlehanded across the Tasman in winter (Nelson to Sydney), sail my 34 footer from Hobart to Commonweath Bay, Antarctica, and run a 60 foot charter boat in the Antarctic Peninsula, plus manage numerous dodgy deliveries.

Still the wimp within remains with me, nagging at me and keeping me up to scratch, and so far safe (touch wood).

I am a great believer in John Vigor’s Black Box theory, a kind of safety Karma thing; if you haven’t already heard about it go and look at and click on the black box theory link at the top.

Thanks to all of you for making me feel not so unusual in my wimpiness. It does makes me wonder if maybe some of the great sailors of the past may also have a similar degree of wimpiness, and if in fact the very presence of Mr Wimp is what somehow drives us to test our selves.

When I first got my Ticket and became Third Mate on a 40000 tonne containership I started having nightmares about running aground (the real wake up sweating type). When I mentioned this to the chief mate he just laughed and said they were normal “mates mares” and would soon pass as I got used to the responsibility.

By building up my skills and comfort level slowly I have gained an understanding and ability to analyse some of my feelings and know which ones are normal jitters and reactions and can be ignored and which ones signify some subconscious and important concerns that need to be actively dealt with.

However I still envy those happy go lucky sailors that seem to get by with not a care in the world. Maybe there are 4 stages:
1 Ignorance is bliss, not even being aware of the dangers
2 Knowing the dangers and fearing them, or fear of the unknown
3 Confidence that you can deal with the dangers as they arise and any unknowns
4 Overconfidence and a fright can kick you back to stage 2

And these fearless sailors at either 1 or 3…maybe they just lack any imagination.



Nemo of Sweden

Really great post!

(The below post is only to the nonbelivers in another way of seeing it, I’m aware of John and others GOOD approach on this and this is not a debate, post. But there might be someone reading this that can contact me about the question “are there no dragons at the end of the world”

Me and my crew mate M might be on the other end of this scale. Not at all in “wimpiness” (is that a word in English?) or braveness for that sake, no.

We are not young and silly either I like to think, kind of middle age (two guys 36 years who like beers…) but I think we might have a kind of different approach to sailing and “yachtmasters” and miles and preparing forever. Probably out of experience being unexperienced We only had a few days previous proper SAILING experience before getting off the dock. Even if we have lived closes possible to the waters, motor boating a few years and Optimist maybe a week or two as a kid we felt an urge to go offshore for some reason, maybe the adventure, maybe the “easy life”, maybe just of boredom of not living to max and collecting the standard health problems from working to much or drinking coffee from a machine. We are everyday thrill seekers and lazy, no adrenaline junkies.

So, we are the kind described above, cutting the lines and just go. But how on earth could you “learn” without trying? We have no tides back home, no long waves, no doldrums, no sharks, no penguins, no icebergs, no Brazilian womens 🙂 Try or die trying. One never learns to ride a bike as a kid without pulling out a few teeth from the asphalt. So far we have laughed through: A named storm losing our liferaft in the North Sea, snow, epedemic flu, angry policemen, naval searches, bureaucrats, minibikerides, dolphin attacks, too much good food, palm trees, mosquitos and motor breakdowns and groundings. Crusing is NOT complicated, nor advanced, cruising do NOT have to be miles gained sailing ships across vast oceans. As long as you can walk upright, speak a few words, listen more than you speak and and have the underdog perspective you have the possibility to have great fun while learning and to go everywhere you want on this globe. All cruising grounds as I see it is local crusing ground for someone else. Asking a French guy about tides might not give ýou the same pointers as across the pond up in Canada or here in Argentina, but it is the same concept: water is missing or against you when you are entering an harbor 🙂 Cruising my own home waters (Swedish westcoast close to Norway) is not that difficult even for a Aussie, most of the places around the globe tend to put the marks on the grounds or close by. If you do not know what the signs means, stay away from them. The same goes for larger boat, let them play where they want with the containers and oilrigs, if it have lights and you do not want to prove your rule-of-way-skills, just stay aside. Getting the normal crusing boat up to speed by trimming, why? You can always watch some seagulls or the Sopranos.

Well, this is only MY opinion, being still a bit “stupid” in some fellow sailors opinion and that still can’t tie more that a couple of knots, have no interest in sextants, to lazy to change sails and always put out to much chain, grounding the boat ever now and then but STILL cruise nevertheless. For 2 years we reached the 40s south in Argentina and will continue as far from home as possible. Antarctica will block our way of be the first crew ever to take the straight line from north-pole to north-pole via the south one (where are the polarbears?) I guess the last possible achievement in floating-things-record? All other “records” are achieved, all other mistakes are done a thousand times. Even if I like my live and want to live I’m not really afraid of loosing it, cruising must be much more safe an uncomplicated than the normal desk job. Get bored to death must be the ultimate in NOT trying.

All this my sound as crazy Viking stuff (R.I.P the crew of Berzerk by the way) but this is just for SHOW. We actually learn a lot in these two year. But still does not call our self sailors or experienced. If there was a way to bring your home AND have a glass of red while EVERY day parked close to the ocean I would have bought a caravan. I’m constantly seasick (one of the 5 %) but nevertheless: it’s just an other way of thinking its really fun, not scary.

Go cruising today, tomorrow the water will still be there maybe, but it is meant to be stirred once in a while. And the dolphins like a laughing captain!

Now I will read the rest of this GREAT site, thanks for charing!

Nemo of Sweden

And for the record: being a neutral Swedish blond guy, please do not sue me for being un-polite. It’s just my grammar. 🙂

Nemo of Sweden

Did’t say I was a under-planner, way way way the other way 🙂 I have very long planning sessions with myself and I. My 1stMate is a sleeper and cock the food. I suffer from insomnia and have the nights pretty often for free and then I have time to hang in front of the computer. If you check out our homepage (google translate it if you not learned the word from Mr. Amundsen and his Swedish likes) There you have a Tab for Nemos working list. Now is not updated to version 10.0 yet but in a few days more I guess it is there with the last 400 things we adjusted the last 3 months. And under Stuvlista you have the (not up to date yet either) list of EVERYTHING packed onboard, tools, medix, down to the 4 different wine opener.

The laisserz-aller attitude is just a SHELL to defend us from jealous people back home that asking what the heck we are doing. Since we do this just to annoy our friend stuck in the hamster-wheel and NOT sail for fame or for money (crewing) or records or press but just for a way of having a good time we need attitude. But to be honest: I got triple system of everything, just ask Martin why we don’t have room for friends on board…

And of course we agree with Amundsen our naboer, but also admire Scott and Strindberg and the others just to have been trying. It is easy for the winner to write the history. I guess Shackleton had a hard time returning in theses areas and send the message back home that they actually didn’t lose in the end. First fu-king up badly, the suffer the consequences, then putting the effort into solving EVERY problems. Then return home safe with the BRAGRIGHTS and just annoy the disbelievers. Well, that is a “attainable” goal for a few poor bastards also that lack in more imagination, like myself 🙂

I change my standpoint: Try not to die while trying is also something to strive for. And wimps or “heros”, either way it’s a journey and we are only humans all of us.

Nuf of philosophy. Vamos a la playa! (here is 12 C in the water but the locals are tough ones…

/Andreas Viltfjäll

(we sailing ORIGINAL style: for getting there and back, seeing woman in every port and try not to get involved in bar fights to often…)

Nemo of Sweden

Aha, you DID see me through, touché. But likewise, I see more wimps around me when taking a tour in every marina. The hard part is getting the butt out of the “dream-chair” and actually put up the REAL sign: gone fishing 🙂

Nemo of Sweden

Pls feel free to correct the language, my swenglish sometime makes it hard to follow. And delete THIS post of course. Very nice layout, doing it yourself John?

Nemo of Sweden

“meticulously fitted out”… Well, toys are for fun. All the other stuff I lack. Like skills and canvas and the right ropes to pull to do those fancy maneuvers. But Nemo like to stand on the grounds and are more like an old Landrover Defender Of the Seas with a few new blinking buttons. Takes you from A to B anyhow. The other cruiser in this little bay (Puerto Deseado, Argentina) is a french guy, Jac sailing a Amel from beginning of the seventies with just ropes and 2 meters of chain pulled by hand. And I guess he is in his seventies as well. We “kids” just try to overcompensate for not being dry behind the ears…

Mark Boden

Enjoyable article John….I think many of us suffer from nerves. It is part and parcel of sailing, and not just offshore passagemaking either. I get very nervous about going aloft these days….and it’s getting worse as I age. Years ago I never thought twice about it. Small elevators increasingly seem to raise my heartbeat! How wimpy is that….and they are ashore! So I am a confirmed wimp.

Some years ago I had a few young Frenchmen crew on my Venus 42 Gaff Ketch. It was just a short hop from English Harbour Antigua to St. Barth; however the trades were piping….25-35 knots with higher gusts. These guys had done plenty of sailing, and as we flew north under full sail (less tops’l) one of them remarked that he wished “he were as brave as me.” Apart from such an uncharacteristic comment by a Frenchman I was stunned! “Why I’m not brave” I blurted back…”in fact at times I can be a total nervous wreck” I added.
“But you have almost nothing on your boat…no electonics…not even any engine guages! I worry when my SSB isn’t working well, and you don’t even have one! You have no autopilot…no winches….just you and your nine year old son on a 22 ton boat….how can you say you are not brave?”
I laughed, and it made me realize that we all worry about different things. Complicated things make me worry, and I try to avoid them….he, on the other hand, worried if he didn’t have them!

Of course every boat needs to be equipped for the type of sailing she does. Reaching up and down the trades can be done with a vastly different boat than one voyaging to Greenland. I really enjoy your site…even though much of the technical stuff is above my head!! All the best John.


I read your article with great joy as I recognized myself. I single hand mostly and most people that know me admire my confidence but it’s a complete fake. I have had to build my confidence in my abilities and my boat. The learning process I suspect will be life long. Again thank you.

David B. Zaharik

Fabulous article and fabulous comments… Nemo of Sweden your comments are not only validating but hilarious!

I have just retired as a commercial airline pilot. 39 years in a major airline flying 9 different types of aircraft all over the world. The process was always one of learning. There was often times of serious concern and what we call “pucker” factor. And at 150 – 160 knots on a landing and 550 to 700 in cruise, the decision making process was one of risk management and crew resource management. Stay ahead of your boat, know how to sail her in as many conditions as you can, respect the abilities of your crew and understand both their wimp factor and yours… cater to the more conservative whilst managing the risk.


If one has a series drogue system with strong mounts and refined deployment & retrieval processes does one still need a vessel that hoves to well?

Kevin Dreese

How do you know if a boat will hove to well without actually trying it? For example a Sam Morse Bristol Channel Cutter has a reputation for heaving to like a duck. However it’s traditional long keel hull design is very different than modern boats. With all the different modern hull designs it’s hard to find information to know how hard it would be. For instance, swing keels like an Ovni or an RM or a JPK38, vs the fixed keels on an Outbound 46 or a Hallberg Rassy 42F or 37. I have read a quote from John Neele that with his HR46 he “prefers to run in bad weather than hove-to”. Is that because it’s hard to do vs other designs? If one wants to find a boat the is “designed” to hove to well; what’s a good process to find out (other than trying it on all of them”? I find it’s not a technique I can find much real info on from owners, brochures, or reviews.

Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
Thanks for reminding me of this article: much resonates intimately.
As for preparation, when asked about Alchemy, my favorite response is that I picked a boat that is much stronger and smarter than I am: and forgives a multitude of errors.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy