It doesn’t matter how much you read and who you talk to, your first multi-day (and night) passage at sea will be nothing like what you imagine. And your first experience of a gale at sea will be ten times as intense as you think it will be.
I’m not saying this to put you off, far from it, being at sea is one of the most wonderful and fulfilling experiences there is—although it’s not for everyone—but there is no way to prepare yourself and your boat for offshore voyaging if you have never done it.
Sail Offshore Before You Buy an Offshore Boat
You need to get experience offshore—and when I say offshore, I mean a passage of at least four days at sea, far from land—before you set off on your own. And even before you choose and prepare your own boat, otherwise you will make a bunch of mistakes that will cost you money and delay the day of your first cruise.
It’s also important that you get your first experiences with an experienced skipper, not another new voyager—the blind leading the blind is no fun at all and can even be dangerous.
But what if you don’t know any experienced offshore sailors? Luckily there are now several people offering this kind of experience on a pay-to-play basis. I have not made a study of the options available, but I have heard repeatedly that you can’t go wrong with Mahina Expeditions—even if they do have way too much varnish!
Rallies Are Not The Answer
One more thing on this subject. A rally is not in any way a substitute for experience and a well found boat, despite what the organizers may tell you.
I’m sure rallies are fun and full of comradeship. And I’m sure the organizers can do a lot to smooth the way in booking dockage and fixing bureaucracy problems ahead of time. But setting off across the ocean with a bunch of other boats does not make you safer—once you go to sea, each boat is truly alone.
In fact, I would take it further and say that rallies can actually be less safe and more stressful than going alone because of the pressure on the skippers to leave with the group, regardless of boat or crew issues that might make a delay or cancelation more prudent.
Also there is an inevitable pressure on the organizers to get the rally started on or near the planned date, which is worrying.
This last point is not theory. I have seen three rallies start in a developing weather situation that would have made me seriously consider postponing the passage even on our super-strong ocean-tested 26 ton cutter—two of those starts ended in tragedy.
That’s my good friend James steering Morgan’s Cloud. James has sailed offshore with us for thousands of miles including five trips to and from Bermuda and a passage back from Greenland. If he ever decides to buy an offshore boat he will know exactly what boat he needs and how to equip it. However, I think that may never happen since James is a smart guy who understands all the advantages of being a dedicated member of the other people’s boat club!