There is no general recipe for a happy cruising life. Everyone has different predilections: a lonely anchorage that seems a pristine paradise to one sailor may appear as a desolate wasteland to another. Some enjoy racing and being out on the ocean, others prefer to linger in anchorages or marinas. Therefore it is difficult to give advice to would-be-cruisers, but cruising all-year-round for eleven years, talking to fellow sailors and watching some crews succeed while others quit in frustration (or get a divorce or both), we have concluded that there are some general pillars on which a happy cruising life-style is based.
The cruising life is more than daysails with a warm breeze on the beam, happy snorkeling in crystal-clear waters and cocktails on a sandy beach. It also means spending 24/7 confined in a small space, dealing with mechanical failures just with your onboard resources, facing foul weather, tricky anchorages and often unhelpful officials. Sometimes the challenges may feel overwhelming, but the beautiful sides of this alternative life-style make up for the annoyances (at least for us). Setting out with too high expectations can only end in disappointment.
Doing sailing courses and accumulating miles is certainly a good idea for all crew members. But boating life requires more than just sailing skills. We need to be able to fix things or at least improvise solutions until a professional repair is necessary. Getting some knowledge about engines, electrical and electronic systems, plumbing, sewing, cooking—it’s not always necessary to do courses, but at least doing some reading and watching experts before setting out raises the self confidence immensely.
Know you can do it
Having the right mindset is even more important. Sailing on an ocean, doing long passages as a short-handed crew means relying on each other. Out on the ocean we’re on our own and have to deal with whatever might come up. Reading tales of the cruising pioneers helps to put things into perspective: Hal Roth and his Margaret calmly tackling hair-raising emergencies. Lyn Pardey describing how they faced hurricanes in their tiny, engineless boat. The Smeetons didn’t panic just because their boat had lost the mast and was full of water in the Southern Ocean after doing a somersault. We are capable of much more than we think.
Make the dream yours
Christian and I were lucky as we discovered sailing together and shared the dream of setting out towards the horizon. We have met many couples where only one partner was a sailor, while the other one was (reluctantly) dragged along without ever having the chance to gain more experience and confidence, resulting in general disharmony on the boat and finally deserting crew. Of course it’s hard for a skipper to watch the other one try a clumsy attempt at a maneuver, but nobody has ever learned without trying! On Pitufa each one of us has specialized tasks and duties the other one respects. E.g. I’m the helmswoman, so Christian wouldn’t try to take the wheel in a tricky situation, while I wouldn’t question his choice of an anchoring spot when he’s the lookout on the bow.
We’re always eager to hear how other cruisers deal with situations and learn new techniques to enhance our system. A different way to store the dinghy or just a more energy-efficient method to cook rice—we’re open for improvements. We get the impression that some old salts are too stuck in their ways to contemplate new (and maybe quicker or more efficient) ways. For us cruising means learning that never ends, tackling new challenges and growing with them.
Often people ask whether we don’t get bored living all-year-round on a boat. On the contrary, the days are never long enough to fit everything we want to do on top of what we have to do. We prefer to keep constantly up with maintenance instead of doing a repair-marathon once a year in a marina or boatyard. Firstly, it’s nicer to jump into turquoise waters after a dirty, sweaty project than to just dive straight into the next one without a break. Secondly, many issues turn from minor to major when ignored, e.g. a small seam repair can prevent major damage to a sail.
Many of the amenities we enjoy (fresh bread, yogurt, sprouts, a boat garden, self-brewed beer and ciders, etc.) are rather labor-intensive, but they enable us to spend lots of time autonomously in remote areas.
Of course life can’t be all work and no play: we try to do at least one fun activity per day—going for a hike, taking the dinghy out for a snorkel or a sundowner on the beach. Being flexible and spontaneous is the key: in perfect weather and conditions we don’t hesitate, drop a project and head out to play with the fishies, as there are always enough gray days to keep up with tasks. We don’t mind the day of the week: any sunny day can be declared a lazy Sunday on Pitufa whereas a rainy Sunday may be the perfect time to change the seals on the toilet!
Birgit and Christian have been cruising on their S&S41 Pitufa for 11 years from the Med via the Atlantic and Caribbean to the South Pacific. Visit their blog www.pitufa.at for more info, follow SY Pitufa on facebook or order “Sailing Towards the Horizon,” the book about their journey, on amazon.com!