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The Voyager's Handbook
THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO BLUEWATER CRUISING
By Beth A. Leonard
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Beth A. Leonard
All rights reserved.
WHAT MAKES FOR SUCCESSFUL CREWS? Composition of Successful Crews Cruising with Kids: What Age Is Best? Characteristics of Successful Crews
BUILDING VOYAGING PARTNERSHIPS Critical Elements Tips for Cruising with Kids Laying the Groundwork
DECIDING WHEN TO GO Timing Issues Timing Options
THREE VOYAGING CREWS
The most exciting—and terrifying—thing about voyaging is that so much depends upon you. To head off on a small boat for far horizons and return happy, healthy, and fulfilled with the boat in one piece and your relationship intact depends very little on what boat, what equipment, or even what skills you take with you. It depends almost exclusively on you, the crew: your attitudes and interactions, your ability to learn new skills and deal with your fears, your willingness to grow and change together. Successful crews manage to transform workable relationships on land into fulfilling voyaging partnerships.
To make that transition, each crewmember must be willing to invest in the dream. You must embark on a journey together before the actual voyage, evaluating yourself and your relationship with other crewmembers, planning your dream together, and supporting each other every step of the way. You will need to agree on how to fit voyaging in with careers and family, and for how long you want to pursue the liveaboard life. By the time you begin your voyage, each crewmember should be committed to and enthusiastic about a future afloat.
WHAT MAKES FOR SUCCESSFUL CREWS?
We have met hundreds of people from more than two dozen nationalities voyaging aboard sailboats in all different parts of the world. They have ranged in age from less than 1 to over 80; in economic situation from ultrarich to technically impoverished; in profession from wooden boat builders to executives of large corporations; in sailing background from hotshot Grand Prix racers to confirmed landlubbers. On the surface, these crews seem to have almost nothing in common.
Yet, a closer look offers some insights into what makes for a successful voyaging crew. How do I define success when it comes to voyaging? I consider any crew successful that completed a planned voyage with boat and crew intact and relationship(s) strengthened. The 55 crews we know who have circumnavigated form a clearly defined and representative subset of the larger group of successful crews we have met. They help illustrate a few of the elements common to all successful crews.
Composition of Successful Crews
Successful crews tend to be families, and if they don't start out that way they're quite likely to end up that way. Of the 55 crews who circumnavigated, 78 percent ended the voyage as either couples or parents with children (Figure 1-1), up from 62 percent at the start of the voyage. This increase came as single-handed sailors found partners.
Families form the natural unit for crewing a small boat. Two to four people can comfortably live in and easily manage the average cruising boat. Families share a common approach to everything from cleanliness to values; they have the same goals and are on the same timetable. Few people invite nonfamily members—even good friends—to live with them ashore for weeks or months. Aboard, with less space and greater stress, close-knit families and well-established couples succeed where other types of relationships often fail.
Nonfamily crewmembers complicate life aboard. When arriving in a foreign port, the captain becomes legally responsible for each member of the ship's crew. That means ensuring they have entered the country legally, they commit no crimes while in the country, and they leave—on your boat or otherwise—before their visas have expired. Unscrupulous crewmembers can be difficult to get rid of when they are no longer welcome. In addition, relying on outsiders limits your options by tying you to their schedule.
In a few specific cases, outside crew may make sense. Participants in cruising rallies often take on additional crew so they can be more competitive. People heading out on their first passage will sometimes take an experienced offshore sailor along, usually a professional hired to show them the ropes. Single- handers, older couples, or couples with larger boats may regularly take on extra crew for long offshore passages. But most crews on most boats doing long- distance voyaging continue to be couples or families. Of the group of 55 crews that circumnavigated, only 4 regularly took on outsiders as crew; 3 of these were single-handers.
More than a quarter of the 55 crews that completed circumnavigations started out as single-handers (see Figure 1-1); all of these were men sailing alone. This leads to a second observation: women are underrepresented on cruising boats. Of the hundreds of cruising boats we have come across, only half a dozen were sailed by a woman alone, and only two were crewed by two or more women. In contrast, dozens of boats were crewed by a man alone or by a group of men.
Even on boats crewed by couples and families, the man is almost always the captain, and the woman often came along reluctantly, after a long period of coaxing by her partner. In her book Changing Course, Debra Cantrell examines the transition from living ashore to living aboard from the perspective of the partner who did not initiate the change. To find cruising couples, she wrote a letter to the editor of Cruising World magazine. Her letter requesting that first mates contact her was carefully worded to be gender neutral. Of the 110 people who responded, only 2 were men. In all but a handful of cases, the man had come up with the idea of going cruising, and "80 percent of the women whose partners proposed the cruising life were initially resistant to the idea of living on a boat."
There is no reason why women should be less common or less competent than men aboard offshore boats. Voyaging does not require great physical strength or a masculine approach. So why are women less likely to initiate the cruising dream than men and more reluctant to take up the voyaging life? I have put that question to dozens of women who have become accomplished and committed voyagers, and most of their answers fell into one or more of the following categories:
I don't want to leave my home/family/career behind. Men who want to go cruising are often dissatisfied with their shore lives. If they have defined themselves primarily in terms of a job/career, then when boredom or disillusionment sets in they may be left with little beyond that. But in addition to managing a career, most women have many other important and fulfilling roles ashore—as sister, caretaker, friend, daughter, wife, colleague, mother, active community member, and so on. I've asked many women what they had to give up to go cruising, and much of it comes down to relationships. The men I ask rarely mention relationships at all. Women have to extricate themselves from a web they've woven ashore, and that can be difficult and painful. Their partners rarely realize what they're asking the women to give up, and rarely value the sacrifice sufficiently.
You want to do what? When Evans first told me he wanted to buy a small boat and sail around the world, I reacted exactly the way I would have if he had suggested building a rocket and flying it to the moon. Like many women, I hadn't grown up sailing and couldn't even conceive of long-distance voyaging. Like many men, Evans had spent years reading sailing magazines and books, studying boats and equipment, and dreaming of exotic landfalls. I would never have come up with the idea of going cruising because I didn't even know such a possibility existed. Once Evans introduced me to the concept, I still had virtually no idea of what voyaging entailed or what kind of a life I would lead.
But what if something goes wrong? Women tend to be more risk averse than men, which makes them less likely to jump into a new lifestyle they perceive as risky. This is even truer when children are involved. The hundreds of women I have met at boat shows and cruising seminars were eager to talk about their fears—losing somebody overboard, medical emergencies, and heavy weather being the most common. Their partners, focused on convincing them to go cruising, were often reluctant to bring up these issues. But women who have become accomplished voyagers say they needed to address their fears, to reduce the risk to an acceptable level, before they were comfortable heading off to sea.
I don't even know how to sail. Today, more girls are learning to sail, which means more women will be competent sailors in the future. But like many women over 35, I had almost no sailing experience when Evans suggested we go cruising. I couldn't enjoy voyaging until I developed sufficient skills to feel I was pulling my weight and, more important, to believe I could manage the boat if something happened to Evans.
But what about my dreams? Just because women aren't dreaming about cruising doesn't mean they aren't dreaming. But heading over the horizon represents such a huge lifestyle change that many women believe it will keep them from realizing their own goals. Until they find ways to integrate their dreams into a future of voyaging, these women will remain reluctant to commit to the liveaboard life.
As a first step toward cruising, successful crews found a way to address whatever it was that made the woman reluctant. In so doing, they began to transform their shore-based relationship into a full-fledged voyaging partnership. As Debra Cantrell found, "In just about every instance, this change in lifestyle evolved from one that was externally imposed (by him) and initially resisted (by her), to one that was embraced by both partners."
Successful offshore crews also provide insight into when to go cruising. Cruisers come in all ages, but longdistance, offshore voyagers fall into a narrower age range. Close to 70 percent of the crews that completed circumnavigations (not including children) fell between 35 and 55 years of age. They were old enough to have built up enough assets to buy and outfit a boat and cruise for some years in comfort, but young enough to be healthy and fit.
This age distribution reinforces an important point. Don't wait. If you want to go, then go. Every year we hear dozens of heart-wrenching stories of people who dreamed for years of going cruising, fit out a boat, and then were stopped in their tracks by a stroke, a heart attack, or cancer. You're far more likely to really make it out there if you leave at age 40 than if you leave it until you're 60.
Don't feel you have to wait until the children are grown, either. Over a quarter of the 55 crews that circumnavigated had children aboard by the end of the voyage. These 22 children ranged in age from newborns to early 20s, with the majority distributed between 4 and 15 years of age (see the Cruising with Kids: What Age Is Best? sidebar below). Most children thrive on cruising, and most families end up strengthened in ways that last a lifetime.
Somewhere between ages 65 and 70 seems to be the upper limit for long-distance voyaging for most people. Although we've met dozens of crews older than that, most had given up long offshore passages and were doing extended coastal cruising around their home country. The need to be close to health-care providers and the desire to spend time with grandchildren kept them from venturing too far afield.
This age limitation means that for most of us, voyaging is not forever. Of the 55 crews who circumnavigated, only 2 have been sailing for most of their lives and have no shore-based home or any intention of getting one. The rest returned ashore, and most sold their boats. Part of being successful involves planning for that transition and having an exit strategy when the time comes to swallow the hook.
On the other hand, almost half of the crews that returned ashore after completing a circumnavigation left again for another extended voyage after a period of several years; 4 of these 24 crews have completed a second circumnavigation, and 3 more are in the process of doing so. Most of the people who make voyaging a permanent part of their lives don't do it all the time. Rather, they alternate extended offshore voyages with periods ashore pursuing their careers, and they structure their lives to make it possible to live in both worlds.
Characteristics of Successful Crews
While the composition of successful crews can be quantified, the characteristics that make crews successful cannot be drawn on a chart or a graph. These are much more subjective, but we believe most crews share certain personality traits and attitudes that contribute to their success.
Evans likes to say that successful crews consist of an optimist and a pessimist: without the optimist, the crew would never leave the dock; without the pessimist, they would lose the boat. All successful crews we have met (including single-handers) have found a balance between believing everything will be all right and knowing the worst will happen. In some cases, one crewmember always plays the optimist and the other the pessimist; in other cases, the crewmembers change roles in different situations.
Every one of the 55 crews who circumnavigated included at least one person who could keep the boat and its systems operating. In most cases, these people truly enjoyed working with their hands. They found it a pleasure and a challenge to tackle the necessary maintenance and repairs that form an integral part of the voyaging life. Where this wasn't the case, crews simplified their boats to minimize the maintenance required. In many cases the person responsible for maintenance had almost no mechanical skills when they left but learned what was required as they went along.
The more experience crews have, the more self-sufficient, inventive, and flexible they become. A problem that would have seemed insurmountable when they started cruising becomes routine after they have been out for several years. On Silk, our maintenance and repairs were limited to basic things like servicing the engine and rebedding deck fittings; we hired professionals for everything else. On Hawk, we installed most of the systems ourselves, and we have made major repairs in remote ports and at sea. The experienced cruisers we met in Chile undertook repairs on everything from ice-damaged rudders to blown engine head gaskets in places where no yachting or boating facilities existed, and they treated it all as routine.
This inventiveness and flexibility also applies to constantly evaluating alternatives in any given situation. All too often, inexperienced sailors lock in on their original objective and pursue this long after it makes sense to change plans. When we rounded Cape Leeuwin in Australia, we sailed in company with a new-to-cruising couple aboard a 39-foot cutter. We had spent a week waiting for a favorable forecast, but we came around Cape Leeuwin to find 20-plus-knot winds right on the nose and a combined sea and swell of 10 to 12 feet. We spent a miserable 36 hours aboard Hawk making the 175 nautical miles to Albany, the next good port. In that same period, our friends had taken a considerable battering and made good only 65 miles. When I asked why they hadn't turned back or hove-to as we would have done if we'd been on a smaller boat, he said, "Once we got around Leeuwin all I could think of was to keep going to Albany. Doing anything else just didn't occur to me."
Successful crews also share a sense of adventure, openness to new experiences, and willingness to learn. While the desire to travel and see new places draws most people to cruising in the first place, the romance of travel soon wears thin as the reality of trying to deal with a strange culture in a foreign language sinks in. Successful voyagers find these challenges fascinating and fulfilling instead of frustrating and frightening.
Finally, successful crews all transformed workable relationships ashore into tightly knit voyaging partnerships. That's not to say there are no disagreements aboard; that voices never get raised, and tempers never flare. But crewmembers know and respect each other in ways they never would have had they stayed ashore. They have seen one another at their best and at their worst; they have trusted each other with their lives.
For those who meet the challenge, voyaging strengthens and deepens their relationship in ways that are very difficult to explain. In a February 1996 Outside article, filmmaker Michael Hoover, who lost his wife Beverly in a heli-skiing accident, captured the essence of this kind of relationship: "Beverly and I did everything together. On our trips to Antarctica, we wouldn't be more than a rope-length apart for three months. Something happens when you're together like that. You become infused, like in metallurgy when you meld a chunk of iron with a chunk of brass. The molecules combine and they become one."
Excerpted from The Voyager's Handbook by Beth A. Leonard. Copyright © 2007 by Beth A. Leonard. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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