First-timer account of offshore sailing

This short article was first posted on Sailing Phoenix, Marie Raney’s blog.

What’s it certainly prefer to go overseas?

A delight of dolphins!

I have been a sailor all my entire life, but just started cruising in 2001. I grew up racing in small available boats, windsurfing, and day cruising. Years later when my husband proposed the cruising life style and possibly a circumnavigation, I began reading to discover just what this is about.

You’ve most likely read from quite similar list I have and we’re lucky to possess numerous talented writers among our experienced cruising community. But because they’re skilled they didn’t really deal with one question I had… what’s it surely like when you first get offshore cruising?

They said tips and tricks and a lot of wonderful ideas, but never what it had been like first time away.

Most of the publications we read indicated that a lot of those who in fact go offshore cruising do so at under two years – numerous leave it after six months, some after their very first ocean crossing. Should this be something we had been going to gear up to do for decades, it seemed like i ought to understand whether I’d like it or not. But no-one gave me a sense of just what that experience could be.

I’m now three weeks into my first ocean crossing therefore I’ll attempt to share exactly what it was like.

Nature of our trip

Obviously all ocean voyages and all boats are not the same. I’ll describe only a little about what our journey can be so you’ll know how similar your experience might be. Your journey may be in a more substantial more comfortable ship, or on more temperate waters, or perhaps you might have more conveniences or comforts and thus your experiences can be different for anyone reasons.

We reside north of Seattle and are also doing a “shakedown” ocean cruise to Hawaii and back before making a decision whether or not to complete outfitting the watercraft for extended ocean cruising- a vacation of approximately 3000 kilometers each method – of a thirty days of ocean time each way.

We leave the land behind united states while the wind vane takes over steering

Although our motorboat is the most complex watercraft either folks has owned, it is an older boat (1967 hull, renovated 1984) therefore is still by contemporary standards somewhat spartan.

Because of this trip we’ve no refrigeration, no generator, no water manufacturer, no television or microwave oven. It has a diesel engine, although not a powerful one. No built-in electronics, although i did so create a laptop computer for this journey and connected some serial products (GPS, AIS, Pactor modem) to my computer for communications and navigation. No electric winches or anchoring.

We do have solar panels. We have an Aries wind vane, but no autopilot. We now have a two burner stove, but the range does not work presently. So we won’t be taking hot showers or consuming cool beers, but we’ll have hot dishes.

As for the crossing it self, paradoxically the coastal element of it is reputedly because difficult because they come (in this nation), but the ocean component is pretty easy.

To leave Washington state by water you generally have to tackle the Strait of Juan de Fuca – a 100 plus mile stretch of current-ridden, wind-driven water breaking up the united states and Canada. Some cruisers have stated it was the worst element of their journey. The straits are so turbulent that fluid characteristics studies utilize this body of water as their laboratory to review complex turbulence responses.

After initial couple of days of beating getting from the lee coast that is the US west coast, we spent all the remaining portion of the thirty days wing-and-wing

However the crossing to Hawaii is pretty easy, although the coastline of Washington, Oregon, as well as Ca could be very treacherous. But when you get offshore (in summer) light winds are far more a problem than big winds or seas. Hurricanes or typhoons are incredibly rare.

In mentally preparing for this trip I expected to get beat up the first week away then see a gradual easing of conditions and conditions. This turned into pretty accurate.

Dealing with cool climate, high seas

The first two times had been mostly beating in 12 base seas. Weather was at the 60s whenever we left, water heat inside mid 50s, seas slightly mixed from earlier storms.

Already 1st times’ rigors are disappearing into memory, but this is what I emailed to friends at the time:

The very first day or two, from the Washington and Oregon shore, were rough and wild, with 10-12 foot seas and strong winds. Those days passed in a fog of standing watches, getting hot food, and attempting to rest all against a back ground to be slammed around the motorboat like popping popcorn.”

During this period we never went of the cabin without full foulies – fleece jeans and coat included in foul weather coat and farmer johns, wool socks, sea boots, ski cap and gloves. It absolutely wasn’t actually specially cool, nonetheless it was damp from the occasional wave getting the side decks or from spray over the weather cloths or from light rainfall. And sitting nevertheless inside cockpit would get cold, until something needed doing like reducing sail – then it got sweaty fast.

From the viewing the motorboat raised on a revolution … up, up, around about a story and a half, then simply whenever you were yes you’d crash and fall, the revolution gracefully slid from in watercraft. Over and over repeatedly and once more.

Nevertheless from inside the motorboat it in fact was a various experience. From my journal:

Our very first four times had been demanding, periodically debilitating. Snatching sleep in 2 hour increments ended up being all we could do with four hour watches. And four hour watches is all we’re able to do on deck. Like backpacking on a six-degree of freedom platform, voyaging has bruised and exhausted united states. The Best tasks including eating or sitting regarding the bathroom became Olympic occasions.”

we obtain a brand new angle on cooking while sailing to windward the initial few days. The galley belt, at hip height, may be the only method to have two fingers for cooking

Listed below in beginning had been nearly just as much are inside cockpit. Simply going down the cabin was a complete 3-D game experience. Even with handholds available out of each and every place inside our cabin I became constantly getting slammed against a bulkhead, unfailingly one by having a pad eye sticking out.

Used to do have the ability to cook some easy meals from scratch through that time but I guess i recommend sticking with warming up pre-prepared meals. Nonetheless I nevertheless remember initial day’s split pea soup that we made from scratch, with Bisquick biscuits. It absolutely was extremely tasty and did too much to raise our spirits.

Evening sailing

Night falls at sea

On deck was frightening initially, particularly at night, hurtling through the waves without being in a position to see what’s prior to you. The big rolling waves would appear in and quite often crash heavily quietly decks. You can actually hear the extra weight associated with the water and it had been a sobering noise.

My fears kept me occupied also. What if someone falls in; imagine if something breaks; imagine if they certainly were breakers not rollers; let’s say the wind, already whistling within the rigging, freshens; let’s say I can’t sleep; what if I can’t get the sail in check?

Slowly these fears gave method to admiration the watercraft. I stopped concentrating on “what if..” and watched how a watercraft had been made to manage these waves. We saw when we got overpowered we’re able to always locate and ease the stress and/or rate. The movement became natural and never something to be fought.

And, nonetheless dark it absolutely was, there is absolutely nothing before us. I soon stopped worrying about running into something unseen at nighttime – the somethings We had a need to worry about, ships, had been well lit up. But there have been darn handful of them in north Pacific either. For 14 days we saw no vessels, even on our AIS, and also the sporadic planes had been thus far overhead that individuals heard absolutely nothing and might hardly make out a glint as they passed overhead.

Also birds and big fishes were increasing unusual as we got 800 or kilometers through the nearest land. Clouds and water had been the actual only real companions that individuals could count on until clearer climate came back the movie stars, moon and sun to us.

Evening watches are problematic for both people. If you’re mixed up in cockpit, four hours is a long view. If you’re wanting to sleep, four hours is quite brief.

While the weather smooths out we’re compromising with five hour evening watches – sundown to midnight and midnight to dawn – and seven hour day watches. This provides us enough time for rest between our two off-watches and keeps our night watches from being too difficult. Having light at one end of the watch appears to help psychologically.


And now we have modified. I’m now falling to rest quicker and easier than We ever did on land, although a heavy roll will still keep either people resting fitfully. Once again, we don’t have staterooms, but keeping lights on helps the individual on watch stay awake. I thought it could keep carefully the sleeper awake too, but it has perhaps not been an issue, despite the fact that on land I’m excessively responsive to light while I’m trying to sleep.

However the beauty of night watches additionally makes them wonderful. Countless kilometers through the nearest light source the stars are luscious and rich with variation. Warm winds caress because the motorboat moves effectively ahead. It’s intoxicating.

Appears at ocean

Finished . I happened to be perhaps not anticipating ended up being the sound of cruising.

Water crashes privately decks, sounding just like a ton of bricks from my quarterberth below

It was worse because we were beating, however the sound is unending. Water noises, watercraft seems, and stuff-shifting-around noises all combined in to a constant cacophonous history of noise. On deck it will be hard to hear each other.

Much more unforeseen had been the sounds. I had been aware of sleep-deprived single-handers imagining voices and even seeing individuals, but i did son’t expect you’ll hear them myself. But both of us heard voices constantly during that first week. The language weren’t quite distinguishable, but the tones and cadence sounded like English. Some of my sounds included a phantom cocktail celebration – some male and female voices plus the clink of glassware – and a mother calling her young ones to meal for a summer afternoon – relaxed and unhurried. Occasionally I heard the staccato tones of the somewhat worried guy and/or murmur of a discussion an additional space that lapses momentarily as a querulous note of sharpness then subsides back to discussion.

Two weeks later, operating downwind in warmer conditions and lighter seas we rarely hear these sounds. I sort of skip them.

Hygiene, moisture, sodium

We didn’t desire to utilize water for bathing until we really knew how much water we were making use of for basics. But, when I had learned from backpacking, a sponge bath can be extremely effective. A damp washcloth with a small Dr. Bronner’s applied to “problem areas” at bedtime is a delight.

Excluding these efficacious sponge baths we didn’t try to bathe before climate got hot enough it was pleasant to accomplish in cockpit. And then washing our locks was a near religious experience. But cannot try this with salt water. We thought it might be a relief to get the oil out, but anything with sodium water in it never truly dries. Rather awful. We washed it again 24 hours later in fresh water.

A flexible bucket made of rubberized fabric (sold at camping stores) minimized the quantity of water you’ll need since you don’t waste water inside corners associated with the bucket – kind of fold it around your mind as you rinse.

However the fact remains that individuals are dirty. Clothes especially certainly are a issue. You can wear equivalent clothes repeatedly – or perhaps you can stack up the dirty laundry – neither is definitely an attractive idea.

Used to do clean out underwear and a few shirts in a minimal amount of water to good impact. But cottons don’t dry and acquire dirty fast – prevent them. My microfiber, polyester (dri-wear kind), rip-stop nylon, and polyprop / fleece garments don’t get because dirty as fast as cotton, don’t hold water, don’t hold sweat, and therefore are simple to wash.

Next journey i’ll perhaps not allow cotton through the voyage itself – specially cotton sweatshirts and jeans. They just stay wet constantly.

Since the weather warms we wear swimwear nearly solely, sometimes tossing a lengthy sleeved shirt over for sunlight security. My better half has selected not to ever wear clothing. Both are better solutions than bra, panties, shirts and shorts. Having said that, like during our backpacking in past lives, we’re dirty together and getting used to it.

Regarding hygiene is moisture and salt. A good motorboat as well-ventilated as ours has moisture issues, specially in high seas. What I didn’t actually appreciate ended up being the salt that encrusts every thing. In a moderate morning I move forward and lay on a hatch having cup of tea – the hatch is crusted in sodium and today so can be my clothes. My fingers are salty, my locks is salty. We don’t miss poker chips – i recently kiss my better half. All things are salty and with sodium comes dampness. Despite sponge baths before going to sleep the sheets are vaguely wet. A different stateroom away from companionway traffic would help, but we don’t have actually this luxury.

The next time I think i shall have silk or synthetic sheet sacks that may be effortlessly washed in little water and dried in very little time. Used to do provide extra sheets kept in zip lock bags with lavender-scented dryer sheets and this worked well – about the newest sheets were dry and fresh smelling. The polypropylene blankets worked well – never seemed moist, dried readily if wet, didn’t grab sweat smells. Wool or cotton could have been disastrous.

To counteract salt accumulation in the cabin I wiped straight down surfaces with vinegar. This cut the salt and eliminated any mildew that would be considering forming.


All in all ocean passages, about for this first-timer, are awe-inspiring and exhausting – no namby-pamby boring stuff.

Time passes strangely quickly, filled up with necessary activities. The job – cooking, cleaning, bathing, getting weather reports, standing watch, doing sail changes – generally seems to fill most of the day it is all demonstrably necessary, perhaps not make-work. The down time – resting, reading, watching, thinking never been quite sufficient it is pleasingly unstructured. I have was able to do a little writing, and reading, although not as much as I thought. Knitting, games, music have actually remained set aside.

Except during squalls there wasn’t a lot of a schedule. So if dolphins arrive, we stop the rest and just view them. Once the sky is obvious and my watch starts, i simply view the stars until I’m satiated. We do what’s facing us, little planning or juggling of activities, which seems unpressured and, well, easy. I think we’re a little closer to just being.

On land we inhabit the long run – always looking at least an hour or so or perhaps a day ahead. Out here I’m living in the same time I’m doing, so even though we’re always busy it’s maybe not the frantic busy of trying to finish up x to get to y that seems to characterize my working life on land. Personally I think healthier, more centered, more tired, but more … at home perhaps.

About Marie Toler Raney

Marie and Williwaw leave Neah Bay, Washington on the very first Pacific trip in 2008. Co-captain Jon took the picture.

Marie spent my youth rushing small ships in the Chesapeake Bay part of Maryland before learning to be a pc software developer. Jon grew up in Davis, CA dreaming of operating away to ocean, finally escaping at 15 on an Alaskan vessel. Williwaw the Portuguese liquid Dog, created on Lopez Island, WA, has an ancient and noble sailing heritage.

After several years of seaside sailing in Pacific Northwest they all decided to try to escape to sea together on the steel sloop, Phoenix.

Their weblog are at

Associated articles