destinations-canada-first_steps-largePlanning Your Dream Cruise: First Steps

This is the first in a 6-part series of articles by Sheryl and Paul Shard who have been cruising internationally and living aboard their Classic 37 sailboat, Two-Step, since 1989.

An Idea is Born

You're not quite sure how or when this happened, but the casual thought of going off cruising someday is starting to become a goal you're taking more seriously. Perhaps at the moment you don't know if, given your current circumstances, it's even possible to say goodbye to the rat race for a while and set sail for warmer climes, but you'd sure like to check it out!

Listen To Your Imagination

"If you can think it, you can do it," or so the saying goes and my husband, Paul and I are testament to that. We got the cruising bug as high school sweethearts who spent a lot of time boating on family vacations and on school Outdoor Education trips. Despite the predication of nay-sayers, we successfully built our own boat from barehull while in our 20's, and on my 30th birthday se set sail for a one- to two-year sabbatical down south. Eighteen years later we're still "out there" cruising with her.

To date, Paul and I have crossed the Atlantic Ocean three times, have 45,000 miles under the keel and have visited over 40 countries and colonies in North and South America, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and, this year, countries in the Middle East. In the process we have gained the confidence to pursue some other dreams such as writing a book, and producing instructional sailing DVDs and television documentaries about our adventures.

Whatever your imagination teases you with is truly worth pursuing.

Where to Begin?

There are so many issues to think about when the idea of heading off into the sunset begins to take root-Can I afford this? What would be the ideal boat? Should I go power or sail? Mono-hull or Multi-hull? What changes should I/could make to the boat I already have? What will my family say? What will my boss say! Where's the best place to cruise? Can I receive email? Do I need a sat-phone? What if I get sick? What if I can't speak the language? Will there be storms? Will there be pirates? Will there be cockroaches? Can I handle it?

Before you get bogged down by details, the first step is to determine WHY the idea appeals to you. This will help you to focus so that the steps you take are in the right direction.

We had a friend who longed to go cruising and when we questioned him about it, it was the idea of being free to make his own schedule, move at his own pace, reduce the stress in his life, and just rest and relax by spending more time with his wife and family in his own boat which gave him such pleasure. Now he is adding to his stress by worrying about how he could afford a good cruising boat or to give up his job.

It seemed apparent to us that our friend was looking at too big a picture and that it was probably possible to do a long summer cruise with the family by arranging a leave of absence for a couple of months, a possibility he'd never investigated since he was ready to "just quit when he won the lottery". Bunching his holidays together was another possibility since he had a significant number banked up from all the overtime he'd been doing.

To his surprise, he was able to organize this summer cruise "as a test" of the cruising life and found it satisfied most of his desires about cruising without the added cost and worry of buying a new boat or giving up his job. He discovered that by adding some new equipment to his boat, it was already a great family cruising boat which he felt confident handling since he and his family knew the boat so well already. This reduced his anxiety about financing a new boat and since his cruise took place in home waters he had a good idea of what it would cost to do the trip from previous experience which further reduced his financial anxiety.

The voyage was a great success and, rested and refreshed, he returned to his job with new ideas and a new confidence to make changes to the things that made him feel oppressed in his work. Another friend of ours did a similar thing and as a result of overcoming some trying situations during his cruise, he developed a new trust in himself so that he felt ready to quit his job and do contract work which increased his income and allowed him to take extended cruises in the time between contracts. Sometimes just stepping out for a bit can give you a big change of perspective.

Visualize the experience through research

When Paul and I were in high school, the thought of building our own boat and sailing away was a far off dream – but we never stopped thinking about it or trying to figure out ways to make it happen. We went to every presentation about cruising that came to town, we read books, we rented videos, we attended boat shows and collected brochures, we spent cold winter nights imagining we were at sea as we learned how to navigate and read the weather at our weekly Canadian Power and Sail Squadron classes. In summers, we hung out at the local yacht clubs and marinas and offered ourselves as crew so we could try out different boats and learn from different skippers. We talked to everyone we could who had been cruising and asked their advice about destinations, equipment, safety and cost.

This helped us to visualize the possibilities and gave us models to work from. By doing the same thing, you will discover the type of cruising lifestyle that appeals to you and begin early on to discover whether or not what you imagine is possible or even desirable.

If you are planning this cruise with a mate or other crew, doing the research together will help you mesh your vision and work out a plan that works for everyone. We've met a lot of couples who were surprised to discover that his vision of battling the elements at sea for long-periods – the Man against Nature scenario – while hers was of leisurely days of island-hopping and sunning on deck, or in some cases, vice versa.

Get Experience

When dreams are young they're fragile and easily knocked down. If you're determined to achieve them you need to build confidence or in some cases, will need to help your mate gain confidence and get sold on the benefits, so it's important to take steps to overcome doubts and fears by gaining experience. With regards to the dream of cruising, gaining experience is essential to your safety but is also great fun!

In our case, after paying off our student loans, took a step closer to our dream by doing a "Cruise and Learn" course one wonderful week in the North Channel of Georgian Bay by sailing in a flotilla aboard a C7C 32. Each morning an instructor came on board "our" boat and taught us the ropes and developed our navigation skills by sailing from place to place; then in the evening he returned to the lead boat and SV Trombone was ours again until the next morning.

On that trip we "learned by doing" and got a taste of our dream as we anchored in quiet coves, worked the radio conversing with our flotilla mates, trimmed the sails as we raced along together in fresh breezes, planned the days course each morning drinking fragrant coffee as the birds chirped and the fished jumped and, when we safely arrived at our destination in the evening on schedule and unscathed, we felt the utmost pleasure.

This experience whet our appetite for more "cruising" and also qualified us to charter in the BVI which we did with friends aboard a CS36. After that week in the islands skimming across turquoise seas, snorkelling on colourful reefs, and sipping rum punches as we watched sensational sunsets, there was no turning back.

What Boat

Through our experiences crewing and chartering we had found we both felt confident handling sailboats in the 35 foot range so in 1986 we took delivery of the bare hull of a Classic 37 sailboat which fitted our early-marriage budget and requirements for a sea-kindly ocean-going vessel. We had big plans and little money. We then proceeded to spend every night and every weekend building our dream boat, Two-Step, in the boat yard at the old Port Credit Yacht Club surrounded by experienced and supportive members. There were also several other folks building or restoring boats in the yard so spending so much time there was fun and educational as we shared knowledge, skills, and tools.

We knew we wouldn't save money building a boat and don't necessarily recommend this as a way to go but Paul and I both had skills in design and wood working and building our own boat, we figured, was a way we could put our money into the boat gradually, at our own pace, and in the process we would learn all the workings of the boat and acquire the skills to fix and maintain her, which we felt was important since our plan involved cruising in remote places.

We launched Two-Step two years later in 1988 and spent 2 summers sailing her on Lake Ontario before we headed south in September 1989. Once again we learned by doing and listening to the advice of others as we worked our way south down the ICW to the Bahamas for the winter and then on to complete a 3-year Atlantic Circle.

Your Plan

This was our plan, our dream, but it's probably not yours. That is the beauty of the cruising life. You can make it whatever you want it to be by paying attention to your imagination and the day dreams that fill your mind. Then take action by taking steps towards it and if possible get a taste of it now in some small way to keep you motivated the way we did by chartering.

Next time we'll discuss Designing a Cruise Plan including choosing your destinations and working out a budget.