If all good things must come to an end, then it had to happen sooner or later. After 7 years and nearly 400 tips, DIY projects, yarns, and wordy expressions of opinion, we have decided to end our Monday posts and shut down the website. We will still be sharing tips and great information on our facebook page, and pictures of both the practical and eye candy variety on Instagram. So as we and technology move along, please move with us and like and follow us at either or both of those locations. And as always, feel free to swing by and say hi when you share an anchorage with Eurisko. Thanks for all the support. See you out there.

Newbie Sailors

September 5, 2016

It's here! My latest book, Years of Ideas from a Simple Sailor is now available on Amazon.

We recently had a reader ask us about our newbie days of sailing. For dreamers who don't yet know how to sail, it may seem daunting, trying to learn "it all" before you start cruising. Maybe that's why so many cruisers can't or won't sail: they have spent so much time concentrating on the rest of it that they neglected the most important part of cruising in a sailboat. Sailing.

Here is a an excerpt from the email:
How did Dave learn to sail? Was he a sailor before you guys bought Eurisko? Was it brand new to you both, and you just took your knocks and learned along the way? How did your family become skilled sailors in a world where most rely far too heavily on the 'iron horse' to go sailing. I would love to hear more from you about the early days with Eurisko and learning to sail her. I value very much the tales you've told regarding anchoring under sail, sailing off the hook, and sailing in and out of channels.

Sailing has always equaled fun for me.

I think the biggest reason that we actually sail Eurisko is that we fell in love with sailing before we even knew people did it as a lifestyle. Dave was living in Florida in 1992 as a single 23-year old kid with time on his hands. He found the Styrofoam that was once a Snark and some of its various bits lying around. He knew absolutely nothing about sailing, but at a yard sale he found a 50 cent book written in the 1940s that told him all he needed to know. Using a shrimp net handle for a mast and a blue tarp for a sail, he spent hours in the waters off New Smyrna, marveling at how to make something move with only the wind.

Our lives together took us to many different states, but our last home on land was Maryland. At the marina where he worked was a little 25-foot pink sailboat. Her once red paint was faded, hornets lived in her boom, she nearly dipped a rail when I stepped aboard, she stunk of holding tank, and Dave was in love. Having never been on a sailboat before Lay Low, I came with no preconceived notions, but "love" definitely wasn't in my array of emotions. The owner owed back dockage and was willing to let her go for $500 and our assuming his debt. Dave's brother ran the marina and was happy to get this piece of junk out of there, so he forgave the debt as a bonus. We now found ourselves with 3 small children, two car payments, 2 careers, a house payment, and a boat that (in my opinion) we neither needed nor could afford. And then we took her sailing.

Taking a friend for a sail in my own boat.

Dave knew only what his little bit of Styrofoam and a 50 cent book could teach him. I knew even less. But what I lacked in knowledge I made up for with enthusiasm. At first I didn't really care HOW it worked, I just loved going out on the weekends, feeling the wind in my face, watching my children jump overboard after we anchored in a secluded spot where we could see not another man made object. It was like a vacation every weekend. Because Lay Low was so small for 5 people, we lived simply those long weekends. She never had a fridge and our ice rarely lasted as long as our trips did. Together we learned to deal with tight spaces, work as a team, and truly enjoy the company of our family. The 5 of us spent every long summer weekend (and many short ones) on her. No TV, no housework, no telephone (neither of us had a cell phone until 2011). Just us and our boys and a whole hell of a lot of fun. So to me, instantly, sailing meant a fun escape. Sitting on deck one night I made a remark about never wanting it to end. That's when Dave saw his opening and mentioned that people DO live on sailboats fulltime and travel around. I had to know more.

Lay Low, the one that started it all

If we were going to be doing any long term sailing, I realized I needed to know how it worked after all. I could no longer get by with just doing what the captain told me to do. Once I expressed an interest, Dave was quick to help. I got Sailing for Dummies for my 30th birthday. (And no, I wasn't offended. I knew enough to know what I didn't know.) Ironically, we were homeless that birthday, having sold one house 6 weeks before we took possession of the next one. Actually, we were only "houseless." Home was Lay Low for those 6 glorious, carefree weeks before life attacked us full force again. I think those 6 weeks ruined me. I sat in Lay Low's cockpit in the morning, reading my new book, hating the 6-figure anchor that we had just attached to ourselves. Why had we just bought a house?

During the next year, while we painted and repaired and improved and grew to hate our square box more and more, Dave added some fuel to the fire by suggesting I read Cruising in Seraffyn. Well played, sir. Now I knew what I wanted to do with my life, so I'd really better figure out this sailing stuff.

Onboard Lay Low, with Dave hovering over me, was NOT the ideal way to learn how to sail. I would have preferred to take her out on my own, but somehow that never happened. Instead, for my NEXT birthday, Dave built me a Bolger Nymph sailing dinghy we named Dovè Duff. Now I had a boat I could take out on my own, sail incorrectly, learn from my mistakes, get caught on a leeshore and have to row home, make all those newbie mistakes that would have gotten me yelled at by my otherwise loving captain. There was no one but me to blame when things went wrong, and it was all my doing when I took her out, sailed the shit out of her, and made it home by dark. I loved that dinghy. Lay Low may have taught me how to live in a small space and shown me what was possible, but Dovè taught me how to sail.

By my next birthday we were looking for a cruising boat big enough for the 5 of us to live on comfortably that was still small enough that we could sail comfortably. The first time I stood at Eurisko's wheel and looked forward, I almost cried. She was so BIG! I didn't think I'd ever be comfortable sailing her by myself while everyone else was off watch. How could I be expected to maneuver this beast in a tight anchorage? The answer is, of course, that over the years she stopped being so big and just started being home. By the time we bought Eurisko we had been sailing for many years and even the boys had earned their "license" to sail Dovè unaccompanied. (The "test" required sailing a course designed to be on all points of sail and then bringing her back alongside Lay Low without crashing.) We simply applied all our previous knowledge to a slightly bigger and much heavier boat, and figured out the nuances (like driving with a wheel, flying a stay sail, using running backstays, among other differences) along the way. Now, when we sail through an anchorage, heave to next to a friend's boat to chat, and anchor under sail, Dave equates it to sailing a big dinghy. If you get a cruising boat that is set up to be easy to sail (rather than bristling with shade, electronics, and gizmos), small enough to handle (rather than the biggest thing you can afford), and you practice your sailing skills (rather than playing with your electronic Star Trek mobile command station), sailing your home is really not much different than sailing a dinghy.

My advice, therefore, should be obvious. Unless you are unlike any couple I've ever met before, having one of you teach the other is not going to make for a very pleasant outcome. Classes are OK for some, but it's definitely not how I learn. What worked best for me, and my single most often repeated piece of pre-departure advice for ALL sailors, is to get a small sailing dinghy. Buy a book or two if you need, to become familiar with the basics and the terminology, but more than anything SAIL that little dinghy. Try to flip her. See how she handles current. Unrig and rerig her alone. Tweak her. Take a GPS with you when you get comfortable to see what happens to your speed when you make certain minor adjustments to sail trim or boat trim (with your body weight). All of these lessons will serve you well when it's time to actually SAIL your dream boat off into the blue yonder. Learn how to sail. Love how to sail. And the cruising will be safer, easier, and lot more fun.

I'm the mnemonics queen. MONDAY we'll share some of my most often used memory aids related to sailing.


Connie McBride's work has been published in Good Old Boat, Sail Magazine, Small Craft Advisor, Cruising World, All at Sea, and Blue Water Sailing. As a full-time liveaboard cruiser for over 15 years, she has written several books and in her spare time, well, who has spare time?

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