first time cruising
John de Frayssinet (Yachting Life Editor)
Once you have learnt to drive your boat in
approximately the right direction for most of the time, it is likely that
you may be inspired to make your first sea passage.
The object of that passage is to arrive at your
destination without drowning. As sailing is a leisure sport, it is also
likely that you may hope to enjoy yourself. To achieve this, it is most
that you put to sea in a boat
that is capable of withstanding the rigours likely to be met during the
voyage. Be brutally honest with yourself ó was your boat ever intended to
go out so sea? If it was, have you maintained it in such a condition to do
It is essential to ensure that your boat is
structurally sound. If you have a small leak while quietly riding at
anchor, you can be confident that it will become a raging torrent at sea.
Make sure that all your deck fittings are well secured and that the load
is spread over a large area by pads under deck.
Electrical circuits on yachts and motor cruisers are a
continual source of trouble. Corrosion on all contacts must be kept at bay
and no wiring should ever be allowed to languish in the darker corners of
the bilge. Always carry spare fuses and bulbs, and check navigation lights
before you leave.
Engines are not everybodyís strongest point, including
myself. (I do know that mine is painted blue and makes a lot of noise
under the bridge-deck). One is supposed to have these things serviced at
regular intervals and before putting out to sea, it is most important that
your machinery is in perfect working order and that stern-glands are
make sure that boat motors, inboard or out
If your boat relies on a single engine alone, it is
much better to put to sea in company with another boat, and you must be
able to carry out running repairs yourself ó so carry a good tool kit and
spares. Please try to ensure that the wrench (spanner) set you buy fits the
nuts etc. on your engine.
Sailing boats must have all standing and running
rigging examined. If anything at all looks a bit dicey, replace it. A
series of small breakages at sea can be bloody frightening. Always carry
sufficient cordage to replace a sheet should it break, and a few spare
blocks and shackles are a necessity. Some form of tool kit is also
necessary, as all threads on shackles jam solid when you most need them
Never go to sea unless you are able to easily reduce
sail area. Does your reefing work properly, and does the storm jib really
Equally important as your boat is the choice of crew
you make. If you are a newcomer to the sport, it is likely that the
friends you wish to take with you are also novices. The bad part about
this is that they are as bad at sailing as you are and, worse, they
know only too well that you know no more than they do. Without
question, the first spot of bother you get there is bound to be a rather
nasty argument, and your friendís wife will then lock herself in the loo
for the rest of the trip...I know...believe me!
For heavenís sake, for your first few trips, take
someone who has had a reasonable amount of experience. Pride has no place
The next thing is to decide where to go. Decide how far
you think you can sail your boat easily in a day, and then halve it. That
will be more than enough. Do not attempt anything too demanding upon your
navigation skills for a start. Assuming that you have at least learnt the
theory of pilotage, things have a tendency to look very different when you
actually get out there.
Do not forget that you will want to get ashore at the
other end, so take a suitable dinghy with you unless you are absolutely
certain of a marina berth or launch service. Most crew, even novice ones,
leave rubber burn marks on the cabin sole in their rush to get to the pub
before you have barely finished mooring up.
Some basic items of safety equipment must be carried.
This includes a full pack of emergency flares, including red rockets and
flares, orange smoke and white flares, two life-buoys -- one, preferably,
with a flashing light. A suitable buoyancy aid with whistle should be
carried for each member of crew on board and on a sailing boat, at least
two safety harnesses. The list of new safety items grows by the day, and
most are certainly potentially useful. It is very easy to get
over-enthusiastic about this sort of thing but unless you intend to go a
long way in any weather, many of these are not essential.
see that you have adequate safety gear
Good ground tackle should always be given top priority.
Make sure that the anchor and chain is of sufficient size. On anything but
very small boats, carry a spare.
Navigation equipment can be simple. Charts, including a
reasonable area around your intended route, tide table, dividers and
parallel rule, sighting compass and, of course, the trusty GPS. A good
pair of binoculars can help.
Once you are satisfied that you are suitably equipped,
and have fixed a provisional date for your trip, make sure that you have a
good idea of the weather trend. Listen to the forecast for a couple of
days before. If the weather is likely to blow more than about force four,
do not go. If you have to contend with rough conditions as well as find
where you are, problems have been known to arise. Should your intended
destination be in the opposite direction to the wind, forget it and go
some where else. Beating can be tiring and unpleasant in a blow and it
is possible that the windward performance of your cruiser is not that
good, anyway. However the most important reason is that until you get used
to it tacking is very disorientating and makes navigation extremely
Always take sufficient warm clothing with you, and
several changes. Make sure that you have good Ďoiliesí on board and, of
course, do not forget sleeping bags. You may not intend to stay on board
but, should you run aground, you could be spending a very cold night
you can spend a long night on the putty
Food is a very important consideration and should
always be more than considered adequate ó people can turn into absolute
pigs on board. Do not rely on cooking while under way for the first few
trips, as this can take a bit of practice. Pack sandwiches and flasks.
Avoid the pitfall of turning your boat into a floating boozer.
If you feel that you or a crew member has a tendency to
sea sickness it is worth taking one of the many pills or patches for this
condition, about an hour before sailing. Should this affliction still hit
you, go up on deck and do something. Do not stop eating as It Is much
easier to be sick on a full stomach ... Do not forget that some of these
pills can make you feel drowsy, and can be dangerous when mixed with
Finally, before you leave, tell the coastguard.
Alternatively, give them a ring. If you change plans, for Lordís sake do
not forget to tell them, and always phone once you have arrived.
Pick your departure time to work the tide, if at all
possible, and make sure that there is sufficient water at the other end
when you expect to get there. Perhaps you may have half a chance to have a
good trip if you have the odds stacked in your favour for a start.
Many first passages end in disappointment for their
participants. This can be for a number of reasons. Often, the excitement
of preparing for a new experience tends to create an anti-climax later on.
Quite often one or two things go wrong and the novice will at once panic
and make the wrong decision If it is any comfort, many yachtsmen
never learn not to panic This sort of behaviour is very likely to get the
rest of the crew up tight as well, and that is the end of a beautiful
Always try to stay relaxed and calm. Should things
begin to go wrong, think first, before rushing around like a motorized
Navigation can very easily go
wrong. On a hot sunny day it is only too easy to be lulled into a
false sense of security, and the next thing you know, you are either lost
or aground. Always remain alert while on watch. It may be the first time
that you have encountered large shipping. Do not expect them to get out of
your way if they see you at all, that is.
Should problems arise, or the
weather deteriorates, use discretion about continuing your trip. If you
are genuinely worried, it is always better to head for the nearest safe
anchorage rather than risk something silly.
safe arrival and time to relax
If that first trip comes your way,
no amount of preparation will substitute for plain, good. old,
commonsense. If you take plenty of that with you, enjoy the trip ó the chances are that you will.