We all dream of carefree cruising but the reality of boat maintenance and trip prep can get in the way of that. Three things that greatly lessen the stress for us.

Less Stressful Cruising

Cruising seems like an idyllic life . . . permanent vacation, right? Ask anyone who’s done it though, and they say it’s nothing of the sort.

It can get stressful at times, with being on the move, maintaining the boat, doing all the “normal” stuff such as going to the grocery store, fixing meals, cleaning and doing laundry, as well as preparing for the next day on the move. When are we supposed to have fun?

For Dave and I, three things really help lessen the stress:

  • Slowing down
  • Preparing in advance
  • Get an early start

Admittedly, sometimes weather or other factors don’t make these possible. And sometimes we have several “in transit” days in a row. But as a general rule? Absolutely. These three things have made our cruising much more enjoyable.

And you might note that they all are based on lessening time pressure. For us, time is one of the biggest stressors there is, even more so than money.

Slowing down means that we don’t try to pack so much into each day that we’re exhausted. If it takes us an extra day or two to do things in town at a reasonable pace – and enjoy the town – so be it. Working from sun up to sundown day after day is a sure recipe for hating the boat and hating cruising. Yes, some days it may be necessary. But not every day.

We’ve learned that it’s equally counterproductive to run around madly trying to see the sights. It’s easy to get into the “check items off” mindset, but we now will either stay somewhere longer to see everything we want to at a pace that lets us enjoy what we’re seeing, or just admit that we can’t see or do everything and pick the things that most appeal to us.

If staying longer means we miss “our” weather window, there will be another one. That’s one of the real advantages to cruising as a lifestyle and not just as a vacation.

We’ve learned that starting out a trip – even just a 20-mile jump – with both of us well-rested means that we’re in a better mood, having fun on the journey and are much better at dealing with anything that comes up along the way – weather, mechanical or navigational issues.

And that brings the second piece of the equation into focus – we try to have everything on the boat ready the night before we intend to leave. Any bigger repairs or maintenance, we start work on shortly after we arrive somewhere, and want to have it done at least a day before we leave. Unless we’re planning a very short next step, we try hard not to have to do any “last morning” things ashore or picking something up. Knowing that everything is ready to go when we go to bed the night before, we’ve found, makes us both a lot calmer.

And we try not to leave too much for even the last day. Anything that can be done in advance, we do. Specifically, we’ll fuel up several days in advance, plot the route and go over it together (taking our time in planning and plotting the route also makes for fewer errors and less stress). Laundry will get done and provisions/supplies bought. Then the day before we’re leaving I’ll make any food we want to eat underway (usually some breakfast bread or muffins and something for lunch; maybe prep some fruit to eat underway) while Dave does the engine checks, and together we’ll top up the water tanks if necessary, put the dinghy engine on the stern rail and hoist the dinghy usually before dinner.

If there are any problems – such as recently when the dinghy motor’s tilt lock had a problem and the motor tilted up just a couple inches every time we put it on the stern rail (which then made the dinghy rub on it) – there is time to straighten things out without time pressure. Funny how it’s much easier to figure out a problem when you know you have time!

We’re not up past midnight trying to hurriedly fix something . . . which can result both in mistakes being made and also a distinct lack of sleep. We’re also not still trying to get ready in the morning . . . and seeing our desired departure time slipping by. And if the day-before prep reveals problems, we can decide to stay another day . . . or several.

Finally, within the confines of tides, bridge or lock openings and so on, we try to leave as early as possible (assuming a one-day trip; overnight trips we may start later so that we arrive in daylight). On longer trips – 40 or 50 miles – we usually start pulling the anchor just before sunrise. Shorter trips we start just after breakfast.

Once again, giving ourselves plenty of time to reach our destination means that if there’s any problem, we have time to deal with it without risking coming into an anchorage or marina after dark. Maybe it’s something like slowing down to let a squall pass in front of us, maybe it’s stronger than expected current slowing us down. More than once we’ve had engine problems that forced us to sail in very light winds. If we’re not stressing about time, we deal with the issue much better and don’t take chances.

After all, cruising is supposed to be fun!

  • Terysa
    Posted at 08 July 2016 Reply

    I think ‘slowing down’ is the most important factor for stress-free cruising! We learned this the hard way last year. We got to the point where we weren’t even enjoying cruising anymore because we put so much pressure on ourselves to cover a certain number of miles by the end of the season- and for what!? We finally admitted that we were doing it all wrong, and since we’ve given ourselves permission to move at a much slower pace, we’ve been so much happier!

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 08 July 2016 Reply

      Yep — so often we’re focused on a goal or getting to a particular destination that we forget to enjoy the journey!

  • Ann
    Posted at 08 July 2016 Reply

    We only have a few weeks to cruise each year and when we first started 20+ years ago, we would have an itinerary all planned out for each day. It ended up being really stressful when there were storms but we went anyway because it was our plan. We have traveled with babies and trying to help hubby while watching little ones made life miserable.

    Then my husband fell off the roof and severely broke his foot one June. We thought we’d not be able to cruise but it turns out he did well on the boat with all of the hand holds and built in furniture that he could support himself on (he was non weight bearing for 5 months). I told him “Let’s go anyway. No plan, let’s see where we can go and what we can do.” So it was the trip with “No Expectations, No Destinations”. It was our best trip ever. Small hops, staying in port in less than optimal conditions, much more relaxed because he couldn’t do much so there was no massive sightseeing. So that has become our sailing philosophy now. We DO have somewhat of an itinerary this year with some reservations but should we not be able to get to the port in time, it’s not a big deal. We will just delay it a bit. But usually I ask in the afternoon “So what are we doing tomorrow? Want to stay or move on?” 🙂 I LOVE this kind of cruising!!

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 08 July 2016 Reply

      Wonderful . . . but sorry to hear how you came to cruising slower!

  • Lupari Sue
    Posted at 08 July 2016 Reply

    Good messages. I wish Id read these a few months ago…

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 08 July 2016 Reply

      Admittedly, it’s sometimes easier said than done . . .

  • Mary Deyo
    Posted at 08 July 2016 Reply

    We try to minimize time pressure, too, but I sometimes get caught by the old work-related instinct to “look productive” – while DH is enjoying his “stress of command” beer or napping. That’s why it can take me longer to recover from a passage…

  • Cheryl Buckner
    Posted at 08 July 2016 Reply

    I love all this information from you seasoned sailors. Thanks so much! Keeping it all in my back pocket for when we are cruising. This will be our second summer season on our lake and it was exciting getting the boat a bit more fixed up. We had a slow start as I got a concussion from the boom while taking dinghy lessons this past spring! I laughed when my doctor mentioned an “athletic” concussion. So not me!

  • Frances Liz Fernandez
    Posted at 09 July 2016 Reply

    Sound advice

  • Lori Rackliffe
    Posted at 12 July 2016 Reply

    My husband and I tend to be cautious with a strong tendency to be prepared well in advance. This has served us well over our six years of full-time cruising. This doesn’t eliminate “surprises” but hey, you need to know you are alive! We have learned to over-prepare whenever the possibility of rough conditions is likely and that helps lower our (mostly mine) stress level a lot. We joke that most of those times we didn’t need to over-prepare at all, so let’s keep doing that!
    This article really is so spot on, the way people feel cruisers are just enjoying one big vacation. Carolyn you nailed it.

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