At the Annapolis Sailboat Show and then teaching at Cruiser’s University, I met a lot of people who are preparing to cruise. And almost all said they were overwhelmed with everything they needed to learn and do!
And then, just a couple of days ago, I was talking to Lin Pardey (who podcasts on The Boat Galley Podcast and has written numerous books on cruising) and she made a very telling point about when she and her husband, Larry, began cruising: “There wasn’t all this information available. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. We just left and figured things out as we went along.”
The combination of the internet, ASA classes and Cruiser’s University (and others) has made it easier than ever to gain skills before heading out. And that is fantastic!
But at the same time, the ready listing of all the skills you need for successful cruising can be overwhelming. Especially when you’re trying to decide what you’re going to do with your house and everything you own. And buy a boat. And maybe face criticism — or at least questioning — from family and friends about your new life.
Add in insurance companies’ requirements for certifications and experience on similar sized boats in similar waters, and perhaps their requirement that you have a captain aboard any time you leave the dock, and the feeling of incompetence really ratchets up.
“I wonder if I was nuts to think I could do this.”
“It’s just too much to learn.”
And from a just-starting-out cruiser:
“I wanted to do something new and different, and I am. But I had no idea how stressful it would be. I think I’m glad I’m doing it, but some days I wonder.”
For most of us — who weren’t raised on cruising — deciding to go cruising is taking on a big challenge. One that can easily overwhelm us.
But I’m here to say that everyone hits the wall in preparing to cruise. I did. Both times. Yes, even after going cruising once and knowing what it was like, I still faced that feeling of “what was I thinking?” as I prepared to move aboard a different boat, with different systems, headed to different cruising grounds.
The solution? For me, and what I tell others, it’s two-fold:
- First, slow down a bit. Breathe. Even take a break from “preparing to cruise.” Try to get rid of deadlines. If your house has sold but you don’t have a boat yet, see if you can rent a furnished apartment month-to-month rather than trying to rush the boat purchase. If you’re trying to get a bunch of certifications and time on the water before you can leave the dock, perhaps set the date for leaving the dock back a bit — even if it means wintering or summering somewhere other than your dream destination. Space classes out. Absorb one before starting another.
- Second, give yourself an out. If you have a home that you’d want to return to if cruising doesn’t work for you, figure out how you can not give it up until you’ve been cruising for at least six months — better yet, a year. If you know that you’d want to move even if you weren’t going cruising, then go ahead and sell it or don’t renew the lease. Even then, think about the “stuff” that you’re getting rid of. If it really bothers you to get rid of something, see if you can keep it in storage.
A few other tips:
- Even if you think you might like to circumnavigate, don’t set that as a goal and don’t tell people that’s what you’re going to do. In fact, don’t set any goals. It puts a lot of pressure on you, and if you decide not to, you can feel like a failure. Instead, just say that you’re going cruising and don’t know where all you might go. (But do be sure to tell your broker if you want a boat capable of circumnavigating!)
- When you’re starting to feel overwhelmed by everything you need to do, pick one simple item and do it. Do something that should be a fairly easy win. Getting just one thing done and crossed off the list will immediately raise your spirits. Tackle the big, tough projects on a day when you’re feeling ready to take on the world.
- Don’t assume that your spouse/partner/kids feel the same way you do on any given day. Talk about what’s going on with you, especially if you’re having serious second thoughts (not the ones that are half joking “what am I thinking?” ideas, but the ones where you’re feeling sick in the pit of your stomach at the thought of what you’re doing). And if your spouse/partner/kids come to you with that sort of revelation, talk it out and come to a conclusion that hopefully satisfies both or all of you.
- If you find one particular class mind-boggling — or don’t pass one that gives a certification — don’t give up. Perhaps find someone that teaches the material differently. Or study the material on your own at a slower pace. Ask for help. Different people learn different ways and most likely the class was just not a good match for you.
- Yes, there are things that you need to know before you leave. But no matter how well-prepared you are, you’ll learn as you go. And that’s okay.
Are you having serious second thoughts about what you’ve tackled?
I find it helpful to go back and literally write down my reasons for having wanted to do [whatever] in the first place, and then see if those reasons still hold true. If so, maybe it’s time to just grit my way through the present discomfort. But if not, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate.
One technique I learned years ago for making a tough decision was to simply choose, one way or another. And then see how you feel about it. Are you happy? Then it was probably the right decision. Are you disappointed? Well, then, think about changing your mind.
And perhaps that’s the most important thing to realize: you can change your mind. At any time. Sometimes just that knowledge is all I need to continue moving forward.