Aboard Akhlut Episode 8: Top 8 Tips for Offshore Sailing
After nearly two years of ‘staying put’ in the pacific waters around British Columbia–most of which were spent exploring the province’s miles of intricately worn and wild coastline–this year, we were once again finally able to journey beyond Canada’s Pacific Northwest.
Although exploring our own backyard was exciting, eye-opening, and gratifying, our dream has always been to see the world ever since we first untied the lines in Ensenada, Mexico, three years ago.
As I write this, we are currently sailing down the American coast with our sights set on Mexico for the winter and hopefully beyond come spring 2022.
Transitioning from day sailing to bluewater is different for everyone. However, I’ve learned a few things that can be helpful for anyone heading offshore, whether it be your first time in a while or your first time ever.
I’ll begin by saying one truly invaluable aspect of being a sailor is also being a part of the greater sailing community. Whenever possible, dedicate time and energy to fostering and nourishing your relationships with other people on the water. Those who have the same passions and interests will support you and guide you however they can. Sharing knowledge is an essential and sacred part of cruising and staying safe. I can guarantee there will be information that you may never have realized you needed. Ultimately, we choose what works best on a personal level, and we are always learning, but it helps to get a bit of guidance rather than learn everything the hard way.
Important preparations and advice for offshore cruising and international sailing:
(Note: Whenever possible, seek professional medical help)
1. Medical supplies onboard. Depending on how far you hope to cruise, this will vary accordingly, but the general idea is that you want to be as self-sufficient as possible should you be away from professional medical help and need to doctor yourself or your crew. In the literature aspect, The Marine Medicine Pocket Guide comes highly recommended.
2. Simple prescription medications to cover a wide range of bacterial and fungal infections. Before setting sail, talk to your family doctor and let them know your travel plans. They will help get you set up with a few different prescriptions that can cover a variety of ailments you might experience while sailing, especially in warmer climates. And for the ladies, in particular, make sure you get medication for UTIs. They can occur at the worst of times and get very serious in a hurry.
3. International travel insurance that covers adventure activities such as sailing, snorkeling, hiking, etc. Unless you have half a million dollars kicking around in your savings account, spending the money on travel insurance is one of the most important things you can do before heading offshore. I have read numerous forums and recommendations and talked to fellow cruisers before this trip. I learned that the travel insurance I purchased during our previous sailing trip in Mexico wouldn’t have even covered me for sailing. It also wouldn’t have covered me in multiple countries. The best one I’ve found for adventure travel (and after reading so many reviews) is World Nomad’s Travel Insurance. They cover multi-trips and countries, cover many adventure activities, and have a good reputation for quickly processing claims.
Things you can do ahead of time to prepare for an offshore schedule:
4. Watch the weather. Compare different models to get a better idea of what to expect when you get out there. Chat to seasoned cruisers who may have experience with particular models that may be are more accurate in certain areas. The weather is getting more unpredictable, so proper weather routing is doing your due diligence, but always use common sense and intuition in conjunction with planning. Weather forecasts can change daily, and even though good weather windows are hard to pass up, give yourself lots of time to not feel rushed or anxious. Getting out of your comfort zone is great but pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion or angst is not worth it. Sh*t can go wrong in a hurry, and you want to feel as prepared as you can to take on every aspect of the voyage.
5. Meal planning and prep. I’m passing this tip on from many other long-distance sailing friends. Side note: I happen to be someone who enjoys cooking while we’re sailing. Yes, some sail configurations can be frustrating, with more food ending up on the floor than in the pan, but I love breaking up the hours of sailing with cooking because I love to cook. That being said, for those heading offshore for the first time, meal prep is a great way to ensure the crew gets fed well, no matter what the conditions at sea.
6. Test your body’s internal clock, learn what it’s like to pull a night shift. If you’ve never tried staying up all night (partying doesn’t count), give it a try before you get out on the water for a multi-day sail. Once out there, it may take days to get into the rhythm of the open ocean, with shorter passages (~1-3 days) being the most difficult. But if you’re familiar with how your body functions without sleep, it can be easier to manage these scheduling aspects of bluewater cruising.
7. Three top priorities for maintaining a healthy constitution at sea.
a) Communication. There are so many variables on every passage that it’s hard to stick to one plan or schedule, but the more open the lines of communication, whether with your partner or your crew, the easier it is to adjust as needed.
b) Balanced meal consumption. Sure, you can live off easy noodles, but good comforting meals always boost morale and contribute to the enjoyment of long-distance sailing. Also, snacks! Lots of snacks!
c) Hydration. This is a huge one! You’d be surprised just how hard your body and muscles work just for stabilization, let alone hard work, while on any size of sea for 24 hours a day. Proper hydration keeps your body in balance and will help minimize the physical, mental, and emotional feelings of fatigue.
8. Last but certainly not least—and this goes no matter where, when, or what distance you are sailing. Think of the edge of your boat as a 500ft cliff that you DO NOT want to fall off. Wear a PFD with D-rings for use with a tether. We use the HIT Hydrostatic Inflatable PFD with Sailing Harness. Clip yourself in! Always! If you go overboard, there is a very slim chance you’ll get recovered.
Preparedness is oh-so crucial when choosing to travel by boat as there are so many aspects that we personally have no control over. Being well equipped gives you the confidence to take on the challenges you face and help ensure your safety and boost overall enjoyment.