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Becoming a Sailor

So there you are. Map of distant deserted islands spread over the kitchen table, whispering promises of adventure, solitude and freedom. Now what? You love the idea of cruising, yet you´ve perhaps never set foot aboard a sailboat, less even set your own sails.

Meeting the vagabonds of the oceans, one understands that there is one thing they have in common. At some point they all made the same decision: to quit the ordinary and follow the siren’s call.

Many, many acquired their sailing experience right on the ocean. One summer at the lake perhaps, then sailing close to shore en route to the Big Crossing. Most were not millionaires, or even sailors from the start.

Ocean vagabonds are just ordinary people, longing - not necessarily for the sailing itself - but for the freedom and the adventure of exploring a real Disneyworld fairytale; our planet Earth.

This site is not about the Americas Cup or other races. It’s about you. If you are one of those souls this site is to encourage you to do it. To go. Fill that void in your heart. It´s easier than you think. Here is how.

Your first new friend will be the wind. It takes time to make the acquaintance and is best done on the water. Get a small sailboat; put it in your nearest lake or coastal water and sit in it. Play around, feel the wind, adjust your sails to find the best angles. A few summer months after work will take you to the next level.

Now trade the small sailboat for your real boat. You´ll probably want another season to make her ready for the voyage and practice your sailing skills close to shore.

Whether it’s the Canary Islands (from Europe) or Bermuda (from the US) the route to your point of crossing is the final exam aboard your vessel. The approaching voyages usually take 2-3 months and will gradually bring you out on bigger waters.

The crossing itself will probably prove surprisingly mainstream, with tailwinds and easy sail setups. Mainsails will be too much work because of frequent sudden squalls, most often you’ll bob gingerly by a single Genoa.

Your first boat
Almost all greatest sailors started out dinghy sailing. So should you. There are a number of strong arguments for this.

First, you learn to make mistakes. Flipping over, running into a pier or another boat, blowing out a sail and falling into the water. You can get bold and do all this stuff without getting hurt. The experience will be invaluable when you get your blue water cruiser. Most probably you won’t flip over on the Atlantic but it will be very comforting to know what it actually feels like if you did.

Second, you need to get a true feeling for the wind, the water, the boat and the forces that make all this interact into a nice voyage. You will instantly get an intuitive felling for the physics in a dinghy while you could sail for years on a large boat and still not really understand what´s going on.

And third, dinghy sailing is fun!

Almost any dinghy will do, but here are some guidelines:

  • She should be plastic and unsinkable (double bottom)
  • She should have two sails or more, jib, main and perhaps a spinnaker
  • She should have a centerboard
  • She should probably be between 400 and 500 cm long
  • She can well be very old and cheap ($400 to $1000)
A great way to find your dinghy is to visit the local dinghy-racing club. To stay competitive young racers must get new boats every other year so the second hand market is all yours. Get a dinghy that was used for competition, skip the bargaining (the kids need the money) and ask for free sailing lessons instead!

Check if you can join a few local sailing races. You’ll probably finish last but learn more in a weekend than most sailors learn in an entire summer. You may discover you’re twice the age or more of the kids you race; just tell them you are training for an Atlantic crossing and you’ll gain respect. They may also prove great crew for your Big Crossings in a couple of years.