Lessons of Ocean Sailing
A year ago today Citadel, a Jeanneau 54DS, set off from Gibraltar for the Azores. During the month of August in 2016 we sailed 2000 miles (a thousand each way) and spent 2 weeks cruising the anchorages and bars of the Azores. It was a wonderful experience even with the contretemps we encountered. Here are the lessons I took away:
The first lesson is to assemble a capable crew with complementary skill sets. Out hundreds of miles from shore the crew has to be self sufficient. Be intrusive and ask searching questions even about any potential health conditions that might endanger the individual or the whole crew.
The second lesson is to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Put the yacht through the sort of examination that a meticulous (dare I say pedantic) marine surveyor would carry out. Make sure that any weak points are addressed. Carry spares of anything vital to the safe navigation of the vessel.
The third lesson of the trip is that it is quite feasible, indeed probable, that you will be on the same tack for hundreds of miles in a steady wind. Gone are the vagaries of the Mediterranean with winds strongly influenced by coastal features - flat one moment and a howling gale a few minutes later. The steadiness of sailing across the Portuguese Trade Winds meant that the crew had to be alert to chafe damage to sails and running rigging. We lost the gennaker reefing line because of chaffing on the anchor. We never saw it until it parted at the most inconvenient time.
The fourth lesson is to care for the comfort and wellbeing of the crew. If the weather is anything other than ideal, and it often is not, the crew will need proper rest and nutrition. Have a proper watch system that matches stronger crew members with less experienced ones and make sure everyone gets rest. On the nutrition front it is important to remember that the early days of any passage is the time when the crew need to get their sea legs so taking food prepared ashore and frozen means that little time has to be spent in heaving galley with a queasy stomach. In both directions we survived for the first three days on items that just needed to be heated in the oven.
The final lesson is that on a sailing yacht you can get to the most beautiful anchorages and ports that are remote from any airports and therefore inaccessible to mass tourism. As more and more of planet Earth is opened up to mass tourism it is wonderful to experience places that are untouched and retain their charm of yesteryear. Some of the islands in the Azores are still relatively pristine and merit a visit but first you’ll need a yacht and Boatshed Gibraltar will only be too happy to help!