50 Things Cruising Taught Me

Dennis Mullen shares the top 50 things that cruising taught him while sailing the world on his catamaran, Different Drummer. Read what Dennis learned, and then write in with your own top 10 list.
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After spending a year cruising around the world, Dennis Mullen learned a thing or two. He shared his top 10 list in our April '12 issue, but we couldn't help sharing the top 50 things cruising taught him aboard Different Drummer.

If you have a top 10 list you'd like to share, please email us at sailmail@sailmagazine.com. And check out Dennis's book, Cruising 101 with the full list of 101 lessons he's learned.

1. “Port’s left, starboard’s right, and there are no ropes on a boat!” This was my friend Roudy Roudebush’s only response when I told him Marlene and I bought a catamaran to sail the world.

2. Your dinghy is your lifeline to civilization. Groceries, exploring, transporting guests and garbage, whatever, your dinghy is your friend.

3. Two-stroke engines suck.

4. Do not sail over the wreck of Blackbeard the Pirate’s flagship Queen Anne’s Revenge, sunken in the Beaufort, North Carolina inlet. Sailing over his sunken ship is said to be bad juju. We did it shortly before our first engine blew up. 

5. The captain of the vessel should know every inch, every wire and every plug of the boat and be prepared to fix it when it fails.

6. When in question whether or not to stay put, and you are in a safe harbor, and things “look iffy out there,” stay put.

7. Read. A lot. 

8. Big anchor, lots of chain = successful anchorage. Usually. 

9. Piracy is alive and well. The only person selling diesel fuel to cruisers on the entire length of the Pamlico River, a pirate I won’t name, was able to pump thirty-four gallons of diesel fuel into my thirty gallon aft tank. At $4.48 a gallon.

10. “Red Right Returning." Though not always true, this adage refers to buoys that mark the channels where the deep water is, which is where you want to be. Green buoys are on the left, reds are on the right when you are returning from the sea. Theoretically, this keeps you from running aground.

11. Most of the news we miss has an insignificant effect on our lives, anyway. We have no television and radio reception is sketchy at best. Freedom from information.

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12. Be suspicious of NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Association) weather forecasts. We left a beautiful, safe anchorage in sailing for Ocracoke Island. Using NOAA’s weather forecast of “light and variable winds, building late afternoon from the east,” we should have had an easy sail to the Ocracoke Inlet. Reality was 25 knot winds on our nose all day long, causing us to arrive just before dark.

13. Never enter an unfamiliar anchorage or unfamiliar inlet after dark.

14. “Sea” buoy, and “C” buoy sound the same over radio and telephone. When entering the Ocracoke Inlet from the Atlantic Ocean, going around the “sea” buoy will get you safely inside the inlet. Going around the “C” buoy can sink your boat.

15. “Charts” are navigational aids that tell you what you just ran into.

16. Meltdowns happen. 

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17. Cruising is 90 percent sheer boredom and 10 percent sheer terror and you never know when the 10 percent is going to hit.

18. Everything tastes better on the boat. 

19. When you buy a powerboat, throw away your watch. When you buy a sailboat, throw away your calendar.

20. Annapolis, to a history buff, is about as cool as it gets. You can walk the same streets and drink in the same taverns that George Washington, Tom Jefferson and Ben Franklin did. 

21. A boat can be self-sustaining for two weeks. We create our own electricity with four solar panels and a wind generator from Trinidad. Our 150 gallons of fresh water is used sparingly, but we try not to smell bad. The freezer freezes and the fridge keeps the beer cold.

22. Boats leak.

23. A fouled anchor can ruin your day in paradise.

24. Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure. It’s all up to you.

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25. The sound of krill eating the growth on the outside of your hulls is very unsettling until you learn what it is. Once you learn, it becomes a comfort knowing that your hulls are being cleaned.

26. Anchoring alone can be terrifying. Dragging anchor at 0300 in unexpected gale-force winds when everything is pitch-black will leave you wanting for your mommy.

27. Parts for boats make parts for Harley-Davidsons seem reasonably priced.

28. Always have a spare everything.

29. Sitting in the cockpit with a fresh cup of hot coffee as the sun comes up over the Atlantic Ocean is the best morning buzz that I know.

30. Clothing becomes optional and unnecessary. 

31. If you don’t have what you need, make something else work.

32. Never drink before the boat is secure on anchor, mooring or dock. Period.

33. You can always try one more thing.

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34. Living with someone for six months on a sailboat is a study in interpersonal relationships in confined spaces. Work it out. You can’t go for a walk.

35. When you enter a town by car, you remain a visitor. When you enter a town by boat, you immediately become part of the community.

36. Most boats handle storms better than most people handle storms.

37. Pelicans are cool. Seeing a dozen or more brown pelicans flying in straight-line formation 6 inches above the Pamlico Sound will stop you in your tracks.

38. Always try to have the anchor set by 1620.

39. Grocery stores are never close to the waterfront and carts don’t cut it. We have been amazed by the generosity of complete strangers who offer us rides.

40. Fouling your propeller will bring the engine to an immediate stop. 

41. Backing up your boat is an adventure in itself. Every time.

42. Diesel oil is like black paint that won’t dry.

43. Hurricanes, even category-one hurricanes, mess things up for a very long time.

44. There are turtles the size of Volkswagens in Cape Lookout Bight, which is perfectly protected and virtually unchanged since Blackbeard anchored there.

45. My wife is much better at the helm than I, but our autopilot steers a straighter course than either of us.

46. For $25, you can rent a mooring ball on the York River at Yorktown, Virginia, and see the monument where British Gen. Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington, ending the Revolutionary War.

47. For $35, you can rent a mooring ball in the Annapolis Harbor and walk up to the Capitol Building where you can stand on the exact spot where, in 1793, George Washington said, “I quit.”

48. We have logged over 4,000 miles on our boat from Key Largo to the top of the Chesapeake Bay at an average speed of 6 mph. But what a way to see the U.S.

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49. Never turn around to retrieve hats that have blown off people’s heads. My percentage rate is 100 percent. I have never turned around for any of them.

50. Weather is scary. A beautiful, clear day suddenly became a tornado warning with demonic winds, torrential rain falling sideways, and lightning exploding around the boat. Then the sun came out and everything was fine. “They come on ya fast, and they leave ya fast!”

Share your top 10 list with us! Email us at sailmail@sailmagazine.com.

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