Publish date:

Cruising: Bluewater Pollywogs

Offshore newbie Mira and her father, Jay, set sail for adventure

Offshore newbie Mira and her father, Jay, set sail for adventure

Bluewater sailing is 25 percent actually sailing and 75 percent learning how to live on a boat at sea, in constant motion and with no chance to get off the roller coaster. I cannot over-emphasize how difficult normal daily functions become at sea, even on nice, calm days. Walking around belowdecks when the boat is heeled is like maneuvering on an alien planet with more gravity than you’re used to on Earth. The simplest daily chores, like brushing your teeth, become arduous, complicated tasks. Cooking a nutritious meal can feel impossible even for the iron stomachs among us, and if you feel the slightest bit seasick, you simply won’t do it. In short: offshore sailing is far more physically demanding than you can imagine, so make sure you’re mentally prepared.

How do I know I’ll get along with everyone?” The answer to this, another one of the more common questions we get on Isbjörn and Icebear, sounds like a joke: “You will because you have to.” Ocean sailing is as close to being an astronaut as we “normal” folk can ever hope to attain—you’re living in cramped quarters with your crewmates, navigating your tiny, fragile craft across a hostile environment with zero outside help. You must get along with your shipmates if you are going to a succeed. Yes, that’s down partially to leadership. But it also requires a common open-mindedness among the crew that they’re consciously going to like one another, or at least try. On watch I always pair the extroverts together and the introverts with the other introverts. As a member of the latter group, there’s nothing worse than spending four hours in the cockpit with someone who won’t stop talking.

It will take three days to acclimate to life at sea, whether you’re seasick or not. Even now, in the middle of a ten-thousand-mile season, each passage is a “reset” of sorts for me. It takes me three days to start feeling like myself and to really enjoy the passage, instead of just enduring it.

You won’t sleep well your first three days at sea as you acclimate to the watch rotation. If you’re the skipper and responsible for the boat and crew, you’ll sleep even worse with the inevitable “leader’s anxiety” hanging around your neck. If you’re the crew, lay down in your bunk when you’re off-watch, no matter how excited you may be at being offshore for the first time, and no matter whether you sleep or not. Resting is better than nothing. If you’re the skipper, do whatever it takes to ensure the crew wakes you up when you need them to. Establish specific standing orders so the crew knows exactly under what circumstances you want to be on deck. Only when you can trust them to follow this protocol will you actually get any real rest. Conversely, if the crew wakes you up at every passing cloud, you’ll never get the time to sack out. If you have enough crew, don’t put yourself in the watch rotation.

Icebear (left) and Isbjörn prepare to set sail from Antigua

Icebear (left) and Isbjörn prepare to set sail from Antigua

In those first three days, you probably won’t poop. Sorry to be so blunt, but it’s true—your bodily functions take a backseat to survival-mode in a new and unstable environment. Drink lots of water, keep eating and eventually, your bowels will come around.

The good news? If you’ve never been at sea, you’ve never seen a truly dark night sky. The stars on a clear, moonless night at sea seem impossible in number and impossibly close. Familiar constellations get lost in the sea of the Milky Way. Satellites soar across the sky, one after another. Lying in the cockpit on a four-hour watch you’ll easily see a dozen or more if you’re paying attention. Shooting stars are another regular occurrence. How often do you take the time to fully experience a sunrise or sunset at home? How often do you just sit for hours and watch how the sky transitions from daytime blue to twilight pink, orange and purple? Or how the dawn breaks in the east, sometimes hours before the sun actually rises, especially in the higher latitudes.

You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to disconnect. To paraphrase a famous surfer and snowboarder turned sailor, at home you can choose to be disconnected, but often don’t have the discipline to do so. Offshore it’s not a choice. After two days of going cold turkey, you’ll exist in the moment in a way you haven’t since you were a child.

To live aboard a boat on-passage is to experience a whole new kind of world

To live aboard a boat on-passage is to experience a whole new kind of world

On the practical side, there’s a few things I won’t go to sea without. I always download some of my favorite podcasts or audiobooks before we set forth. Listening to audio is a great way to get rest when you’re not tired enough to sleep but too tired to read. I prefer actual books to an e-reader, though I can see the point if you have limited space in which to pack.

I always tell crew, if it’s your first time in the ocean, just take some kind of seasick medicine and enjoy the passage. I recommend scopolamine patches, though they must be tested at home first, since the adverse side effects, though rare can dangerous. At the same time, everyone eventually adapts—it’s part of the beauty of being human. If you do get sick, hang in there, get horizontal whenever possible and ride it out. Like your bowels, you’ll come around.

Along these same lines, get mentally comfortable with discomfort, while doing what you can to mitigate the worst of it. Pack baby wipes for cleaning up each day, a water bottle to stay hydrated, a headlamp with a red light for moving around at night and an eye mask so you can sleep when the sun is up. Expect to shower only once every three or four days.

Last, but perhaps most importantly, allow for a couple of nights at anchor before heading out. Get away from the hustle and bustle of shore and last-minute preparations. We start every one of our passages with at least one night at anchor to help the crew get acclimated. This way everyone gets a good night’s sleep and plenty of time to learn the boat. Dock lines and fenders are stowed, and the boat is ready to sail before we go to bed. We typically get underway around mid-morning, after a leisurely breakfast.

Finally, stay present! Even the hardest passage will be over in the blink of an eye, so take the bad with the good and enjoy every moment. 

Andy Schell is a veteran delivery captain and co-owner, with his wife, Mia Karlsson, of the adventure-charter company 59 North, which specializes in providing sail-training and offshore passagemaking opportunities.
Visit 59-north.com for more information. 

July 2021

Related

01-LEAD-IMG_1002

Cyclone Season in Polynesia

Thinking of spending cyclone season in the South Pacific? Plenty of sailors take the chance every year, with the recent travel restrictions imposed by the pandemic making this an especially popular option in 2020. Cyclone season in this part of the world runs from November to ...read more

01b-LEAD-INSET-Kirby-IMG_0077

Eight Bells: Bruce Kirby, Creator of the Laser

With 2021 drawing to a close, Laser sailors find themselves reflecting on both their class’s 50th anniversary and the passing of the man who made it all possible: Canadian designer, sailor and sailing journalist, Bruce Kirby. Kirby, who died this past July at the age of 92, ...read more

2021ROLEXIC_DF_0061

Southern Yacht Club Wins Rolex NYYC Invitational Cup

Newport, R.I. -- The 7th Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup wrapped up on Saturday after five days of highly competitive racing in an international fleet that saw the Southern Yacht Club (SYC) of New Orleans best a fleet of 19 teams from Europe, Canada, Bermuda and ...read more

DUFOUR-530_NAVIGATION_009

Boat Review: Dufour 530

Dufour Yachts seems to have shifted its strategy with the introduction of the new 530. Previously, the French builder maintained two lines: Performance and Grand Large, with the latter targeted at the cruising crowd. With the Dufour 530, however, Dufour decided to combine the ...read more

210913-11HRT-SKIPPER-PORTRAITS-VC-122

11th Hour Christens Two IMOCAs, Hits a Snag

This week has been a big one for the American-founded, sustainability-centric ocean racing team 11th Hour Racing. In addition to christening their two new boats, the team also took them out for a quick test ride—against some of the most intense IMOCA 60 skippers in the world. ...read more

01-LEAD-DSCF3091

Clewless in the Pacific

Squalls are well known to sailors who cruise the middle Latitudes. Eventually, you become complacent to their bluster. But squalls vary in magnitude, and while crossing from Tahiti to Oahu, our 47ft Custom Stevens sloop paid the price for carrying too much canvass as we were ...read more

Nigel

SAIL’s Nigel Calder Talks Electrical Systems at Trawlerfest Baltimore

At the upcoming Trawlerfest Baltimore, set for Sept. 29-Oct. 3, SAIL magazine regular contributor Nigel Calder will give the low down on electrical systems as part of the show’s seminar series.  The talk will be Saturday, October 2 at 9am. Electrical systems are now the number ...read more

5ae5b8ce-3113-4236-927b-f795be4ae091

Bitter End Yacht Club Announces Reopening

Four years after being decimated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the Bitter End Yacht Club is set to reopen for the Winter 2022 season. Hailed as one of the best anchorages in the Caribbean and built by sailors, for sailors, this island outpost in the BVI has been a favorite with ...read more