Now at the 1-year mark of taking delivery of our boat, I’ve been thinking about all the projects done, all the cruises we did, what went wrong and what I would’ve done differently.
A year of perspective changes things a lot for first-time boat owners, and some things I worried about I realize I shouldn’t have, and some things I didn’t worry about I should have.
What I would have done differently:
- Intimately Understand Your Rig in the first 3 months.
For close to a year we were sailing around with a slack forestay – not enough tension in the roller furler turnbuckle, which caused head sail sag unless the backstay hydraulic tensioner was cranked up a lot.
Because I didn’t know it’s relatively easy to disassemble the furler to adjust forestay tension, that project got deferred.
I’ve recently heard of cruisers who sailed to the South Pacific and Malaysia before they learned how to tune their rig – and thought what?? A sailboat’s rig is really really important, and sailing around with rig problems (which can be fairly subtle to spot) is just a bad idea.
- Focus More on Sail Handling.
Practicing reefing once at dock doesn’t mean you know your boat well enough to reef in 25 kt winds in 4-8 ft waves. Besides reefing there are lots of others things you need to know how to tune, and just because it’s easy in easy conditions doesn’t mean you’re done.
Sail handling is easy to neglect when you buy a boat because other things (like the interior, or the deck) are often more obvious. But ease of sail handling would’ve made a bigger difference in our Vancouver Island cruise.
- Hire Professionals for Learning Consults Earlier.
The purchase survey and engine survey were money well spent – worth their weight in gold I like to say. But I would go a step further and schedule 1 or 2 hour consults with a diesel mechanic, a marine electrician, and a rigger after you’ve had the boat 2 to 3 months but before your first major cruise.
An hour or two with a professional can teach you as much as you might learn in 6-12 months on your own. I’m doing these walkthroughs now, but probably should’ve done them a bit earlier. I find most professionals are willing to do it – although it’s a short job for them, it’s probably a nice change of pace from their normal jobs – they don’t have to get their hands dirty and get to show off their experience and wisdom. Be humble and receptive and most marine professionals will be happy to teach you a few things.
- Not assume we’d like ocean sailing (to Mexico or beyond).
In buying the boat, I had been sure we needed a bluewater capable boat so we could sail to Mexico someday. Later, we realized we both liked coastal cruising / gunkholing better than ocean sailing, and might never do that. Fortunately I staged the boat projects right – doing obvious safety and deferred maintenance issues first – rather than jumping into big upgrades for offshore readiness immediately.
In reality I wouldn’t do anything differently here, because there’s no way to know whether or not you’d like it just from reading books and sailing in protected sounds. The conditions on the west coast of Vancouver Island are what provided the perspective.
- Don’t Worry Too Much.
If you read too much on the Internet, every problem is a potential sink-your-boat end of the world problem. It wasn’t until we had about 6 months of perspective that we could tell who had good advice and who was just full of baloney. Address your boat’s issues, but always keep in mind there are many other sailors out there on boats with the exact same problems or worse, and most of them are doing just fine.