HI, welcome back. For those I am welcoming for the first time, HI – quick backstory for ya
I was 23 years old (4 years ago… mmm) when my best friend Katie Smith and her pup Reggie, decided to buy a 27 foot sailboat and spend two years sailing America’s Great Loop. A lot of people asked how & why and at present I didn’t have much of an answer besides “why-not?”. The idea began as a joke. Neither of us had any qualification or prior knowledge on the subject-matter. It wasn’t until later that I found it’s meaning and I understood how the decision to travel this massive circle was the most educating adventure I could have ever signed myself up for. It completely re-routed the way I think, see, live, and move forward with every decision I make. In documenting this story over the years, I continue to receive emails of ambitious adventurers who aren’t quite certain where and how to start planning their own… Over the next few weeks I will be answering a few of the most common questions asked. Beginning with –
1 – Draw out your plan
Literally. Get out a paper and a pen and start drawing. Most likely it is a map. Draw in your boat, your airstream, your motorbike, your vehicle of choice. Mark prospective waypoints. Jot down miles, dates, landmarks and goals. How does it look on paper? Do you look good on that map? I bet you look fantastic. Add to your drawing over time. Scribble all over it. Keep it vague. Grey areas are important. A plan is necessary yes, but make sure to factor in the ability to work around those plans when your plan – does not go to plan. When your artwork turns into reality it’s going to look a lot different than the masterpeice hanging on your fridge. Allow yourself a daily visual of your adventure. You probably don’t know what the end reward is yet so wait to draw that in – that is, after all, the whole point of starting in the first place.
2 – Talk to people – real living people
Do your research. And by research I mean talk to people. Face to face, like we used to back in the day (Iphones’ Facetime not included). Pick as many brains as you can – people who have done something remotely similar. Retain that direct and firsthand knowledge before the information you may find on the internet machine. There is value in hearing as well as seeing one’s emotion behind their personal experience and words of wisdom.
We all know the word ‘naive’ is typically used in a negative context and is not how one would care to be categorized. But I am 100% certain there is a bit of magic that comes along with a teaspoon of naivety and I am here to tell you that it is okay to be naive – in small doses of course. One who is slightly naive does not share the same fears and resistance as the well-polished professor (I love you sister, this is not referring to you). It’s okay not to know every detail, statistic, and hazard about what it is you are going to do. There is however, an art to being naive – the art is knowing exactly when you are being naive and to heighten your senses to everything that is happening around you. Without this art, your dose of naiveté is that of a tablespoon instead of a teaspoon and you might get yourself into trouble. That’s fine too, it will make for a better story.
When you talk to people about your plan, face to face that is, you will most likely find that they too didn’t have much of an idea of what they were getting themselves into. Carry on with your research. Learn what you can. The real learning won’t happen until you leave.
3- Pack light
This is very straight forward and very important. The less you bring the less you have to lose. The less you leave behind the less you will miss. The less clutter the more space. The more stuff you have that can break, you more you will have to fix. We as humans require a fraction of goods we own to remain perfectly healthy and happy. Think simple. Pack light. (Katie was great at this, until it came to toiletries)
Invest in a “Spot” device. This satellite GPS tracker will send your location via email to your friends and family every day with the press of a button. Should you find yourself in an emergency situation it can also contact the Coast Guard. We pressed the “safe” button when we were securely anchored at the end of each day or after we successfully navigated an overnight passage or a long crossing. Only once did we have to use the “sort-of-an-emergency” button when we broke down on our way home from the Bahamas and had to get towed back to Florida.
Think seriously about what’s in your tool box. You are only as good as your tools and when something breaks – and I promise you it will – you are going to be the one to fix it. Investing in a good set of tools is priceless. We learned this the hard way time and again. We needed a very specific wrench to adjust part of the propeller shaft known as the “stuffing box” to prevent water from leaking into the boat. I could never bring myself to spend $30 on that stupid wrench, but every single time we were in a “slowly sinking” situation, I would have paid triple to have it.
Mmmm lets leave behind “Shades of Grey” and make room for guide books. Guide books often become your only source of information when you have no cell service and find yourself alone, possibly lost, and miles from civilization. Dozier’s “Waterway Guide” and “Skipper Bob” cruising guide series saved us a time or three. When you do have cell service and/or Wi-Fi available, I insist you download “Navionics.” You can pre-download incredibly accurate and detailed charts to your phone or tablet and still use them for navigation when out of touch.
4 – Leave your list incomplete
Don’t let an incomplete list keep you from leaving. Even when you think you have checked everything off there will be a never-ending psychological list patiently waiting. You will learn along the way what you need and more importantly what you don’t need. How does one gain experience without experiencing? You will make mistakes and If you already know you are going to make mistakes then listen, these are the 3 things to be certain to check off your list before departing :
1) Insure your boat – or whatever kind of vehicle it may be. When we left, I barely knew how to sail, nor motor Louise our 1979 Cal 27. Having it insured freed me of the never ending anxiety I had every time I ran around (frequently) hit a rock (twice in Canada) rammed a dock (when the shift cable snapped in the Bahamas) or backed into another boat, etc. (For the record I never backed into another boat).
2) Pre-flight. Every single morning before departing from point A, check the status of every working part in/on your boat to ensure it’s ability to get you to point B. When something goes wrong it goes wrong at a time of severe inconvenience, better to diagnose any potential problems while stationary.
3) Check your mental state. I am being completely serious. Your attitude and mental health is equally as important as the boat you are to rely on. Just like you rely on it, it relies on you. Don’t hesitate to wait a day, take a break, or call it quits early if you are not feeling up for it. Chill out mate. Tomorrow will be better.
The rest of the list will sort itself out. Carry on.
5 – You are superhuman
So you have this idea…this grand plan…this wild adventure… it’s brewing thick as lava that molds to the mountainside while it cools. In your mind, acting on this possibility, is set in stone but in reality you are terrified to reach out and touch it because it might be unsafe. You spend your mornings justifying every reason under the sun to go for it and pass your afternoons shooing away the obnoxious list of reasons it’s not possible. This silent battle is your first and largest mistake. Put down your damn weapons and go. Make that first Progressive decision. You have the power over, and are in control of, every decision small or large that you make. You will hold that power as long as you are alive. You are not stuck. Use this power to your advantage. This power is superhuman when you understand how to use it. You are superhuman. Turn that ridiculous drawing on your fridge into reality.