LESSONS LEARNED FROM A FREE SPIRIT
Over the years I have sold a fare share of catamarans to a wide range of people. They all start with a vision of where they will go on their boats, and what they will do, but never really know for sure who will take to the cruising lifestyle and who won’t. Some tell me they just want to sail in the Caribbean, but end up circumnavigating. Others tell me they plan to circumnavigate but never go much beyond the Bahamas, etc.
Four years ago I sold a new Dolphin 460 catamaran to Russell Eddington, a former Hobie cat racer I have known since my teens. Russell has sailed his Dolphin, “Free Spirit”, over 28,000 miles since that time. I was fortunate to recently meet up with him in Thailand and to spend a few days cruising around the islands off Phuket on Free Spirit. During our time together I peppered him with questions about his voyaging, what he learned, what advice he would give to others, etc. Here are some of Russell’s thoughts:
1. Most people over plan and obsess and worry too much. This is not just an American trait, but a trait I saw everywhere I went. I recall hanging out in Moololaba Australia and meeting fellow sailors. They just planned and planned and planned. I said to them, “Why don’t you just take off?” To me it has always been super simple. Check the weather, provision, and go.
2. I see people preparing all the time for that horrible weather they are certain they will encounter, but for the most part, sailing with the trades is 99% percent easy going. If the wind gets too strong, just shorten sail or take it all down and rest. After 28,000 miles I have used a sea anchor only once and it was simply to deploy and make riding out the storm very easy and comfortable.
3. It takes a bit of time to get to know any boat, but after you bond with your boat, you learn what you need to do to make sure she functions well and safely. I am always working on the boat to some extent, I always have a little list of the things I want to do and eventually I get to them. But I never let the chores get in the way of going sailing. The boat will never be perfect, so do not let imperfection become an excuse for not taking off.
4. Do not be afraid to single-hand sail sometimes. I had a situation in the Caribbean where my girlfriend had business in the states, so I just sailed the boat to Florida myself, stopping each night at a new anchorage. It was easy and fun. Any time the autopilot is working you really are never by yourself!
5. I have to say that so far the South Pacific to my mind is the most fantastic cruising in the world. The people are friendly, many islands untouched, and the weather is very pleasant. After I left Panama, I have never locked the boat the again. People are simply a lot sweeter and less prone to steal from you than in the Caribbean or Central America.
6. It is important always to stay calm and relaxed and to take things in stride when you travel on a boat. I have had some difficult experiences here and there, but keeping a low key attitude just always seems to work out better for me.
7. Learn local customs and treat everyone with great respect and they will be warm and helpful to you 99% of the time. Going nuclear on people just never works too well in my experience – warmth and sensitivity are appreciated around the world. I try to be the good American, not the ugly one.
8. There is always all of this talk of piracy and such, fear of all sort of things. I sailed my boat right up from Bali and into the Melaka straights and I never felt scared at all. I think the likelihood of dying in a car accident in the states is ten times higher than running into pirates. Running into an unlit fishing boat at night, however, is a lot easier here than in the Caribbean! You really have to stay on careful watch at night when sailing Asia as there is a lot of traffic and many unlit boats.
9. Do not rely solely on the GPS, and keep in mind that many GPS charts in remote parts of the world are not super accurate. Use caution at all times when close to shore or obstructions and it is best not to approach foreign ports at night if you can avoid it. I arrived in Bali after sailing a 1,000 miles and was anxious to get into the harbor, but I arrived just after Sunset, and while it was blowing hard and we had to hang out all night waiting to get in, I learned the following day after I arrived that they had pulled two boats off the reef just a few days before that tried to enter at night. Do not let fatigue or laziness compel you to take chances when you shouldn’t. Be wise and you will be fine.
10. Finally, just go sailing. If you have a solid boat you can go just about anywhere and have a magical time. All along the way you will meet interesting people, fellow sailors, warm and friendly locals, explore different cultures, etc. I have been piling up just a ton of great memories from this trip, things I will always cherish and never forget. Right now, the only compelling question is: where will I go next?!