Before I continue taking you south through the Caribbean Island chain to the North Coast of South America, I would like to discuss some of the requirements I consider necessary to prepare yourself and your boat for such a long trip aboard.
First and foremost, from my perspective and experience, is to prepare yourself and your crew. In our case, my husband was the skipper and I was the crew. We took all of the classes necessary for long term offshore sailing; Advanced Piloting, Navigation and Weather from the United States Power Squadron. We had taken the beginning classes years ago.
My husband, Herman and I, sailed many hours offshore to distant islands and ports in New England and southward along the Eastern Seaboard. He then sailed GRENDEL with a crew of 4 other guys to Bermuda and back to Connecticut. These sailing excursions helped us to prepare ourselves for long distance offshore cruising necessary for an extended voyage.
This did not happen over night. We had maybe twenty years of local and offshore experience. Truthfully, we were prepared to do a round the world trip, but I didn’t want to be away from home, family and grandkids that long.
If you are at all interested in long range sailing, start out on small overnight or two or three night sails to ready yourself for night time sailing. There are no harbors or marinas in the middle of the Atlantic. You are on your own with the assistance of equipment such as VHF radios, SSB and Ham radios, and computers. Nowadays, more than 20 years after our voyage, you have satellite phones and computers to provide email. Also, if you are in a big town or city, you have the option of going ashore and paying a small fee to rent equipment by the hour.
However, I will only write about my experiences and how we did it. More important for me is where we went, how wewent, and what was there when we got there. I do keep abreast of changes that have occurred down island since we were there. The big difference is GPS, chart plotters and internet in practically every port. In any event, sailing there in your own “little” boat has not changed. The wind still blows, the sea still rises, and cruising routes are still the same.
Before you leave port in the U.S., have most, if not all, of the charts you think you will need beforehand. It is not easy to get proper charts you think you may need in the future “down island”. Yes, in big cities such as in the Virgin Islands, you can buy many things that you need. However, in little villages where you may find yourself, there will be no modern shops to find any items you may need or want. Often, you may run into another cruiser whose skipper or crew would like to buy the charts that you no longer need. Such items are announced on the radio in many of the harbors that we visited.
Other items that you should include on your list of “must haves” are extra fuel jugs. Some of the smaller harbors have no refueling facilities at all. We always carried 2 or 3 jugs of fuel and one or two jugs of water. Along with fuel, think about any filters or other disposable equipment you carry aboard and keep a refill supply aboard.
Other necessary equipment should include, of course, a long range radio, a single sideband radio is a must in some areas, telephone, outside compass, inside compass, radar, wind speed and directional, depth, and an emergency light. The inside compass could be mounted above your bunk so that you can check it out at night without having to go outside. In unexpected squalls, this was a most important instrument as we lay in our bed. You then know if you may bedragging or not.
Don’t forget a good flashlight. Also, keep in mind the word “redundancies.” Often, when you are most in need of some common object, it does not work. Therefore, have a spare in your tool box, scissors, sharp knife to cut a line in a hurry if you need to do it, a variety of wrenches, screw drivers, pliers, vice grips, bottle opener, etc. You get the idea. Oh! I almost forgot another important item, a cork screw, plus a spare, for your wine bottles!
You do not need to stock up on too many bulky items like toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, detergent, and so on. These products are readily available in most markets anywhere we have been with the exception of the Orinoco area of the Amazon in Venezuela.
Most important, do not forget you RX medicines. They may not be available where and when you need them. If you plan to be gone for a number of months, ask your pharmacist to prepare as many as he can. For you ladies, if by chance you may “enhance” your hair color, bring your products with you. The first time we sailed to the Bahamas, I had my beautician from home pack me up several months supply to take aboard. My husband became my beautician. Do not allow your husband to use the excuse that he does not know how to do it. I told mine that if he knows how to caulk a boat, he could “caulk my head!”
Obviously, there are several other subjects that need to be addressed before you cut the lines and sail off to new horizons. I do not want to spoil it for you, so I’ll stop here and next time address more urgent subjects such as tools, fixing things afloat, boat maintenance and all those other boring subjects.
Frances is a Commodore of the Seven Seas Cruising Association and a member of Sailing Association of Marco Island and AP United States Power Squadron.