Most first-time cruisers get a lot of things wrong, Petrea McCarthy provides a salient tale for those about to get out there.
1) Thinking you have enough shade
You may or may not have a great bimini, but when the sun is not directly overhead, it will be inadequate. It will only shade one side of the cockpit. Consider a shade cloth that fits either side as needed. The summer sun will heat the whole boat so consider an awning over the main cabin at anchor.
2) Taking too much stuff
You are unsure what you will actually need, so you pack the lot. Leave most of those extra sails at home. Your normal headsail, a mid-size headsail, a storm jib or a very small one depending on where you are going, a main and/or trysail, and one downwind/light air sail will be plenty. You may need jerry cans for transporting fuel and water, but unless your boat is seriously short on tankage, you will not need to carry full jerry cans lashed on deck.
You are unlikely to use the kayak, windsurfer, bicycle or whatever on a regular basis. Do you really need them cluttering up the boat? Long-term cruisers generally carry only the toys they actually use. Ditto for kids’ toys, but remember some extras to amuse them in bad weather. Clothing can be minimal: some sailing gear, a couple of sets of shore and visiting gear and maybe one good outfit. You will be able to wash stuff as you go.
3) Not taking enough engine spares and filters
Take at least half a dozen fuel filters, a few oil filters and enough oil for a few changes, some spare water pump impellors and spare fan belts. You will also need the tools required to fit them, tighten fan belts and remove used engine oil. The fuel filters are for when your fuel tanks are shaken up at sea and the muck at the bottom is sucked into the system, clogging the filter. This, naturally, happens in a seaway, so be prepared to change a fuel filter in this situation. Ideally, you will have an alternate filter permanently plumbed in so you only need to change a couple of valves to be underway again.
4) Not allowing enough time
You will not want to sail day after day, without exploring ashore. You will get tired. You will need days off to recuperate, and for doing chores. The weather may not go by the brochure so there will be days when you cannot sail. A too-ambitious plan has ruined many a cruise.
5) Sticking rigidly to a schedule
As above, be flexible. If the wind is not as forecast or too light for you to sail to the planned overnight anchorage, choose another one. Otherwise, you will end up motoring just to keep a schedule, or bashing to windward when you would be better off anchored and enjoying a day ashore.
6) Taking other sailors’ advice as gospel
Their idea of a great place to spend a few days may not coincide with yours. Their catamaran may be fine in places your monohull will roll uncomfortably, or their experience may lead them to minimise discomforts that worry you. Conversely, their fixed rules may have developed to cover their own incompetence. This happens quite often, especially with self-taught sailors whose only experience is on their own boat.
7) Not shaking down the boat and crew
A few short sails mimicking parts of your planned trip will sort out the boat and the crew. The first day out is not the time to discover it is difficult to reef the mainsail. Nor is the first night away the time to find out your mattress is uncomfortable. Many folks are in such a rush to get away they neglect to do a trial trip that may save lots of hassle.
8) Not ensuring the boat is watertight
Get the deck wash or fire hose out and test for leaks: hatches, vents, windows, chainplates, deck fittings, and the companionway. A damp, salty boat is no fun, and preventable.
9) Overspending on socialising
Cruising is very sociable, but if your mates’ budgets are bigger than yours, accepting invitations to dine out will deplete your cruising funds fast. Try potluck dinners, beach barbecues and the ubiquitous sundowners on someone’s boat instead of going ashore and spending up big.
10) Inadequate or oversized dinghy
You have probably seen people crammed into a small dinghy, struggling to get back aboard in a slop. The price of that decent dinghy does not seem so steep when you are soaked through and bailing. But do not go too big either. A fast RIB is a luxury, but can you pull it up a beach?
11) Not enough fenders and mooring lines
You may need fenders for both sides in a tight marina, or when lying alongside a wharf where someone else might need to raft up. Take extra mooring lines too, because you will not always be in a standard marina berth.
12) Forgetting to take the marina step
If you need a box or step to get aboard in your home marina, you will need to take it with you for other marinas. That is the twelve. Now one extra. I doubt any bona fide cruiser has not done this at least once.
13) Not taking spare tap fittings
You will leave one behind on a water tap somewhere. You will also find not all water taps are the same size. Make sure your set up can accept both sizes.
Petrea McCarthy is a long-term live-aboard cruising skipper and former yacht rigger. She has been cruising and racing since 1967. A warm water coastal cruiser at heart, Petrea has also competed in all major Australian ocean races, cruised the SW Pacific, and circumnavigated Australia and Tasmania. She works as a freelance writer, currently based in the Moreton Bay area of Southern Queensland.