Leaving the dock in Kemah, Texas is probably one of the hardest things we’ve ever done. It’s appropriate that we should discuss this in today’s blog because it was 17 years ago yesterday on May 21, 2000 that we threw off the docklines and headed across the Gulf of Mexico for St. Petersburg, Florida. A 652 nm passage that was just the beginning of our life aboard. A passage that would take us far beyond the Gulf of Mexico and Florida both in distance and in confidence.
I cannot imagine the angst and fear and anticipation that sailors of old must have felt as they sailed from the comfort of their home ports to explore an unknown world ... no charts, no weather forecasts, no GPS! I remember the mix of anxiety and exhilaration as we left Kemah. We refer to it now as “new passage angst”. There were so many dragons to face … so many to slay. We’ll definitely talk about dragons … very soon.
But first, some considerations about leaving the dock ...
The boat will never be totally ready.
Make your A, B and C lists. A-list items are mission critical and must be completed before you can leave, so that you can travel safely and securely. Rigging, radio, life raft? Very important. Varnish, not so much. Nor is refrigeration or air conditioning for that matter. Unless there’s a warranty issue at a specific place, those items can be repaired/tackled elsewhere. It might be a little uncomfortable for a few days, but at least you’ll be on your way. Remember, cruising is fixing your boat in exotic places. It’s easy to let “the boat’s not quite finished” excuse get in the way of taking off. Really … most things can be fixed or worked on in other ports.
- Adopt a “just a little further” philosophy.
It took us awhile to figure out that we didn’t have to worry about our entire future sailing career, we just had to handle getting to the next port. We decided we’d sail until we didn’t like it or couldn’t do it any more. Things have a way of working themselves out given enough time and experience. Having to worry about all the new things you’re going to encounter and deal with … all those little and not-so-little dragons to slay … like night watches, avoiding oil rigs, squalls and storms, navigation, sailing skills …. is hard enough. Don’t add any extra angst and stress by thinking about anything beyond your next port or passage. Get to the next port. Fix what broke. Relax a little. Enjoy your new neighborhood. Plan for the next port. Leave the dock again.
- Get up your courage.
Getting up the courage to leave is easy when you’re just talking about it. Doing it … well, that’s a whole other thing. It’s okay to feel nervous and unsettled about a passage. The adrenaline will keep you alert. Remember, we didn't have years of sailing experience under our belts, but rather we took sailing lessons in our 40s, read lots, chartered a bit and then we sold up and sailed off. The morning we tossed off that last dockline and slowly watched the coast disappear into the horizon was a “gulp and swallow” kind of experience. Yikes … what were we getting ourselves into? A week later we were enjoying all St. Pete had to offer and the angst had faded into a distant memory.
- Get into the mindset.
The thing that really gets in the way of leaving the dock is your mindset. You’re anxious to get going, but there are all those dragons out there that are tying you to the perceived security and safety of land. It’s comfortable in the marina. Get your mind around the reasons you wanted to sail off into the sunset in the first place and really evaluate what’s keeping you tied to the dock. Gear up for your departure. Set a date and determine that the first weather window is the time to leave. Then, just do it.
- Prepare and have confidence in your preparation.
So what does it take to make the big leap? Well, along with a bit of courage, it takes preparation. Certainly, confidence in yourself and each other is a main ingredient and that will build the more you travel, the more you depend upon each other. You need to trust each other. You have to have confidence in your boat, that she'll handle whatever comes your way because you've maintained and equipped her properly. Confidence and a mindset that whatever happens, you'll figure out what to do. Once you're out there, there's no telling where the wind will blow you, what you'll see, what you'll discover … about the world and yourself.
Just for grins, I pulled out our first passage record of that historic trip from Kemah to St. Pete. We'd forgotten all the little mishaps along the way like engine problems, an engine fire (!), a torn jib, a zillion oil platforms to avoid, seasickness and getting becalmed. And there were lots of firsts ... night watches, magnificent sunrises and sunsets, catching our first fish, first bridge opening, Jelly's first passage and ours too, going aground on the way into the marina and problems docking at the marina. Whew!
Evidently, we were able to handle all the problems because we’re still aboard. Yup, we left Kemah, Texas and then we were sailing and we kept going around until here we are again … nearly 90,000 miles later … all because we left the dock.