There to Here - Climbing the Learning Curve

When thinking about the next topic for the There to Here series, we thought it was necessary to introduce the steep, steep climb of the learning curve that sailors, especially newbies, encounter when they first move aboard.

Some folks have been sailing their whole lives. As kids, they learned basic sailing skills and the rules of boating safety and felt comfortable on sailboats. As you’ll remember, our learning experiences began when we were in our mid-40's. That's a significant amount of information for these old minds to absorb and hopefully maintain. We're living proof that it's possible, but the learning curve is definitely steep. And even if you are a good sailor, it doesn’t necessarily mean that living aboard won’t be a challenge at first.

For us, there was so much to learn. Nothing on a boat has a name even remotely similar to the same things on land. It's the galley...not the kitchen. The saloon...not the dining area. The head...not the bathroom. Closets are lockers. The couch is a settee. The floor is the sole. The ceiling is the header and the stairs are always called the ladder. A window is a portlight, unless it opens, then it's a porthole. There's rigging (standing and running) ... port and starboard...forward and aft and midships ... bow and stern. It's never-ending. That's the easy part.

T here's the gear we use...VHF (very high frequency) radio for communicating with other sailors and folks on land who also have VHFs; the GPS (global positioning system) which tells us where we are and gives us a heading and bearing for where we want to go. There’s the EPIRB (emergency position-indicating radio beacon) that notifies the authorities in case the ship goes down with the hopes they’ll respond quickly and send someone to our aid. Then there's the SSB (single side band) radio for long distance communication and email and the AIS (Automatic Identification System) which lets us know who's near us out there in the big ocean. The chartplotter, radar, the watermaker, the voltage monitor, depth monitor, speedometer (over land as well as through the water), anemometer, barometer, wind generators, solar panels … the list goes on and on. Learning how to use all this gear is key to safety and comfort aboard, but whew! It's exhausting if it's all new.

Let's add to the mix a diesel engine; a 12V electrical system; marine plumbing, hydraulic steering, autopilot and refrigeration; a propane stove and oven; varnishing, fiberglass repair and maintenance, sail configurations and general maintenance. The list of required competencies goes on and on just to maintain the boat and keep it afloat. Oh, yeah, and then there's actually sailing the boat, mooring, anchoring, weathering storms. Okay, okay … you get the picture. Take a breath!

How do aspiring sailors learn it all? It takes time, patience, perseverance and a little bit of courage. The learning never ends. When we took classes on sailing, navigation, charting, weather forecasting and healthcare at sea, we were feeling pretty competent until we actually got out there. Chartering sailboats gave us a feel for the live-aboard life, although nothing prepares you for the real thing. We learned lots of ancillary things, too. We got our HAM licenses for radio operation. We learned to SCUBA and got certified. We took refresher courses in first aid. We learned about currents, tides, stars and marine life. We did lots of research and got information on everything from carving to canning … electrical systems to shell identification. We read, studied, learned, tried. We joined SSCA, went to gams and seminars and started asking questions of more experienced sailors who were patiently willing to chat with “newbies” and give informative answers. Mostly, you just have to be willing to try things, be adaptable and very innovative.

The learning curve is definitely steep and we made and continue to make mistakes; we continue to learn. But, oh man, the rewards of a liveaboard, cruising life are out of this world.