Cruising Essentials Guide Overview


Chapter 1. Waves & Boat Limitations
Chapter 2. Basic Sailing
Chapter 3. Heavy Weather Sailing
Chapter 4. Anchoring & Docking
Chapter 5. Navigation, Communication and Weather
Chapter 6. Rules of the Road
Chapter 7. Problems at Sea
Chapter 8. Provisioning, Cooking and Fishing
Chapter 9. High Performance Sail Trim and Steering

Overview: Chapter 1. Waves & Boat Limitations

Chapter 1: Table of Contents

Waves and a Boat’s Limitations top our list of priorities. Understanding waves and the boat you’ll need to ride through them is something that you will live with every day that you sail. We believe that more cruising dreams are killed by having the wrong boat than all other adversity combined.

Do not buy the wrong boat or over estimate the capability of the boat you have. The lack of sailing skills you can quickly improve but the lack of boat you cannot change. The sea is tireless and you are not!

You need a strong upwind boat in the 36 to 46 foot range. It’s all about waves and how your boat rides through them. You need a boat that can punch through a 4-5 foot/6 second wave with reasonable comfort. A dream boat would punch through a 7 foot/5 second wave but that boat costs more than most cruisers want to spend. Make no mistake, all boats have wave limitations. What is important is that you know your boat’s limitations, your endurance limitations and your crew’s endurance limitations.

  • Wave duration is more important than height. The shorter the duration, the steeper the wave and the more they will hammer you. 6 second waves are steep. 5 second waves are steeper.
  • We will show you how to calculate the up-wind and down-wind limitations of a 36 and 46 foot cruiser so that you know when to sail and when to stay in port. We will consider three comfort ranges. The first range is comfortable-to-exhilarating, the second range is uncomfortable-yet-sailable and the third range is the danger-zone. Here the boat can no longer move against the wind.

Yes, we know the Pardey’s have been sailing around the world for decades in a 29 foot, wooden boat with no motor. We will explain why the Pardey example may not apply to you. Can you travel with less than a 36 foot cruiser? Sure you can but you have to be much more careful about when and where you go. Or, you might have a trailerable boat that can be towed to sheltered cruising grounds. To put all of this into perspective, think of a boat's limitations this way. You can go around Cape Horn in a good day sailor on the right day but you might wait a couple hundred days for that opportunity. How you measure your boat’s limitations is what we teach. To better appreciate why waves and boat limitations are so important, click here.


Overview: Chapter 2. Basic Sailing

Chapter 2: Table of Contents

Basic Sailing covers the sail trim and related weather helm for 4 points of sail, communication between the captain and crew and some miscellaneous seaman skills such as tying a bowline.

  • To achieve the right weather helm, you not only need to know how to sail well, you need to select the right boat and right sails.
  • Next, you will learn several basic sail trim rules. For example, the farther you sail off the wind, the more curvature (draft) you put into your sails. The stronger the wind, the flatter the sails. As the wind builds, you will twist your sails and finally shorten (reef) your sails. Later, in the chapter for high performance sail trim, you will learn several exceptions to the basic sail trim rules.
  • So that the captain can work with the crew, you will learn the basic responsibilities of both captain and crew.  
  • So that you can communicate with your crew members and other boaters, you well learn a few essential nautical terms such at “port” and “starboard”.  
  • So that you can deal with tight ropes, you will learn a few essential knots such as a bowline.

Overview: Chapter 3. Heavy Weather Sailing

Chapter 3: Table of Contents

Heavy Weather Sailing is next on the priority scale. Here, we are not dealing with hurricanes or violent storms. Most coastal cruisers should never be out in these conditions. Such storms are for people that are making a living at sea or possibly racers. We suggest that you completely avoid parts of the world during their storm seasons. By heavy weather we mean several hour, 25 to 35 knot, blows that frequent many areas.

  • You will learn how to prepare your boat and your crew for heavy weather, how and when to reef, how to sail upwind in strong wind, how to steer through waves, how to heave-to, how to slow your boat down and simply when to stay at your anchorage.
  • You will learn to understand your boat’s limitation to move into the weather. In Chapter 1 we learned how to determine when the weather will overpower your boat. At some point the waves, winds and currents will become more powerful than your sails. Beyond this point your boat will be blown down wind. You need to understand the margin of safety required. You need to include enough sea room in your planning and know when to alter course. In other words, you need to learn how to avoid being blown ashore or into obstacles.

Overview: Chapter 4. Anchoring & Docking

Chapter 4: Table of Contents

Anchoring is our next highest priority because you have to sleep well to perform any task well or to simply have fun.

  • There is far more to anchoring than you would ever imagine.
      • Getting the right anchor. 60% of what you need is very simple. You just need to buy the right anchor and that we can teach you in a few minutes.
      • Bottom make-up. The other 40% of what you need to know is as variable as the makeup of the bottom soil that you will anchor in. How do you know when you’ve got your anchor set? How long should you try to get a set and when should you move?
      • When should you plan an alternate anchorage, one that you can deal with in the dark?

You can sleep if you have a natural mental plan for these anchoring questions. Again, our goal is to reduce your learning curve from years to months.

  • In addition to anchoring, we cover docking and mooring. Docking is not covered in depth because of restricted time. Also, docking is something that can be learned on you own. The self-study guide describes boat handling in several docking situations.

Overview: Chapter 5. Navigation, Communication and Weather

Chapter 5: Table of Contents

Navigation, Communication and Weather, our next highest priority. This includes coastal navigation as well as navigating rivers and inland waterways.

  • The navigation method that we recommend uses a combination of old and new. We use GPS fixes in combination with paper charts. This method of navigation can be taught in a few hours and with several weeks of practice you can become a reasonably competent navigator. This is a very fast learning curve in comparison to the many years it takes to become competent with traditional dead reckoning and compass triangulation.
  • A second, backup method of navigation will use a computerized chart plotter, First Mate software by The Captain.
  • Why don’t we use a chart plotter as our main navigation method and shorten the learning curve even more? For three reasons.
    • Most important, chart plotters do not keep you engaged from one hour to the next. This cannot be over emphasized. If you become lazy because you are not forced to stay engaged, you may eventually make a bad mistake.
    • Second, there is no backup for someone that only knows how to use an electronic chart plotter. Having a backup method to check your navigation is as fundamental to good navigation as double entry booking is to accounting. If your electronics fail, and you are not competent with a paper system, you will be helpless. And systems fail when conditions are at their worst. That is when lightning knocks out your computer or your computer bounces on the floor. This is not a good time to train yourself to use a paper chart.
    • Third, if you are preparing to go to remote areas in the world, accurate paper charts are not available let alone accurate electronic charts. In other words, you need to build manual navigation skills.

Traditional navigation using compass bearings and modern navigation using electronic chart plotters both have their place. What is important is that you know when each method needs to be used and that you are competent.

  • Use of an autopilot that is interfaced to electronic waypoints will also be covered. Although we strongly recommend a good autopilot for cruising, there are right and wrong times to interface. If you depend on an interface too much, you will not learn to deal with leeway or learn to steer a straight compass course. Also, you will be greatly impaired if your autopilot fails.
  • Navigation training exposes you to a variety of navigation information sources including the use of various chart scales, tide tables, current charts, coast pilots, light lists, cruising guides and local information. Again, we have carefully extracted the most essential details from these navigation aids. For example, we could spend an entire week just covering all of the navigational aids found on a single paper chart but instead we will focus on half a dozen aids such as safe water marks, red/green buoys and buoy sequence.
  • Tide and current tables will be used to plan a cruise. Again, we will teach enough to make a few depth calculations and current speed calculations. To become competent, you will need to practice the self-study exercises at home.
  • Communication methods covered include VHF, SSB, EPIRB and PLB (personal locator beacons).
  • Weather training will focus on how to obtain good weather reports and how to read them rather than teaching you how to forecast weather.
  • Finally, we exposure you to radar. This exposure is intended to help you appreciate the need or lack of need for radar and not intended to teach you to use radar. For that, a local Power Squadron course should be considered.

Overview: Chapter 6. Rules of the Road

Chapter 6: Table of Contents

Rules of the Road and Collision avoidance. The total of what can be learned about applying the USCG Rules of the Road is almost endless and well beyond the scope of our training. However, there are a few critical issues that you need to understand about the rules.

  • Important definitions. What is a “stand on” vessel and what are the “stand on” vessel responsibilities. You should know that you might be at fault for a collision because you changed course to avoid a collision, when your responsibility was to “stand on” your course. And if it is your responsibility to avoid a collision, then your response is not intuitive. Initially, you will aim for the stern of the approaching vessel.
  • As important as it is to completely understand a few of the rules, you also need to be very aware of when the rules should not be expected to protect you. Because most ships cannot see you with their eyes AND cannot see you with their radar, never depend on the sail-over-power rule to save your boat. Also, because many recreational boaters do not understand the rules of the road, you should not depend on them to act in a certain way.
  • What good are the rules anyway? And why should you understand them?
    • First, for your own confidence you need to understand a few basic rules and understand them well enough so that they become a reflex.
    • Second, the logic in the rules for collision avoidance, developed over centuries, is beautiful logic and that logic can bring you through a crisis. It works like this. If two boats are going to collide and both boats start making random course adjustments, it is likely they will adjust themselves into a real collision. But, if the two boats communicate in some way (radio, horns, whatever) and agree on who will stay on course and who will fall off, then a collision can easily be avoided. Ideally, the boat that should fall off will be aware of their responsibility well before any communication is needed because they understand the rules. The rules clearly define who should yield.
    • Third, if you are traveling in busy channels you will hear a lot of horns blowing. Some of those horns may be blowing for you, to tell you something. You need to be able to read these signals so that you know how your boat and the approaching boat will move in relation to each other. Like using blinkers on a car you need to be able to send and receive basic signals on a boat. This understanding brings peace of mind.
    • Finally, you are liable to understand the rules if you get into an accident.

Overview: Chapter 7. Problems at Sea

Chapter 7: Table of Contents

Grounding, Engine Failure, Crew Overboard and Basic Safety Equipment. To be relaxed, you must be prepared for accidents such as running aground or crew overboard.

  • If you cruise, you will run aground. In most cases, if you are prepared you will avoid help rather than seek help. Other boats that come to help are often difficult to control and cause more problems than they cure. You will be self-reliant. You will re-float that boat yourself and appreciate your accomplishment. It is just part of cruising.
  • To be relaxed, you cannot fear mechanical failures. For this, you must understand some basic maintenance and three basic mechanical cures. We cover three common problems, diesel air locks, overheating and hard starting engines. For preventative maintenance we cover clean fuel and belts. We could spend a full week just covering diesel engines and that might be a good thing if you were going around the world. What we will show you will give you 1000’s of miles of trouble free cruising if you are starting out with a good boat.
  • Basic safety equipment not only makes sense, it’s the law. In some areas, it pays to go beyond the law. For example, a single-handed sailor at night should have a waterproof VHS and GPS or better yet a personal EPIRB (PLB or personal locator beacon) attached to their life vest so that if they go overboard, they can report their position. For a couple hundred bucks, a life can easily be saved. A crewmember can be in the water a very short distance away but if they are behind a wave where you cannot see them, they may as well be in another ocean.
  • Other mishaps covered include lines around your prop, lightning protection, hypothermia, sea sickness and fire.

Overview: Chapter 8. Provisioning, Cooking and Fishing

Chapter 8: Table of Contents

Provisioning, Cooking and Fishing. Cooking at sea and fishing at sea can be a lot of fun. With simple techniques you will enjoy catching some of the best seafood available in the world. Learning how to provision, cook and bake at sea will bring you great satisfaction and great meals.


Overview: Chapter 9. High Performance Sail Trim and Steering

Chapter 9: Table of Contents

High Performance Sail Trim and Steering. This we teach simply for the fun of it. You will learn that high performance sail trim is often more about a nice feeling helm than about nice looking sail shape. You’ll understand sail draft and basic sail shape changes. Finally, you will learn a self-training technique that will take you as far as you want to go with high performance techniques.

  • Feeling the joy of sailing is feeling the helm of a well balanced sailing machine. Here, the right boat with the right sails and the right sail trim are needed. We will show you how to feel the helm when she is sailing “in the groove” and effortlessly flying. You will understand what expert sail trimmers mean when they say “the helm is everything” or “ugly sail trim can bring beautiful balance”. That’s true, often she will sail right when your sails look wrong and vice versa.
  • With a well designed hull and the right sails, it is hard to goof up the helm. With the wrong boat or the wrong sails it’s hard to get it right. Obtaining the perspective to recognize the difference would be hard to do on your own. That is where we can help.


Home| Highlights| FAQs| Course Overview| Live Aboard Classroom| Course Schedule & Fees| Contact| Sitemap