Finding Confidence Cruising

another postcard

It’s a long journey from the midwestern shore where a kid uncertainly pushed her Sunfish out into the lake, to this beautiful beach of powdery sand and turquoise water in the Bahamas.

Back then I wondered if I’d later be able to steer the boat back to point where I launched. Today I find satisfaction in knowing that I am both capable handling Totem and also have a tremendous amount to improve. Getting to that place of confidence in fundamental capabilities relieves stress and quells fears; knowing that there remain endless opportunities to learn is a joy of cruising.

San Francisco, 1970. No skills yet, but togged in a sweet sailor dress

San Francisco, 1970. No skills yet, but togged in a sweet sailor dress

pinterest confidenceIt is a journey to find that confidence. Looking back over some decades at that uncertain teen on a Michigan beach, there isn’t any single turning point but a progression of experiences that describe it.

It helped, and it didn’t, that my partner in this adventure is an accomplished sailor. Jamie has been on boats since he could walk and raced at a professional level. On one hand, his skill gave me the space to grow my own capabilities without shouldering the responsibility of ownership for our safety. On the other hand, it makes it easy to cede responsibility to him instead of tackling things I should learn. And hten, it can sometimes be tricky to learn from those you are closest to!

The antidote for insecurity is knowledge and experience, but the best way to acquire them varies: it depends on how you learn and what your opportunities are.

Time on the water

When Jamie and I work with coaching clients who need to build skills, one of the first tactics we suggest is to get involved in casual racing on a smaller boat. It typically costs nothing more than time, and will surround a learner the proper terms while drilling in tasks that make a better cruising sailor. Small-boat sailing is also an excellent way to internalize the fundamentals of bigger-boat handling; and the afternoons I spent learning how to steer that Sunfish with my foot from a prone position (the better to ponder life… or work on my tan) were better training than I allowed myself credit for at the time. Racing dinghies in college later steeped me in terminology, rigging basics, efficiently routing from A to B, internalizing that flat is fast and the telltale dance that is good trim. I’m not exactly a cutthroat competitor (anyone who knows me well is giggling right now), but this transition from lazy day sailing to team competition ignited my passion for sailing in unanticipated ways.

Celebrating Siobhan's birthday in Staniel Cay this week, with ice cream at the dock

Celebrating Siobhan’s birthday in Staniel Cay this week, with ice cream at the dock

Judgement-free learning

Among the best preparation in my path was a week-plus of sail training with an all-woman crew cruising the Pacific Northwest’s Salish Sea. We studied, discussed, and practiced everything from rules of the road to sail selection to self-steering, radar use, docking, anchoring, and more as needed – it was as if we had embarked on a cruising journey already. In an open learning environment, I was gently guided, allowed to make (and learn from) mistakes, and ask as many questions as I wanted without feeling any of them might be ‘dumb.’ My experience was with two-time circumnavigator Nancy Erley of Tethys Offshore in the Pacific Northwest; chief among other programs I’d reach for is the east-coast-based Morse Alpha Expeditions led by Ben & Teresa Carey.

Another kind of confidence: shark selfies?!

Another kind of confidence: shark selfies?! Our anchorage companion this week

A good book

Kinesthetic learning is essential, and some studying can’t be avoided. One of the best ‘books’ in my journey isn’t in any store. Before we started cruising on Totem, we had a 35’ Hallberg Rassy—Mau Ke Mana—as our training wheels for cruising skills in Puget Sound. Like too many Americans we crammed our summer holiday in a few long weekends and a stolen getaway week. To extend our range afloat, we made an arrangement with trusted friends: we’d sail the boat north up through the San Juans and to the Canadian Gulf Islands and expend all our vacation days in one direction; they’d drive up to meet us, we’d trade vehicles, and they’d sail down for their summer escape while we hustled south in the car to jobs and daycare. Every boat has idiosyncrasies, and boats set up for cruising have more complex systems than the typical daysailer. To help our friends take over Mau Ke Mana, Jamie created “The Boat Book” as an orientation to her quirks and equipment—a mix of how-to and maintenance schedule in one. I was the unexpected beneficiary, as this basic orientation guided my initial learning process in cruising systems stepped through the particular equipment and oddities of our boat.

Sharing sundowner snacks with curious birds

Sharing sundowner snacks with curious birds

For more readily available material to purchase, there’s not a prettier or simpler way to learn the basics of sailing than Jan Adkins’ Craft of Sail (thank you to Teresa & Ben for reminding me of this beautiful book: I was given a copy years ago and the pages were well thumbed). Another is Chapman’s Piloting, Seamanship and Small Boat Handling: I’ve never quite gotten over the fact that a family friend, who I’d been sailing with many times, passed me over and gifted a copy to my younger brother (uninterested in sailing, but The Boy) years ago. Our edition stems from Jamie’s teen years, but is perfectly applicable today. If it’s resources to plan cruising you’re after, there is none better than Beth Leonard’s The Voyager’s Handbook. For more ideas, we’ve curated a list of recommended reading in a number of categories.

Racing, training, reading: ultimately it’s whatever works for you to learn. Situations that facilitate learning for some may inhibit learning for others. All-women’s courses were a gift for me, as was racing. Sailing schools, passage, training, there are a myriad of options.

What does it take to gain confidence?

How long is a piece of string? While was confidence in my sailing skills I was after initially, it was the freedom of sailing that has brought a greater confidence to my person.

Sea trial for Totem's purchase; San Francisco Bay, 2007

Sea trial for Totem’s purchase; San Francisco Bay, 2007, with Jim Jessie

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege to spend two days with a room full of women who plan to go cruising. They’d signed up for the 2-day Cruising Women seminars I delivered with Pam Wall as part of “Cruisers U” at the Annapolis Boat Show. Talking through their reasons for participating, I saw myself in so many stories and faces: I remember what it was like getting ready for this massive change in our lives. Excitement about the future, but trepidation about the realities. My mind too once swirled with what-if worries, uncertainty about my own capabilities, and wondering if we’d be able to pull it off.

In truth, I’ve failed to appreciate when this confidence settled in, but on the heels of Cruising Women I’ve had another opportunity to appreciate that strength week. Jamie’s not on Totem right now, an unusual scenario.

on the tarmac

He’s flying to a few Caribbean ports to give practical evaluations for coaching clients to boats they have under contract. So for at least a week and a half, it’s just me and the kids, keeping up with… well, everything.

Beautiful islands below

None of it is a big deal: just keeping up with everyday life on board, but it made me realize how much I count on his relative depth of experience in arenas where I’m not used to flying solo, whether managing voltage on board in the delicate dance to balance incoming power with draws from the watermaker and refrigeration and screens. Moving Totem to anchor in a new spot based on our needs. Staying mindful of the weather forecast and what it may hold: if we’ll be fine in this pretty curve of bay, or need to move for shelter from a shifting breeze. And it’s fine. I’m fine. When did this happen? I can’t say, but wouldn’t recognize this in myself even just a few years ago.

Heading back to Totem after an ice cream / garbage run to "town."

Heading back to Totem after an ice cream / garbage run to “town.”

In the subtle gilt trim of the Naval Academy conference room in Annapolis, I wanted every woman in the seminar to internalize that she too has this confidence and capability entirely in her reach, but how to fit that into words? So Pam and I gave our best effort to shed light into dark spaces where niggling worries fester and scare them off. Offered points to follow and place to seek information and resources. Provided tangible skills in basic knots, coiling and heaving a line. Reinforced that physical size or strength is not a detriment: it is simply an issue to address mechanical advantage. And ultimately, I hope, communicated through personal experience that it’s possible to go from that person who wondered if she’d get her little 14’ dinghy back again into an adventurous cruiser with undreamed of stories to tell.

Late 1980s - in front of the family cottage in Pointe aux Barques, Michigan

Late 1980s, Pointe aux Barques, Michigan

Cruiser’s bookshelf: what are you reading?

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Lingering in Washington DC, we’re enjoying gorgeous days making the most of the US capital…and tucking ourselves in below on the chilly nights (40s! 30s even! rumored 20s in the next few nights- YIKES) with some solid reading to keep company. This little channel off the Potomac still hosts dinghies practicing (that’s our view from the Capital Yacht Club, above) and access to the city make it worth every goosebump to be here. Meanwhile, here’s a range of books–new stuff!– from inspirational to practical to just plain fun / escapism, all connected back to cruising.

lin-pardeyNew writing from Lin Pardey! The books she and Larry wrote served as an important source of inspiration during our planning/dreaming years, as they have for legions of cruisers. It’s exciting to read fresh new stories about their adventures—and, bonus, they’re in some of our favorite cruising grounds of the South Pacific!

Reading Taleisin’s Tales was like seeing old friends again through her vivid writing about the cruising experience, and hit me harder than I anticipated in all the best ways (plotting, or at least dreaming, about our Panama Canal timing now). Full of beautiful color photos, the book took me on a return voyage — and although it’s been a few years between her visit and ours, time comes closely to that far side of the world. Besides, the lessons in seamanship and humanity are every bit as relevant today as when they sailed these miles in Taleisin.

Working with Lin in her booth at the US Boat Show in Annapolis this year, I could put her voice to the stories and gain a new appreciation for their authenticity. Find this book—and others—on her website.

A little while back, Kate Laird sent me a copy of her new book, Homeschool Teacher. I cracked it open for a quick look and was hooked in the first pages. WHERE WAS THIS BOOK WHEN WE WERE PLANNING TO TAKE OFF? Ahhh, Kate, this wonderful guide would have saved me so much stress!

I’m not kidding when I say that what scared me most of all about the prospect of cruising was not storms, was not pirates, it was homeschooling. The conventional recommendation for cruisers did not resonate with me, so I floundered a while looking for alternate guides. This book would have put my fears to bed and given me the tangible direction I craved. Homeschool Teacher is clearly and simply written, and aligns spectacularly well to support what *most cruisers actually do* — that is, draw from an eclectic mix of resources and curricula to fit a child/family.

Kate’s book is rooted in many years of experience, from her first post-Harvard job tutoring three children across the Pacific to boatschooling her daughters (15 and 16 years old) while she and her husband lead high latitude, expedition style charters. Homeschool Teacher covers K-8, years we’ve got mostly in the rearview mirror now, but I’m pulling plenty of ideas here we can apply to our teen skewed crew. Download a sample to check it out, follow on her Facebook page (frequent tips/helpful homeschool info), check out her books’ website or buy this book on Amazon.

selling-your-writingMy co-authors for Voyaging with Kids have each published books this year: both practical guides on entirely different (and yet, related) topics. In a season that’s prompted a few folks to do some soul searching on what lies ahead and how to find that far horizon, they’re very timely!

Michael Robertson’s Selling Your Writing to the Boating Magazines (and other niche mags) has everything you need to know about the nuts and bolts of how to get your wmove-to-nzork published by one of the big-name glossies we all love. That’s great, right? But better yet, Michael colors the practicalities with personal tips and tricks he learned (the sometimes hard way) along his path from IT professional to writing to support his family for cruising full time.

From her new home in New Zealand, former Seattlite Sara Dawn Johnson wrote How to Move to New Zealand in 31 Easy Steps. Not sure you want to return to your home shores after a South Pacific cruise? Sara lays it out the steps she and her family took to become residents on the path to citizenship. We’ll stay nomadic for the time being, but as I learned working with Tourism New Zealand during our stint in that corner of the world, this is a very special place—and it’s a very real option, if you know the process.

A few years ago, we met a friendly couple of cruisers on the dock in Tioman island, Malaysia. We’ve happily stayed in touch with Jase Kovacs over the years as he and his partner adventure through Southeast Asia. At the moment, Jase is writing the novel Ebb Tide about a dystopian future where a former cruising kid is using skills from her boat life to survive. He’s writing this WHILE SAILING FROM ASIA TO NEW ZEALAND and posting chapters along the way. Sorry (#notsorry) for the yelling, but seriously, tackling a book in conjunction with some serious passagemaking – fun fast paced writing — AND keeping up new chapters every few days?– go Jase!! I am a latecomer to the book-in-progress and can’t wait to see what happens. Plus, badass woman sailor protagonist. Follow along free on his website.

Pondering books for your current or future cruising life? I’ve organized a list of books that cruisers will find useful. Words of inspiration, practical guides, books we actually use on board, regional recommendations and more. Check them out!

Can I send you a copy of Voyaging with Kids that’s been inscribed to the reader(s) of your choosing? Maybe you need to sell the grandparents on your plans, maybe you want to give a special gift. While we’re in the USA (tick tock…but long enough for holiday season), I’ll send a new book personalized with a message based on your desires. Now there’s a gift you can’t get on Amazon! Book plus shipping in the continental US is $40; other destinations, just ask (shipping costs passed through 1:1). Contact me to purchase.

A number of the book links in this post are connected to our Amazon affiliate account: that means when you click through from SailingTotem.com we get a commission on any Amazon purchase you make in the following 24 hours. There’s no added cost to you, but it does make a difference for us. Thank you for the consideration!