As a backpacker in my 20’s I was always looking for that next adventure, something new and exciting that made me feel as though I was the first person to experience it.
I certainly found that experience when I jumped on board a sailboat as a tourist in the San Blas Islands, a remote archipelago on the East Coast of Panama. Now, five years later, I find myself owning a sailboat and setting out from the United States with my partner, John, to sail our new home back to Australia while enjoying all that this beautiful, watery world has to offer on the way.
Check out the reasons why my partner and I decided to turn this incredible adventure into a lifestyle and follow our journey on How Not to Sail a Boat. Who knows, maybe this will inspire you to take a sailing trip that could change your life!
Reaching Remote Destinations
With world travel becoming ever-more popular and tourists crowding what were once untouched destinations, it is becoming more and more difficult to find that truly remote destination.
However, arriving at a new uninhabited island and feeling that rush of discovering a new place that feels as though you could be the first to lay your eyes on it is a feeling you can get still find when cruising around the world. I first felt it on my trip to the remote islands of the San Blas archipelago in Panama and it is a feeling you can never forget!
Challenging Our Carbon Footprint
Climate change, fossil fuels, the war on plastics, and consumerism are hot topics these days, but it does get you thinking about your impact on the planet and alternate ways of living.
One of the benefits of choosing this adventurous way of life is that we can be sure to reduce our carbon footprint and we can only hope that people following our journey are inspired to do the same.
We will live off the power of the wind to fill our sails and move our boat, the energy from the sun to power our electronics the natural products from the ocean to fill our bellies. We will not be overconsuming whether this means shopping, use of electricity, the convenience of throw-away items, or overfishing as these are luxuries that are not possible in the limited space that comes along with life on a sailing vessel.
Constant Intellectual Stimulation
World cruising is not for the faint of heart, but as two people who are always curious about life, sailing provides an endless spectrum of things to learn.
It is often this lifelong learning aspect that draws many sailors and long-distance cruisers to choose this unique lifestyle. These learning opportunities consist of anticipated learning opportunities such as:
- Weather – learning to read synoptic charts and identify patterns in the weather are skills that come from practice and experience. Taking the time to observe what is going on find a common correlation to the resulting weather can lend itself very useful at sea;
- Maintenance – with your boat being your home that keeps you afloat while at sea, maintenance becomes a top priority. If before sailing you have never sewn, painted, polished, or sanded you will be guaranteed to learn something new;
- Sailing and storm tactics – learning the most efficient way to move a boat through the water on varying wind strengths and directions in relation to your intended path is a very mentally stimulating challenge. With every changing variable you need to be able to adapt your sail choice, adjust sail positioning, alter your course slightly, tweak your rigging, and much more;
- Navigation rules – depending on which part of the world you are in there are different navigation practices that you must observe and this is one of the best ways to ensure simple mistakes do not prevent you from arriving safely to your destination. However, this is one of the most important things you can learn as these rules become increasingly important at times like foggy mornings with minimal visibility or in busy shipping channels; and
- Anchoring techniques – anchoring gives you the opportunity to explore remote areas away from bustling marinas and crowds of people. You may find yourself on a private island with a beach to yourself, but in order to enjoy your unique surroundings you need to think about the bottom contour and makeup, the prevailing winds and currents, the depth at which you are anchored, and more;
However, there is so much more to learn. Aboard our yacht, we are constantly absorbing new knowledge about things like:
- The mechanical and electrical systems of the boat – whether wiring in a new solar panel to help power our lights and electronics on-board, dealing with faulty steering while out at sea, or finding a fixing a problem with the motor, it seems as though each and every problem encountered on a sailboat is a new opportunity to learn;
- Tiny living and minimalist living aboard our yacht – each day you find new ways to be more efficient with and mindful of the limited space on a boat. We loved watching the movie ‘Minimalism’ on Netflix which really summed the things we have learned so far and gave us new food for thought on this way of life. Have a read of our review of this great documentary!
- Food preparation – things such as hand kneading dough to make bread while at sea or spearfishing your meal in the ocean and learning how to fillet it are both lost arts in the world today for many people. However, it makes the end result taste so much better with a little labor of love put into the food that you eat;
- Wildlife watching – sitting out of the boat with the wind on your face while watching whales breach or dolphins play you may find that you learn a thing or two about wildlife. Whether it is understanding why they behave certain ways or watching them interact with each other, life on a sailboat can be like an episode of Blue Planet at times; and
- The history of each country and port – arriving in a new place in the same manner as the original explorers coming across from Europe has a certain appeal to it. Luckily, we have the technology and maps to do it with a bit less risk, but nevertheless, it is a feeling you can only get on board a boat. I never found history in school particularly interesting but as a traveler, particularly as an ocean explorer, you find yourself more observant of the different cultures that you encounter and more engrossed in learning about each new place at which you arrive.
Unlimited Activities and Experiences Along the Way
The number of activities you can enjoy while living on a boat is nearly unlimited. While you will always miss some aspect of life on land, you can never replace the unique access to the water that you will enjoy.
At anchor, you can be out snorkeling, scuba diving, windsurfing, spearfishing, freediving, surfing, kite surfing, or scuba diving.
At sea you will find yourself with plenty of spare time at sea to hone your cooking skills, study another language, practice yoga, work on crossword puzzles or pursue any other hobby you may be interested in.
Finally, in each place you stop you will be able to hike, horseback ride, zip line, check out local markets, visit historical sites, meet new people or swim next to humpback whales – the largest mammal I have encountered so far and an experience that made me fall even more in love with the underwater world!
While sailing is not for everyone, those who do enjoy it must also learn to enjoy the more introspective aspects of sailing. In an age where keeping busy is a common theme in many lives and finding time to practice the trendy new art of ‘Mindfulness’ is increasingly difficult, the time to be quiet and reflect on life at sea is in abundance.
While for many this presents a challenge for others it is a perk of choosing a lifestyle living off the grid. And again, I reiterate, a lifestyle or trip like this may not be for everyone: some may find it emotionally enlightening while another person in the same circumstances may find it to be emotionally taxing.
However, if you enjoy personal development and self-reflection, this aspect of sailing is invaluable.
I hope that my thoughts on the sailing experience have you considering it for your next grand adventure. Whether jumping on board as a tourist, signing up as an inexperienced volunteer crewmember, or buying a boat and setting sail around the world, there are so many ways to get a taste of life on the sea.
However, be wary as it is such a unique experience that it can truly change your outlook on life and you may never be the same.
If you need more inspiration, feel free to follow our journey on YouTube as we learn the fine art of sailing and discover some of the world’s most remote places on our voyage from the North Atlantic to the South Pacific via the Panama Canal!
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