3 Things to Expect Going Cruising

Why do some cruisers get discouraged and quit cruising before they’ve even started?  Analyzing hundreds of conversations over the 13 years we’ve been cruising, I’ve come to the conclusion that the biggest reason is simply expectations.   The lifestyle is amazing and we love it most of the time, but nothing is perfect.  On the other hand, as my friend Susan is fond of reminding me “it doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful”!

So what’s real and what’s the dream?

Certainly all the sailing magazines sell the dream …  I don’t fault them. They added cruising to my bucket list!  I devoured every one I could get my hands on!  And,  if you read those magazines closely, there are also articles about fixing things, updating things, weather things – articles every month that I must have somehow missed in my early dreamy “sail off into the sunset with my best friend” days.

All I remember from my reading is the amazing water colors, the brilliant colored reef fish, people running around in nothing but swimsuits and gorgeous tans exploring different exotic islands and cultures every day.  WOW!  What’s not to love?  Dancing barefoot on the beach, watching dolphin shows at sunrise from my cockpit with morning coffee, making lots of new friends, snorkeling in the world’s biggest aquariums, learning about new cultures, so so many things.

Unfortunately, human nature also has this thing called expectations.  And in anything, if the expectation doesn’t live up to the dream, then whatever is naturally considered less than wonderful — even if it IS wonderful.   So if I think about the list of the expectations that might have given me pause before we went cruising,

So what to expect?   In a nutshell, expect inconvenience.  Here are some examples:

1.  Inconvenience because there is no question, there’s more maintenance required aboard a boat – a constantly moving platform and exposed to salt air and salt water 24/7 – than in any house.  And then there’s the issue of things breaking.

The refrigerator doesn’t seem to be keeping your food cold,  and you haven’t a clue where to start.  On the flip side, expect help.  The cruising family is an amazing support mechanism.  Out of the US, we rely on each other because that’s all there is.  That fact has created a support structure that you will rarely find elsewhere.

People helping people.  If we don’t know where to start, chances are very good that someone else will.  If we don’t have parts to fix something, chances are someone else will or they’ll know where to go to get them locally.  The cruising community lives by the motto “Pay It Forward” — if we have something another cruiser can use we either give it to them if it’s something as simple as 2 part epoxy or sell it if it’s something expensive like a spare autopilot motor.

2.  Inconvenience because the weather doesn’t cooperate.  One of the biggest mistakes cruisers, including us, make is to expect the weather to fit into your time frame.   When the weather detains us for 3 weeks in Marathon, I get frustrated.  Never mind the fact that it’s amazingly warm weather, with just a day or two thrown in of blowing 25 from a direction that’s not sheltered in the Keys (or Exumas … or Belize … or you substitute the cruising ground).   Don’t go anchor somewhere that’s unprotected just because you’re anxious to move on.  You will regret it (can you hear me talking to myself here?)!

3.  Inconvenience because living on a boat brings back a simpler time — I like to compare it to life in the 1950’s – life without television, without internet, without cell phones, without the complications that today’s lifestyles seem to bring.  I like simple.    But simple means no dishwasher, no washer dryer aboard (well, most boats…), no unlimited electricity.   With no watermaker, hauling water can be a chore, hauling diesel and straining it with a baja filter seems to take forever, hauling laundry to the laundry mat and then having to wait forever just to get a washer,  complaints I hear every day.    But when I compare the boring days to the ultimate days, there is no comparison.  If I hadn’t hauled the water, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to practice my spanish with a young man in the San Blas Islands, or swim with the dolphins while snorkeling (live, in nature!) or … so many “ors”…

4.  Not enough flexibility.  The boat next to us right now says nothing bothers him.  He’s lucky enough to be living on a boat in paradise and that’s enough … the weather doesn’t bother him, the inconveniences of stuff breaking, nothing.  I’m just too much Type A personality, all of it bothers me!  But I’m striving to be more like our next door neighbor — take care of the things we have control over & don’t stress over the things we don’t.  What’s that age old Serenity Prayer?

“Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

This applies in triplicate on a boat!  All in all, I think my friend Susan sums it up perfectly when she reminds me “it doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful”.   I’m trying to make that my mantra!

GO CRUISING, rejoice in the fact that your health is good enough to enjoy what you have and don’t fret about what you don’t.  Thunderstorms tonight & tomorrow, no problem, the boat needs the salt rinsed off & I need to do laundry.

Maybe a few days from now will be time to leave this protected harbor & enjoy more of what nature has to offer!  Anyone have input, please leave a comment & share!  Cheers — Jan


  1. It is like that old saying, if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger…..not always a pretty
    thought, but sailing in a nut shell.
    Enjoy your blog.

  2. The really cool thing is you can do this anywhere there is some water to sail your boat, regardless of your personal wealth, you just cut your cloth accordingly. Here in New Zealand we sail our yacht mostly around the beautiful Hauraki Gulf. Dozens of islands all very close within some of the world best crusing grounds. We see all types of yachts from visiting super yachts to small trailersailors. Ok, we don’t have the crystal clear waters or colourful tropical fish of the more exotic places, but that’s not all there is to criusing. Just do it, never let the weather define your day, sail safe and have fun..wherever you are.

  3. Jan, when I first read this, Nicki & I were still 4 years from cruising and hadn’t even met our cruising home, Sionna. Now we look back on our first season commuter cruising from our land base in Maine, and find all that you shared to be spot on. EXPECTATIONS are the enemy of happy cruising!
    Yet we still fall victim to them. I’m working on my Zen approach, and we cannot wait to escape this fantasy world and return to the real world aboard Sionna!

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