The following is my initial contribution to the development of offshore sailing skills/experience. I have started a new section intended eventually to be a “chapter” if you will, in the larger area of “Best Practices in Preparation for Offshore Voyaging”. In this way, contributions to this rather large endeavor can perhaps be better organized. Administrators, please move around as makes sense. S
Skipper preparedness for a first offshore passage:
I suspect, among the first steps in preparing to be a skipper of an offshore sailing vessel, might be to determine whether offshore voyaging is really to your liking. For many, it is not, and better to find that out early. I know many a couple whose dreams (and time and money) foundered quickly when one or the other or both found that the realities of offshore sailing was not to their liking. And since many of us have our lives inexorably interlinked with a partner, this goes for him/her as well. And, as this is a best practices article, I will suggest that the partner/crew, while not needing to have the skills/experience of the skipper, needs to feel confident that he/she has the requisite skills to bring the vessel to safety in the event of the skipper becoming disabled.
One of the best ways to do this is on OPBs. Other People’s Boats provide a wonderful way to get a sense of offshore sailing. OPBs can go a long way to educating one as to personal limitations and proclivities (seasickness for ex), the kind/size/rig of the boat that might work for you, the skills still necessary to develop, all without responsibility.
OPBs can take the form of the OCC’s mentoring program where aspiring skippers join an experienced skipper/crew for an offshore passage (preferably at least 3 days offshore, better 5-7 days: this because it takes a few days to settle into a passage and 3+ days brings you into the realm of any weather possible). (This could also serve dual duties of being a qualifying sail for full membership in OCC.) Another form might be with friends on their boat. Many also have benefitted from paid training courses where you join a boat for an offshore passage and have a curriculum that prepares you for offshore passage making and cruising. John and Amanda Neal of Mahina Expeditions (https://www.mahina.com/)
have been doing this for many years and offer a full range of sailing experiences and consultation in this area. Ther are others who do the same or similar. These courses can not only develop skills and experience, but can be a huge confidence booster.
If you feel like you already have the boat for your offshore wandering, you can choose to hire a professional skipper to accompany, train, etc. on their first (or first few) offshore passages. Be careful you hire someone willing to train, demonstrate and educate and not someone just interested in delivery. This can be very successful as you learn your own boat’s proclivities hand in hand with your own.
The above can “jump-start” one’s way into offshore passage making and cruising, but many take the more time consuming, but possibly more effective, way of developing offshore skills: incrementally. Start with day sailing, then coastal cruising, then an overnight or two, then a couple of 3 days at sea. This incremental approach allows for absorption of skills and experience over time: each step building confidence and confirming that this is a good direction for you and your partner to proceed. The UK’s RYA takes this incremental and effective approach in their training. Many also do it on their own.
Offshore sailing preparedness is a big commitment to do well: the above would be my suggestion as to reasonable first steps. Hand in hand with skills/experience acquisition, I would also suggest spending time reviewing and developing your goals and motivation. For ex., are you interested in cruising or more of a time limited adventure? The better you know your goals, the more likely you will achieve them.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy