When people find out that we are planning to sail to the Caribbean, we are faced with some repeat questions. These questions are different from the common questions we are asked when people learn that we liveaboard. Liveaboard questions are merely routine for us as we have been doing it for years and consider all the unknowns they could as as ordinary parts of everyday life.
Liveaboard questions tend to be:
How do you get to your car?
What do you do when it rains?
Are you cold during the winter?
What if there is flooding, are you worried about your boat sinking?
These questions are all too common for us and we have carefully prepared answers for them:
Walk down the pier to the car.
Go inside and keep dry.
No, we turn on the heat.
We float. (this one is one of my personal favorites)
Our planned trip is just that, a plan. We have not done it before, so we don't have definitive answers based on years of experience. Instead, we have thoughts formed from reading books and talking with other sailors. There are a lot of unknowns involved with this trip and we don't have all the answers.
I have taken to playing the role of the happy go lucky fool when I get asked the same questions, because it makes the conversation proceed quicker and easier. They either think I am kidding or that I am going to die and there is no helping the helpless, so they change the subject. I would rather get on to another subject as I grow tired of the same doubtful questions.
Aren't you scared about a storm out in the ocean?
What if a hurricane comes?
What if a sea monster eats your boat?
What if you get sick?
What if you get lost?
Aren't you afraid of pirates?
Storms are a concern, which is why we have practiced heaving-to. We also carry a parachute anchor to set in addition to heaving-to to help steady the ship as we ride out the storm in the protection of the slick. We haven't tested this out on the high seas, but we have had some horrible squalls in the Chesapeake Bay and other storms close to the Atlantic Coast. We know how to manage storms, and we know how to stay safe, but we have always been close to land. We do have a slight uneasy feeling in our stomach when we think about setting off to distant lands and getting hit by a storm in the night hundreds of miles from shore where no one can assist us should something catastrophic happen.
Hurricanes are a concern, they are incredibly powerful and their paths can change in an instant. When we are far offshore, we won't have the best of weather updates and a hurricane could theoretically slip through our weather forecast electronics. The reason I am not as concerned is hurricanes send a large swell out into the ocean radiating away from its center. By noticing this swell, we can begin to monitor the weather and figure out where the center of the storm is and what its route is. With this knowledge, we can plot a course away from the storm and into safer water. Worst case scenario, heave-to with the parachute anchor and ride out the hurricane. By choosing our cruising course carefully, we hope to avoid hurricanes and negate the issue all together.
"Sea monsters" always makes me chuckle. Whales on the other hand are not as funny. Running into a sleeping whale is an actual concern. The collision would not cause that much damage to our full keel sailboat, but it could piss off the whale that just got struck by 17 tons of boat! Angered whales can retaliate and sink a sailboat if they are in the mood and there is little you can do to stop them. In most cases, the whale will simply swim off and leave you be; with both parties a little shaken up from the whole ordeal.
Sickness at sea is a concern. We can get injured and there is no hospital to run to. If we are a week from shore, that means we are a week from any medical care. I am a dentist (and not a physician) so I can do minor procedures such as debride a wound or suture a laceration, but I can't take out an appendix! Being a dentist does make me well versed in dealing with infections and surgical procedures, but working on a moving vessel with bad lighting doesn't make me a skilled surgeon. Our first line of defense against sickness is to avoid injury in the first place. By playing it safe, we stay healthy and well. Keeping up on our sleep and eating well will keep us well nourished and strong, warding off the illnesses that come from malnutrition and stress.
Getting lost is a very real problem at sea where there is no landmarks in sight. We have paper charts, we have electronic charts, we have three GPS units, we have a compass, and we have a sextant! In the worst case scenario where the sextant falls overboard, all the GPS units die, the compass breaks, and we loose all our charts; we still have one trick up our sleeve: the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. If we lost everything and had no clue where we were, we could simply sail west to return to the Americas. This may sound over simplified, but if we are lost in the Atlantic, the Americas are to the West and Europe/Africa is to the East. Should I find myself in total confusion, I would personally rather make landfall on my home continent. As far fetched as this scenario may sound, people actually ask me what I would do if everything failed. The truth is, we take care of the sextant and the compass is mounted to the binnacle. Using these two instruments, we can plot our position and find our way through the ocean. Knowing how to use the world around you to navigate is a very important skill. It goes much further than knowing how to read a map or looking at your electronics. Navigation is just that, navigating. It is a process that requires practice to hone your skills and find your way through.
Piracy is an issue, but not as big as you might think it is. There are no pirates on the high seas that are boarding sailboats in the middle of the ocean. Pirates are interested in large cargo ships that carry a lot of valuables. Sailboats tend to be filled with poor cruisers. Old sailboats tend to be filled with poorer cruisers. Our sailboat is from 1968 and looks nothing like the sleek yachts of the global elite. Piracy around islands tends to involve theft of your belongings, particularly your inflatable dinghy and outboard motor. We don't have an inflatable, or an outboard; instead we have an undesirable wooden row boat. As far as being boarded, we feel strongly in choosing where to anchor based on current crime reports and talking with other cruisers about which islands to visit and which harbors to avoid.
In short, we don't have the experience under out belts like we do with living aboard and coastal cruising, but we do have the drive and the desire to go the distance. It just feels frustrating that every person we meet questions us and wants us to prove to them that we are capable seamen, even though the people who are judging our capabilities have never been sailing nor have any idea what we actually need to know. We are literally trying to impress blind people with pretty colors, they can never see what we are showing yet they will judge us harshly and cast a verdict without remorse.
The conversation usually ends with an uplifting: "Just don't die."
After the first go about with this conversation, you brush it off. After the tenth, you begin to question peoples intentions in asking. After the fiftieth, you begin to question yourself. After you question yourself, you then realize that you are ready and you are prepared. Why even entertain these questions?