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Five things to know before you set sail

Five years ago my best friend and I, both 23 at the time, decided to buy a 27-foot sailboat and spend the next two years sailing “America’s Great Loop.” Curious minds have always asked “why?” To this day, I still don’t have much of an answer besides “why not?” The idea started as a joke between friends because neither of us had any true knowledge on the subject matter. I now, however, understand how that decision to untie those dock lines transformed into the most enlightening adventure of our lives. In documenting our story through our blog, Katie and Jessie on a Boat, I frequently receive emails from ambitious adventurers who aren’t quite certain where and how to start planning their own venture. So for all of you inquiring minds, I want to address my five top tips for planning your voyage.

1. Draw out your plan

Get out some paper and a pen and start drawing your map. Mark prospective waypoints. Jot down miles, dates, landmarks and goals. Add to your drawing over time. My map consisted of a stick-figure-like-boat named “Louise.” There were some squiggly lines representing the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. There was an alligator, a dolphin, a shark and a manatee. There was my best friend and her dog and more shaky lines to represent Florida, the Bahamas and the Eastern seaboard. There were storms, stars, sunrises, big waves, and random question marks floating in seas of gray.

2. Talk to people–real, living people

Do your research and talk to people. That means face to face, like we used to back in the day (FaceTime not included). Fortunately for me, my father set out on the same journey in the 1970s and was the driving force behind mine. I spent hours talking to him, reading his journals and flipping through his photo albums. Pick as many brains as you can who have done something similar. There is value in hearing one’s personal experience, advice and words of wisdom.

3. Find the best tools for your toolbox

Invest in a “SPOT™” device. With just the press of a button this satellite GPS tracker can send your location via email to your friends and family every day and can alert the Coast Guard in emergency situations. I pressed the “we are safe” button when we were securely anchored at the end of each day or after we successfully navigated an overnight passage or a long crossing. Only once did we have to use the “sort-of-an-emergency” button when we broke down on our way home from the Bahamas and had to get towed back to Florida.

When something breaks—and I promise you it will—you will need the best tools to fix it. We needed a very specific wrench to adjust part of the propeller shaft known as the “stuffing box” to prevent water from leaking into the boat. Prior to our trip, I could never bring myself to spend $30 on that wrench, but every single time we were in a situation on the boat where we desperately needed it, I would have paid triple to have it.

Finally, make room for guidebooks because they become your only source of information when you have no cell service and find yourself alone, possibly lost and miles from civilization. Dozier’s “Waterway Guide” and the “Skipper Bob” cruising guide series saved us a time or three. When you do have cell service and/or Wi-Fi available, I insist you download “Navionics.” You can pre-download incredibly accurate and detailed charts to your phone or tablet and still use them for navigation when out of touch.

4. Get your gear (and self) in order

For whatever adventure you choose, your gear needs to be in tip-top condition. You also need boat insurance. In my case, it was a boat that I barely knew how to sail or motor. Having it insured freed me of the never-ending anxiety I would have had if I hit a rock, rammed a dock, backed into a boat, etc. (For the record, I never backed into another boat.)

Every single morning before departing from point A, check the status of every working part in or on your watercraft to ensure its ability to get you to point B. Try to diagnose any potential problems while stationary before something goes wrong.

Also, check your mental state. Your attitude and mental health are equally as important as the boat you rely on. Just like you rely on it, the boat relies on you. Don’t hesitate to wait a day, take a break, or even call it quits early if you are not feeling 110 percent up for your next challenge.

5. You are superhuman!      

So you have this idea that is brewing thick as lava that molds to the mountainside while it cools. In your mind, acting on this impulse is set in stone, but in reality you are too scared to follow through. This silent battle is your biggest mistake. Just go for it! You have the power and are in control of every decision. You are superhuman. Turn that ridiculous drawing on your fridge into your life and start your next adventure.