10 must-read tips for Bluewater cruising

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After a decade aboard his yacht bluewater cruising, Joshua shankle shares his 10 top tips gained over 10 years on the water

Bluewater cruising can be a transformative journey, filled with remarkable moments and unforgettable adventures. But challenges come hand in hand with this way of life: from the constant maintenance and repairs, to the never-ending cleaning and polishing, liveaboard sailing can sometimes be exhausting and frustrating. Over the past decade, I’ve experienced both the highs and lows of this lifestyle, falling in and out of love with our boat countless times.

Inevitably, just when the frustrations threaten to overwhelm me, something magical happens and we are blessed with one of those days where everything falls into place. When conditions are ideal, the boat is cutting through the water, and all feels right with the world once again.

These are the days that reignite my passion for sailing and reaffirm my decision to embrace this lifestyle. We’ve discovered that the longer we spend on the water, the more frequently we experience these exceptional days, which is why we choose to never leave it.

While I wouldn’t consider myself an expert sailor, I am fortunate to surround myself with individuals who possess a wealth of knowledge and experience. Seeking advice and insights from those who’ve spent decades exploring the seas has been invaluable. Countless evenings, we’ve had the privilege of sharing stories and sundowners with couples who have dedicated their lives to cruising, some for over 30 years, a few fortunate souls for over 40. Their tales and experiences have sparked vivid dreams within me of my wife Rachel and I forging a similar life for ourselves.

For 10 years we have carved our own path amidst the vast ocean. So while our knowledge is based on our own experiences and what has worked for us, here are a few insights that I wish I’d known when we first set out on this journey:

growing-food-on-boats-herb-garden-credit-Rick-Moore

You can grow food onboard as well as buying what you need

10 bluewater cruising tips

Food

You can find food everywhere, so prioritise your favourites. Before departing from our home port in the USA, Rachel and I vacuum-sealed what would turn out to be nearly a year’s worth of flour, rice, and sugar. We also stowed away an abundance of canned food ‘just in case’, but we carried very little of our preferred snacks and other products. Every port we have visited has had the basics, but it was the hard-to-find favourites that we missed most. Make sure to make room for them in your provisions.

Buy the largest watermaker you can afford, and know how to service it. Photo: Joshua and Rachel Shankle

Water

Consider upgrading to a larger watermaker, or if you’re planning to purchase a watermaker, choose the largest or highest output unit that fits your budget. We used to have a 7gph unit, which was energy-efficient but required constant running.

Now, with our 40gph watermaker, we only need to listen to it for two hours a week. In my experience, larger units also produce cleaner water and encounter fewer issues. Being able to rinse off as often as you like, wash gear and clothes, or even wash down the boat after a long bash to windward, all help to make life more enjoyable and prolongs the life of your gear sustainably.

Wear long-sleeved and hooded sun shirts rather than constantly having to apply chemical sunscreen. Photo: Joshua and Rachel Shankle

Sun protection

Long-sleeved, hooded sun shirts are better than sunscreen. Instead of constantly applying greasy sunscreen to your arms, neck, and ears, wear an SPF-rated shirt. They offer more comfort, protect the environment, and prevent your cushions and pillows from becoming oily. We also wear sun-protection buffs, trousers, and gloves for long days out on the water.

A powerful outboard for your tender will repay its cost many times over by making it quicker and safer to head for a beach, lug provisions back to the boat or even tow a yacht. Photo: Joshua and Rachel Shankle

Ship-to-shore

Get the largest outboard engine your dinghy can handle. Having a fast tender allows you to anchor in protected areas and easily reach fun surf breaks, excellent snorkelling spots, and transport all your gear and big provision runs. It also serves for safety and emergencies. On several occasions we’ve tied our tender alongside a sailboat with a dead diesel engine and towed the disabled vessel to safety.

Your cockpit can be your living room – make it comfortable with plenty of shade. Photo: Joshua and Rachel Shankle

Outdoor living

Treat your cockpit as your living room. We sail hundreds or even thousands of nautical miles to reach picturesque anchorages, and the place we want to sit and enjoy the well-earned view is the cockpit.

Size matters less than comfort, so add plenty of cushions, pillows, and shades to protect you from the tropical sun. It will create a more enjoyable space to relax during the day or entertain late into the evening (OK, usually no later than 2130 for most of us!).

Some jobs are more time-consuming to do afloat, so up-spec power and water generation for ease. Photo: Joshua and Rachel Shankle

Spares and repairs

Keep well-documented manuals for each system on board. This will help you find part numbers, service intervals, and essential information when you need it most. Even better, download the PDF versions and keep them on a hard drive or phone. Often these are searchable documents making it easier to find relevant information.

Photo: Tor Johnson

Navigation

Learn how to utilise navigation tools like Open CPN, Google Earth, and Ovital Maps. Being able to access high-definition satellite photos of passes, islands, and anchorages before arrival will assist you in planning anchorages, avoiding hazards, and navigating effectively, especially in challenging conditions and areas that are poorly charted.

Running multiple routes over each other, especially in bommie-infested lagoons like French Polynesia’s Tuamotu islands, provides peace of mind and eases navigation in poor light or inclement weather.

Almost inevitably you’ll use more power than you first thought, so prioritise generation and storage. Photo: Joshua and Rachel Shankle

Energy consumption

Prioritise power generation. Assess your energy consumption and invest in solar power, wind generators, and lithium batteries to keep your boat comfortably off-grid for longer periods, reducing the need for generator use. When we departed from Ventura, California, Agápe had 520W of solar power charging 630Ah of AGM batteries.

We made every effort to keep our batteries above 60% charge and rarely let them drop below 50%, but it meant running the generator every fourth or fifth day for a few hours. Soon after, we realised our power consumption was higher than expected. To live off-grid comfortably and make cruising sustainable for Rachel and me, we needed more power. Now, Agápe boasts 875W of solar power and 500Ah of lithium batteries.

Preventative maintenance – perhaps an hour a day – helps keep the boat fully functional. Photo: Joshua and Rachel Shankle

Maintenance

Practise preventive maintenance for more free time. It takes about an hour each day to keep the boat fully functional, in good working order, and aesthetically pleasing. If you skip a few days, you might not notice the difference, but you’ll eventually fall behind.

Every morning, before the heat of the day, one of us walks around the deck from the starboard side of the cockpit to the bow and then down the port side. Whenever we spot something that needs attention, we stop and make it our task for the day. Sometimes, we complete the entire loop and find everything working perfectly, with all the oil changes done and tarnished areas sparkling. At that point, grab your mask, fins, and scrubbing brush, and give the waterline a quick wipe. Now you’re ready to enjoy the day.

Slow down to really appreciate the beautiful places you’ll visit, and don’t always be in too much of a hurry to move on. Photo: Joshua and Rachel Shankle

Take your time

Slow down. In our first three years, we felt the need to constantly keep moving. There were so many beaches to sit on and reefs to dive that we felt compelled to maintain a fast pace to try and see them all. However, relocating our entire home every three days proved to be exhausting.

Once we embraced a slower pace, we not only began to appreciate the magnificent places and experiences we were encountering more, but also found joy in the act of cruising itself. Slowing down has proven to be the most important factor in sustaining our cruising lifestyle.

Over the years we’ve witnessed many cruisers burn out after just a year or two, even though they had several more years of cruising ahead of them. Some people attempt to cram too much into a short itinerary, leaving them feeling overwhelmed and drained, which prevents them from truly enjoying their experiences and inevitably makes them yearn for the comforts and routines of life on land.


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