Planning an offshore trip on a sailboat

What you need to know before going offshore

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Are you looking into buying a boat–but going out into the big blue ocean terrifys you? Dont worry! Its not as scary as it seems. It’s actually pretty peaceful  when you make the right decisions leading up to it and  it becomes a isolation paradise. 

For those who are new to my webpage, Hello! My name is Megan and I live aboard a Westerly Sealord with our pup and 7 year old kiddo. We have traveled over 12,000 nm on our boat and has traveled across the gulf of mexico to florida and up and down the eastern coastline twice. We are the type of sailors who would rather do 2-4 days offshore instead of doing day hops through the ICW. We prefer to be sailing over motoring any hour of the day. 

If you are scared and preparing to do your first offshore trip , I hope my article brings you some comfort. Being off shore isnt as scary as you might think. The concept of dying at sea is a deep fear for some, but once you have done it, you realize that driving on land is a far more common way to die then being lost at sea. Dont let fear stop you from doing exciting new things!–You only grow when you step outside your comfort zone and its too stressful trying to maintain comfort. One of the most common responses I get when I tell people that I live and travel by sail boat is ” Oh I could never do that, I have a fear of water” which to me is a ridiculous statement considering water is our life force. We can’t survive without water, the world can not survive without water! To use that excuse as to why you wont try something new is.. well.. a super lame excuse to justify a feeling that your mind has created for your reality. The hard truth about fear is that it is a self made wall. It–from an evolusional standpoint is a coping mechanism to the fear of death and in reality will only stop you from doing great things–If it kills you– It still beats dieing from a virus or in a car collision. You can’t live your life being afraid of anything that might kill you. Its a super stressful way to live ! On that note,  I am going to jump into this article! I would love to hear your feedback below in the comments. 

 

Check your weather a million times

Yes, a million ( or at least frequently )! We are contantly checking and watching weather. Nothing will spoil a trip like bad weather does! Ugh! So when we are preparing to move we start watching the weather in the begining of the week, Most nights we talk about what the winds are doing, what the projected weather will be for a possible weather window and we choose an estimated departure date. Sailing plans are always written in the sand when you live this kind of lifestyle. I strongly suggest that you let go the concept of time, and plan loosly. If you are the kind of person who cant be late, who power walks to their next life event, someone who doesnt have time to make their own coffee.. Well this lifestyle might not be for you, or maybe it is exactly what you need. We used to be fast people too once apon a time. I worked three jobs and absolutely HATED running behind. Now I can’t imagine being that person ever again. 

I can’t press enough how important weather is. Understanding how the world shifts during certain parts of the year, and studying how weather changes with temperature, and what it does before and after storms in cruical. I personally hate going down wind. To a land lubber that would seem like it would be the most powerful way to sail but those who know.. know that down wind is rocky, and feels slow!

Then you have to factor sea state and what direction the waves are going to come from..  We have sailed enough nautical miles to understand what is comfortable for us. What is worth the trip and what is worth waiting for another weather window.

For example: Cooking meals on a boat , offshore, downwind, with waves at your beam is not fun.. No one wants to be cooking in the galley in a wishy wash. So if I know that we are going to have a down wind sail, I make potatoes, eggs, garlic and onions sautéed and let them cool in the pan. Then I divide it equally into zip lock bags and add 3-4 eggs per bag. Next, I freeze them flat on the bottom of the freezer so I can stack them upright once they are frozen solid. The night before, I’ll pull a bag out and put it in the fridge.  By morning time it is ready to be poured into a pan and WAHLA ! Instant Breakfast Tacos! Ill touch more on food prep below!

Weather is absolutely everything in this lifestyle. Get comfortable watching the weather constantly and understanding why it is going to be the way it will be in the time frames you plan to be traveling.

Sea State

What is sea state? It is the size and the time between each wave. Out at sea the waves can range in size due to several factors. Things like, is there a storm coming or just passed? How close to land are you planning to travel , have the winds been switching directions a lot lately ? The moon cycles play a huge role in the ocean’s heart beat. To me, the sea state is more important than the wind. We can adjust our sails to make the winds hitting our sails a little more comfortable but the sea state is what makes you feel sea sick, It is what knocks things out of place , and makes cooking feel impossible. In some places where we couldn’t sail because of crab pots in the ICW , we had to motor against the wind and a sea state in an area that had a 4-6 foot waves at our nose. We were making no progress forward for a while because evertime we rode up a wave. It would slam our nose and completely stop us. It was a very frusterating passage. On Navionics and Windy the Sea state is measured in meters. 1 meter= 3.5 feet.

The thing about waves is that the sea state is the average wave size. But waves pile up on eachother and every now and then you will get a much larger wave called a roller. If the waves have some distance between them , surfing down the rollers are fun! But if the time between each wave is less than a second then it is a very … spirited sail. Our boat is a heavy ocean crossing boat so we can be comfortable in 6-12 foot waves but the time between the waves and where the wind direction is coming from gives us an opportunity to decide if we want to do it or not. We prefer to not be in the big waves but! If the time between them is good and the wind is good then we know our boat will be just fine. 

Once apon a time we met up with Sailing Delos and they have ridden 50 ft waves!! We asked them how that felt and he said well… ” At first , your going to shit yourself, and that is an acceptable coping mechanism. Then once you have surfed down a couple of them you realize your boat will be ok and you just have to ride it out” We thought his coping mechanism was hilarious. 

Another big factor to consider is whether you have auto pilot or not. I am a strong supporter of Auto pilot. I’m not too keen on staring at the compass and feeling how the boat is pushed through each wave. We started off without autopilot and crossed the gulf without it but.. It would have been a million times better had we had a working autopilot. In rough sea state our auto pilot acts drunk. It corrects the surf down the wave incorrectly and then has to over correct its over correction with more over correction and ends up swinging left and right with a giant scope because of too much over correction as a response to over correcting… So we do sail like real sailors when we choose to be in those kind of conditions. But when it comes to night sailing I prefer to sit comfortable with my tea and keep watch for any vessels in the distance instead of steering the helm until my eyes are exhausted. I love night sailing. The stars are amazing and when the forces are pushing you towards your destination , the feeling is.. primal? Im not sure if that is the right word to describe it but its the best I can think of. I am also a mom to a very talkative child , so night sailing is calm, quiet and peaceful.

Route planning

Please please please!! Don’t be the kind of sailor who just decides to go when you feel like going without checking weather, sea state, currents, and tides! Its a really inefficient way to handle this life style. We have friends who have sailed right into a hurricane because they didn’t want to wait  for the right weather window and didn’t study what their future held.. And yes, it turned out bad.. We have friends who divorced their loved ones because they didnt check weather conditions and brought their family out into terrible weather which resulted in the wife refusing to ever step foot on the boat again. Discomfort can be avoided and I can not grasp why so many sailors just leap into mother natures arms in hopes that she takes care of them. I have THOUSANDS of horror stories from friends who learned the lesson why it is so important to check weather and weather route the hard way! 

As far as weather routing goes, Set your route, check the tides and currents for departure and arrival. IF you can avoid bucking a 3 knot current by getting an extra hour of sleep then do it! Also consider tides and currents to emergency stopping points for worst case scenarios. Some bridges or anchorages might be hard to get through or to , due to the tide situation or after hour restrictions. For example: Charleston has a 6 foot tide and a strong current ! We have a spot that we love to anchor at that is on the other side of the Ashley Bridge but we can not get through the first bridge at high tide, and the Ashley bridge closes at four, So depending on the moon cycle, we have to arrive extra early from where ever we are coming from to get to our spot and hopefully not buck the current getting there/ avoid high tide, and get to our spot before 4. Plan your route so you aren’t arriving to a new anchorage at night. Take a look at your route and pay attention to the areas that have moving shoals. 

Another example of a lesson we learned :  There has been a handful of times where we had known the anchorage , decided to arrive at night/early morning and the deepest of fogs set in right in the inlet where giant cargo ships are always coming and going. Can’t plan fog! and it was so scary! We could hear the giant vessels passing by but couldn’t see them! We couldn’t see the channel markers or the boats in the anchorage.. This was a circumstance where we failed to consider visability when entering an area we had been before but! We did arrive and anchor safely. 

All that is left to say about this section is to plan properly. We are talking about Mother Nature and when considered lightly her wrath can be life threatening so don’t get comfortable and neglect your duties. I promise you will regret it.

Meal Prep

Oh the beautiful art of meal prep. For the first part of our liveaboard journey, I slacked in the meal prep department. I would stack up on snack foods, sugar treats, soups, sandwhiches, and ramen for offshore. As I became more experienced with the routine I slowly started replacing all the unhealthy snacks with healthy ones. I didn’t realize how much money I would save until I truly committed to meal prepping. I do still allow one offshore snack from the grocery store for each member of the crew. John ( the captain ) used to eat cheeze its until he read an article about people going on strike against Kellog brands because they decided they didnt want to provide health insurance for their employees during a global pandemic that had been strung along for what feels like forever.. They dramatically cut every ones hours so they could legally get away with it in a timer era where people were desperate for money and health insurance. So we have been boycotting Kellog products for 3-4 months now. As a replacement he has been eating the homemade tortillas or pita bread with hummus or chips and salsa. My son used to plow through fruit snacks, I found a stash of them that he hid in his room in which he apologized for being sneaky– but was a ref flag that I wanted to change. Those things are expensive, not fufilling at all, and most importantly not healthy. So I replaced the craving with real fruit and peanut butter treats. This last passage I pixed peanut butter with greek yogurt and used that as a dip for the apples.  I made the mistake of getting plain greek yogurt and the cheapest option at the grocery store so he wasnt a big fan. The next time, I got vanilla greek yogurt and he enjoyed it much more.

As I prepare to go to the Bahamas thinking about meal prepping for three months is starting to feel very overwhelming. I need to get better at practicing making food from scratch regularily.. I have made bread, and tortillas aboard but I have never had to stock food for 3 months and not having the safety net that a grocery store was with in a three mile radius is discomforting. I am saving recipes like how to make hummus, and tahini, and learning how expensive bulk seasame seeds cost. I’m choosing between peanut butter and powdered peanuts. Stocking up on oats because we love oatmilk and used to make my own and drink it before it got popular on the grocery shelves, however we have been buying oat milk because the extra creamy version is so close to what cows milk tasted like. I no longer have a blender so making my own is much harder now.  Salsa isnt hard to make but goes bad faster fresh then the premade jars on the shelves. We are a Texas family, so breakfast tacos are a big thing on our boat, and salsa is a topper everyone enjoys. When thinking about bahamas, jarred salsa is definitively the better route. 

Breakfast is going to be the hardest to have available for the extended period of time. I have prepared some  taco stuffing on stock in our freezer.

The reason why meal prep is so important is because you never know if motor nature is going to kick your ass and it is nice to have a plan b in case it does. I can tell you from experience that cooking in the galley in rough seas suck!! I always do the over night shifts, so preparing breakfast for the family is the last thing I do before catching some sleep. This is how I prepare my egg prep before moving to our next destination.

 

 

I first prep the eggs. I will grab a huge supply from Walmart because the 36 pack of what ever it is is almost the same price as a dozen. I crack half of them in ziplock bags to freeze and then I put 2 dozen  in my egg holder carrying case. I got mine from HEB but the most similar I could find to what we used in Amazon is HERE ( Click the colored text ) Then the rest are turned into boiling eggs and deviled eggs because my son loves deviled eggs or an egg sandwhich mix ready for sandwhiches. Next, I will put all the sandwich stuff in a produce mesh bag. I have a double stacking Tupperware that I got from HEB many years ago. On the bottom I fill it with the meats, the top is filled with the cheeses, an it goes inside one of the reusable mesh bags with the sandwich condiments/ vegetables  for easy grabbing. I like to open the fridge, grab the bag, and shut the fridge! No fooling around and loosing the cold to the hot  unconditioned sailboat temps. When the summer hits the fridge has to work extra hard. We do our best to do what we can do to keep the cold in. I also stack some bigger reusable ice packs ( The hard kind for coolers click here) half way through the fridge to keep the balance and ease up on the fridge having to work too hard. 

As far as dinner goes, I either make a pasta or we have soup when we are offshore. It is easy to warm and also good cold ( the pasta) We often try to catch a fish offshore, so sometimes we are blessed and others we are not. I always try to plan meals that would work well with a fish base if we did catch something worth eating. 

When it comes to meal prep and prepparing to be offshore , I try to get rid of cardboard and plastic as much as possible. Boat bugs LOVE cardboard and if you dont want the extra protein in your meals–get rid of all cardboard. The idea is to get rid of trash as much as possible before arriving in a new location. Finding a place to toss trash has never been difficult for us but we also don’t want to have to toss out trash often so we do the major hull out when ever we buy groceries to minimize the space used by extra packaging. Sometimes I look like a crazy person, sitting outside the grocery store unpacking my groceries, throwing away or recycling unncessary packaging before heading to our dinghy. I always get a look when I ask the bagger to find a different checkout counter because I need to pack things in the desinated bags such as , meats and cheeses/ any thing refridgerated or frozen go into our cooler back pack, and then I have an old buckees bag that I stock all the canns or jars in.  The dedication to be minimal is strong in us liveaboard cruisers, all of lifes normalcy is an adventure for us! 

We are also preparing to burn our trash instead of tossing it this year.  The Bahamas burns all their trash and we want to minimize the smoke caused by burning  massive amounts of plastic and reduce damaging to the o zone layer with just a little less invasive technique by hosting our own small trash fires and bring over minimal amount of plastic as possible from the main land. I have bought a bunch of air tight containers from amazon to put pasta and cereals in. Here is a link to the ones I bought recently if you are interested in doing the same.

One last thing I do to prepare offshore is to fill all our water jugs with water and put them in the fridge.  We only have 3 water jugs so I will fill two with water and make a cold tea brew in the third.  In Walmart they sell large double walled water bottles and beer growlers in the camping section. The growler comes with 4 coups and is awesome to use when we are going to have guests. They are only $20 at Walmart but if you can’t get to a walmart , I have attached a link to the colored text and it will lead you to an amazon product that is similar. This way we arent blowing through the ice cubes and everything is ready to go if someone gets thirsty 🙂 

Charge everything!!

This is a habbit we jumped on back in our earlier days of traveling. Charge everything the night before! This means the Marine spot light, flashlights, Head lamps, Go pros, cameras, battery, computers, and tablets, Sat phone (we use iridium go!) if you have one! This way you won’t have to bang your head on the wall for not remembering to charge your spot light when that heavy fog sets in and you need the flashlight to see the channel markers ( wink wink ) It Is just a good habbit to do this before each passage. That way you are not running around trying to find a solution to your problem in the midst of chaos. Which… In a boat… Things can go from smoothly to crazy SO FAST! You definitively don’t want to add onto the chaos by neglecting charging your stuff. 

Ditch bag essentials

What is a ditch bag?

  ( CLICK colored text to see what it looks like!)

It is a waterproof bag that should be kept up to stock in your boat and easily accessible in case your boat is going down under! If things get crazy and your boat is going to be consumed by mother nature you definitively don’t have time to collect everything you want to save before the vessel sinks. Worst case scenario , you are out in the middle of the ocean and need to abandon your boat. Trying to think what to save vs what you might need to survive is a strainous thought process.  Don’t make it more difficult then it needs to be. Put together a ditch bag, and annually go through what is in it and replace things like the water bottles, and check expiration dates. Below I am going to create a list of things we have in our ditch bag. I would love to hear from other liveaboards on what they have in their ditch bags. If you live aboard! Leave a comment below on what you put in your ditch bag!

Before I begin the list I want to point out some important things we have readily available to be placed into our ditch bag if we need it, but we don’t have them inside of our ditch bag . Things like:

Passports

Sat phone

Life jackets

 foul weather gear

Epirb- location beacon 

Are not in our ditch bag but are in places that we could quickly grab and go if we needed it. 

Our ditch bag carries these items listed below :

Water bottles ( Thrown out annually but a half of a case  remains inside) 

Medical kit– Bandaids, sutra kit, we were gifted and entire IV set up. Lots of gauze and wraps, antibiotics, pain killers, sleeping pills.  Black tea!

If you don’t know this black tea clots blood so if you have a heavy bleeder, black tea can stop the blood flow fast!

Military ready to eat or (MRE ) for  food options

Some other easy snacks and meal options like canned beans and granola bars.

a sleeping bag, 

a pair of cold weather socks,

Flashlight with extra batteries,

Journal In case we are lost at sea and someone only finds our remnants.

We do not have an emergency life raft . We hope that we will never be in this situation however if we do we are going to just use our dinghy and hope our Epirb will rescue us 🙂

Some life jackets have the epirb in them and one day we hope to be wealthy enough to splurge on them 😛

 

Everything has a place

Everything has a place in a boat. Unlike a house where the cabinets are unorganized, the toys lay all over the house for weeks, the laundry is forever partially on the floor and partially in a basket or spread around into all corners of every room. If you travel frequently, everything has a place and when you are done with what ever it is you are handeling. It goes back into its nicely snug spot. Things like glass on a boat can be a tricky gamble. Everything needs to be snug or it will be thrown and broken. Lately, I have been purging with every offshore trip. Mainly because we are going to the Bahamas this year and I want to make sure we have room for everything we need.  It takes me almost a full day to clean our tiny home mainly because with every offshore prep I go and pull out everything in every inch of the boat. Wipe down all the cabinet space , decide what is worth keepin on the boat and then reorganizing and replacing everything nice and snug in its place. I typically start in the aft cab and work my way forward. Sometimes it begins in the kitchen because we go and get groceries before we purge clean and so I’m already organizing everything in the kitchen, then I transition into the cabin space we have dedicated to food, from there I just move on to each tiny cubby until I am done with the cabin and move on to the next part of the boat.

Engine Checks

We are a sailboat, and we dont use our motor regularily, however we do the motor checks before , during, and after every passage. We have a really old motor and we don’t want to be caught off guard by a sudden motor issue. Before each passage John checks the coolant and oil levels and looks over the fuel lines, and then we start the motor and just make sure things arent leaking..  I’m not sure all the things he does but he is a mechanic by trade and knows our motor well. We have been nursing our elderly motor for 2 years now and to be honest, she is ready to cross the rainbow bridge. Unfortunately, we do not have the 10 k to invest in a new motor so we just keep stringing her along and hoping she doesnt formally die on us.

If you are planning this lifestyle you better get used to every inch of your motor. John has built our motor … 3-5 times since adopting our vessel?! I couldnt imagine where our journey would have been restricted  if we didn’t have a  super fly mechanic guy aboard. UGH! Also!! We have built a service throughout or travels that provides the guidance of a mechanic ( JOHN) If you are capable but insecure about working through any boat project, John is the guy to talk to. We charge an hourly fee which can be transfered via Venmo, Zelle, or Paypal. If you would like our contact shoot us an email at inspireyourself.3009@gmail.com and type Mechanics Club on the subject line. 

As a side note. We are building an app that is a social platform for liveaboards. This app will allow services to be found within the boating community that can help the cruisers find services easily. For example: If you need a mechanic/nurse you can see on the map who near by may be able to help you. At risk of someone stealing our idea I can only provide a little insight into the app. We do not have the funds to put aside for this project so If you are interested in helping us build this, and would like to be a part of the process we have created a patreons and all the proceeds from our patreons will be directed to our app,  those who have helped us build will have full access to the app membership for free for  the first year. If you would like to join the tribe and help us move along this app! Here is the link to our patreons!

 

Ready to rumble!!

So this concludes everything that should be done when planning to an offshore trip — that is essential. I personally have my sailing robe which is exactly what it sounds like.. We typically do offshore trips that are 2-3 days offshore. Changing clothes is not a priority so when we are sailing I choose what outfit I am going to wear ( often times its pajamas but sometimes its shorts and a sports bra) then I wear my sailing robe which is just an old bathroom robe as my protection against any wind chill. I like to be comfortable and fuzzy when sailing lol. If the weather is going to be cold and wet, fine! I’ll put on the proper foul weather gear to be comfortable and dry , but we do have a full enclosure so wind/rain protection is easy for us. I would love to hear some things that you do while preparing to be offshore, galley hacks what you put in your ditch bag, and what are some creature comforts you have! Let me know in the comments below 🙂 Thanks for checking out my blog . For those who are new! We are Sailing Spyridon and we can be found on any social channel as just that! Thanks for tuning in and have a wonderful day!

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