Cruising Skills

In the five years we’ve been preparing to sell the house and get out cruising we’ve had to learn a LOT of things.  We’ve bought books and read web sites of knowledgeable people, asked questions and performed “hands on, on-the-job” training for many different things.

A while back I created a list of skills that occurred to me as I was trying to decide where to go in my “learning curve” next.  The list is a couple of pages long with several dozen skills listed.  Many things we know “in real life” can translate.  As an example I have traveled to many countries and as a military member had personnel for whom I was responsible on various trips through foreign ports.  We generally (as a team chief) would check in at terminals and customs with the passports for our team members and make sure things went (relatively smoothly); this equates to a skipper checking into and out of a port for example.  Not exactly the same thing with a boat as a traveling crew, but similar enough.

The funny part is that the list of skills required to run a boat on a daily basis is as varied as one can imagine.  In fact when we started down this path the thought didn’t occur to us as first how many things we’d have to know and understand.

From some of my reading I figured out that some folks don’t know enough when they start, but learn as they go.  Others prepare before leaving.  Some never get off the dock because they are still preparing themselves or fitting out their boats; some for years it appears.

In our case we have enough “life skills” that we can equate to something on the boat to at least give us a leg up.

As life goes on the wise become wiser as they realize they don’t have every skill they need to do something, and KNOW they don’t KNOW.

As another example looking at the list there is a category called “Electrical” or “Electrics” for a vessel.  Various people call the electrical “stuff” on a boat by various names.  As an electronics technician for nearly forty years, it’s all the same to me.  Ohms and Watts laws, resistance, current, voltage, soldering, crimping, inductance, capacitance, analog and digital are the same ashore or afloat.  The one thing thrown in that isn’t there ashore is salt water, salt air and dampness.  Those are separate issues with which to contend.  So, I suspect I’m more thoroughly prepared than most for electrical issues.  My list looks like this, and remember these are just a few things that came to mind:

Electrical Skills

  • Lighting
  • Navigation lights
  • Anchor lights
  • Cabin lighting
  • Wiring
  • Power calculations
  • Power panel wiring
  • Solar Power
  • Wind generator
  • Alternator (engine)
  • Inverters
  • Radio systems (VHF, HF)
  • Antennas and the connections to the radios
  • Antenna couplers (tuning units)
  • Stereo systems and speakers
  • Computers
  • Windlass
  • Miscellaneous electrical systems

When you begin to break down the systems on a vessel into smaller units like the above you start to realize that everything isn’t as simple as it seems at first.  In the past few years I read a lot of information on various forums about radios (I’m an expert in that field by the way, more so than any other area probably) and realized that there is so much misinformation out there about many things.  And the numbers of opinions vary to the point of being so wrong and incorrect it’s amazing that some folks are able to “get by” let alone “survive”.  (I’m not just talking about electrical systems here either).

The hardest lesson I learned in the last five years wasn’t how to set an anchor properly, tack, gybe or dock a vessel.  It was learning NOT to listen to others in some instances (many in fact).  I’ve also learned from others by asking questions.  But when one asks a perfectly honest and normal “newb” question and gets twelve different opinions, most of which aren’t even right to begin with, or gets yelled at for asking “stupid questions without looking it up” before you get out of the starting gate, it’s a turn off.

Thus, learning technical material without the aid of teachers is just one thing that makes becoming a cruiser that much more difficult.   From now on, if I want someone’s opinion, I’ll hire a professional not stick my nose into some of the forums.  (There are a couple I like, the people are nice and they aren’t trying to beat you over the head with the ONLY RIGHT way to do something…..)

When talking about electrical connections in a marine environment one has to take into account the quality of the connection and the fact that salt water causes corrosion.  I was once “admonished” that I didn’t know what I was talking about when it came to connections.  I pretty much let it go and ignored the insult, since I DO know what I am talking about.

In electrical work you have two types of connections, especially when we’re talking about power delivery systems.  That is, batteries and the connections at them.  You have an “electrical connection” and you have a “mechanical connection”.  The mechanical connection is what MAKES the electrical connection work, and keep working.  Basically if you make a good, solid connection, say a crimp, you will ensure that current flows.  But sometimes those mechanical (crimped) connections in a marine environment will get corrosion.  Corrosion causes resistance thereby reducing the electrical connections effectiveness.  Resistance causes voltage drops, voltage drops across bad connections cause higher current level, heat and  drains batteries more quickly, sometimes to dangerously.  Regardless of how well the mechanical connection will hold down in the battery locker when a vessel is bouncing up and down over time, the resistance is going to increase with the corrosion.  You can crimp that connect as nicely as you like and let a couple of drops of salt water in and in time, it will fail at the crimp.

The “admonishment” came when I suggested soldering the lug to the wire either in addition to, or in lieu of the crimp.  I’m a “solder it” guy.  Went through the old NASA high reliability soldering training (among other types of training for making reliable connections) and learned that my stuff was good enough to go to the moon, into outer space, let alone a marine environment.  So getting chewed out by someone on a forum for disagreeing with HIS method of doing something irks me, and really makes me wonder how some of these people get by.

Now, certainly, I don’t CARE if some guy does things HIS way, on HIS boat; I’m going to do them MY way on MY boat and I’m going to teach the way I learned that something is reliable to others if they ask; people have to make the decision not to be bloody sheep somewhere along the way.  Think for yourselves.

I guess it comes down to opinions versus facts.  I use facts to base my opinions.  Many just form an opinion on whatever they want to imagine and many just “don’t like the way you think”.  Others might use their experience (no matter how much or how little of it they have) to form an opinion. Perhaps they have had good experience doing something a certain way and it hasn’t failed on them.  Good for them.  Not good for me. If it isn’t common sense and meets scientifically sound principles, I’m not buying it.  (Global warming is a very good example of something that DOES NOT MEET scientific principles.  Just because a scientist SAYS SO doesn’t make it SO. )  Perhaps I should have listened when we were first learning to sale when our instruction said “I neither offer, nor accept advice from other sailors”.  I didn’t get it then, but I “get it” now.

This isn’t to say I can’t learn from others and won’t give up trying.  But learning from Internet Sailors who frequent forums isn’t necessarily the way to go when learning!  On the other hand, some forums have some smart people.  They have experience.  They have traveled.  They DO things.  Those people are almost never online either.Why not?  They are… well, traveling and doing things.  They aren’t posting in forums.  They have blogs, they spend time writing up the misery they have in repairing the head, or getting stuck in the engine room upside down while cleaning fuel filters out or getting the air out of the fuel line.  They talk about the problems and how they solved them, rather than opining how “You shouldn’t do this or that, you should spend as much money on the problem as you can and move on…” (which is really all I get from the vast majority of the forums out there).

What this whole thing comes down to is my own list of “skills” I have compiled.  My skills are more important to me than to anyone else.  And no one’s skills are more IMPORTANT THAN MINE.  I need my skills to get by.  I can use others’ if they are part of the crew.  If not, they are useless to me.  Everything on my list I can ‘check off’ as something I have learned about ON MY OWN now.  I either knew or had the skills already when I started down this road or I have taken the time to purchase a text book and study it.  Granted I’m a bit slow on diesel mechanics (but I have enough information to train myself and all that I need is the “hand-on” or “on-the-job” training to make use of the knowledge).

I can’t say I am an “accomplished” sailor.  I’m not. I’m a novice. I’ll remain a novice until I am not a novice.  I don’t know when that will be, I don’t know what will cause it to happen.  But when it does, I will know it.  But the day is fast approaching when I’ll be leaving Colorado for good… and every single, last skill I’ve collected has gotten me there and will get me through the next part of the journey.

————————————————————

Just for the heck of it… here’s a partial list, in no particular order and with no connected explanation. This is not an all-inclusive list, nor in any particular order, but it’s what I’ve learned I need to know thus far.  I’m sure I don’t know it all.  Your lists may vary.  It’s not something you SHOULD do.  This is what I have learned and am still learning:

Cruising “Skills”

Keeping log books

  • Shopping lists
  • Preventive Maintenance lists
  • To DO Maintenance lists
  • Daily chores
  • Inspections of engine, plumbing, riggings (standing and running) etc
  • Tracking what has been done and what hasn’t

Electrical Skills

  • Lighting
  • Navigation lights
  • Anchor lights
  • Cabin lighting
  • Wiring
  • Power calculations
  • Power panel wiring
  • Solar Power
  • Wind generator
  • Alternator (engine)
  • Inverters
  • Radio systems (VHF, HF)
  • Antennas and the connections to the radios
  • Antenna couplers (tuning units)
  • Stereo systems and speakers
  • Computers
  • Windlass
  • Miscellaneous electrical systems

Mechanical skills

  • Diesel engine
  • fuel
  • fuel lines
  • air cleaners
  • water pumps
  • oil/oil changes
  • two-stroke engines
  • gas engine mechanics

Plumbing

  • Fresh water pumps
  • Salt water pumps
  • Head

Fishing

  • fishing
  • fish
  • lobster
  • crab
  • other food

Overall general seamanship skills

  • Anchoring skills
  • Weather patterns
  • weather forecasting
  • heavy weather sailing skills
  • Sailing
  • Safety
  • Marlingspike
  • Rigging skills
  • Rigging repair
  • Voyage planning
  • Celestial Navigation
  • Sextant use
  • GPS Navigation
  • Dead reckoning
  • Chart reading skills
  • Plotting courses
  • Plotting fixes
  • Knot log
  • Bearings
  • Navigation
  • Lead line/depth finding

Emergency repairs

  • stopping leaks
  • repairing hull
  • rigging
  • sails
  • anchor and rode
  • preparing for storms in anchorage and during a passage

Foreign Travel Skills

  • Clearing in and out
  • Dealing with foreign offices
  • Keeping records
  • Weapons aboard (or not)

Shipboard Management

  • Galley
  • Plumbing
  • Fuel
  • Safety
  • Security
  • Water supply/collection
  • Propane

Communications

  • email (Pactor)
  • weather faxes (Fax programs)
  • Ham Radio
  • Marine SSB
  • VHF
  • How to call for help
  • When NOT to call for help

Business and Bureaucracy (and things to have/keep on vessel)

  • USCG documentation
  • business/boat cards
  • ham radio QSL cards
  • ship’s papers
  • passports
  • legal documents
  • birth certificates
  • marriage certificate
  • boat insurance certificate
  • International shot records
  • radio licenses
  • extra passport photos
  • ship’s stamp
  • medical prescriptions (if required)
  • Banking/cash/credit cards
  • telephones
  • bills
  • deposits
  • mail
  • taxes

Safety

  • Rules of the road
  • Avoiding collisions
  • Reading buoys/signs
  • Flare guns/flares
  • Deck safety (harnesses, PFDs, Jack lines etc)
  • Personal self defense (and not getting into positions of requiring said self defense)

Leaving boat/miscellaneous

  • rowing/oars
  • sculling
  • dinghy sailing
  • kedging/setting second anchors
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