Our First Sailing Experience: Memories

Ivo and Mitko aboard Outsider, June 2006

Every journey begins with an idea. The idea for this one was born a few years ago in the middle of a bitter Canadian winter at a dinner table. It sounded something like this: Get a sail boat and travel all over the world. And it wasn’t even our idea, a friend called Mitko (who could drink alone a bottle of any hard alcohol known to mankind and ask for another) one day just dumped it on us  with a conspiratorial smile on his face. But ideas and dreams, like germs in the right environment, can be dangerously contagious. They can awaken blinded minds and activate conciousness.  Immediately, the idea begun growing and taking shape until it became our incurable goal: To get a sail boat and travel all over the world.

You might ask in alarm, as so many before you have already done: But do you know how to sail? What are you going to do about money? And the kids, you can’t possibly stop them from school? What about pirates and storms, seasickness and sharks,  giant squids and  wrong waves, whirlpools and sea monsters? And although the short answer to most of these questions is No or I don’t know, but we are planning to learn or find out, let me try to defend myself.

About our sailing experience.

In June of 2006, the kids, Ivo and I spent two unforgettable days and nights aboard this same friend newly acquired sail boat in Rhode Island. Our first and only sailing experience, if we exclude that time when we went canoeing on a river and took an umbrella with us. (If this is enough information for you to form an idea of how good sailors we are, then don’t read the rest of this post)

The boat ironically called Outsider, was a beaten old fibreglass 40-footer unquestionably unfit for living aboard or cruising (not even for short periods; not even for two days), used only on weekends for racing and who knows what other suspicious activities. It was a fast boat with the tallest beam in the whole region, attached to a buoy away from the docks in order to avoid paying the marina’s fees.

Mitko, proud owner of Outsider, June 2006

Maya, rowing the dinghy early in the morning, June 2006

After an hour of rowing in a dinghy with a broken engine, we found ourselves in a space with no inside walls and floor, without a stick of furniture, except for the two narrow rotten beds on both sides. The kitchen, or galey, was a small portable gas stove which we brought with us and used to make instant noodles and coffee. Oh, and in the middle of the saloon (I don’t know how to call it, so I call it a saloon, but this word sounds far too spacey and clean for the crawlspace bellow deck I am referring to) there was a small nasty toilet seat. No walls to separate it, no door, just a seat. I don’t want to describe the smell of this space, as I don’t want to remember it. I don’t want you, my innocent reader, to have to imagine it. And if today is your birthday, I wish you never ever to have to inhale such a thick horrible stink, a mixture of mildew and human shit.

Maya below deck, June 2006

So, if one of us wanted to use the toilet, or the head, as our friend proudly called it (a valuable item in his view), everyone else had to go up and out on the deck, so the whole saloon turned basically into a toilet. And anyways, we didn’t mind being out on the deck. Seen from the vantage point of the stinking down-below, the deck and the cockpit seamed much more appealing and breathable. Thus, the first day, sunny and fairly calm, we occupied ourselves with all kinds of outside activities: playing with ropes, hinges, and sails. We even sailed for a while and it was wonderful.

Maya and Viktor practising knots, June 2006

Maya and Viktor being creative with the ropes, June 2006

By the second day, as you might have guessed, after a sleepless night in the stale air and wet beds, things started to deteriorate dramatically and our sailing ordeal began. The morning skies were suspiciously calm and dark clouds have already gathered. A storm was brewing on the horizon, but Mitko and Ivo were determined to sail again. At this time of the year, storms come up quickly and experienced sailors make sure to check the weather forecast at the marina before setting sail. We weren’t experienced sailors. So we took off gracefully for open sea and soon enough we regretted it.

We were already far away from the harbour when the wind picked up and the waves begun to gather, growing big and nervous. Me and the kids left the two skippers to deal with the boat and took cover bellow deck. There everything: bags, food, coolers, the little gas stove and the pot we used to make coffee in, started to fly around us like in a washing machine. But what really frightened us was the sound. Not the sharp shrill of the wind trying to tear off the sails, nor the violent thud of the waves smashing the hull, no. The sound that I will never forget was the paranoid hysteria of the two men running above us in a frenzy, screaming delirious commands and insults at each other, at the boat, at the sea, and basically at everything they could think of. It was as if they were deliberately destroying the boat and killing each other . Years later, when Maya who was 3 years old back then, remembered: It somehow felt like the first day of my life.

We made it back miraculously in one piece, after we almost lost the main sail, almost broke the mast, and Mitko almost vanished overboard trying to save the sail. Having finally arrived at the docks, we felt incredibly proud. Wrapped in our blankets, we could now do anything.

Having written this account of our first and only sailing experience, I realize it doesn’t sound much fun, and I wonder why we all loved it so much. We couldn’t wait to get back at sea and do it again. But our friend abandoned his boat because he had some personal problems, and we never got another chance. Until now.


About lifenomadik

We are a family aboard a boat in search of freedom and adventure.
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9 Responses to Our First Sailing Experience: Memories

  1. Danny Chevarie says:

    Hi Ivo, Mira and the kids ! It’s Danny, the teacher with the Westfalia… I just read your blog and i realize that I feel so sorry that i did not talk very often with you this last passed years… We have so much in common. Such is life i guess. I am so glad and happy for you. Carpe diem ! If you don’t mind, i will present your blog to my students and we will try to follow you. They are 16-17 years old, they have the life in front of them and i think they need to see something else that what they see on television and at «Place Rosemere»… I know what i mean… 😉

    Remember, couples years ago, that i offer you to borrow my little sailboat (a tanzer 16)… i should have insist…

    Keep on smiling ! 😉

    • lifenomadik says:

      Hi Danny, I knew we have so much in common as soon as i saw you with the Westfalia with a canoe on the top.
      It would be great to share our experiences with your students, hopefully it will open up a bit their perspectives. I’d love to here from them, what do they think about all this?
      keep in touch!

  2. Interesting that you had the opposite response to this experience as my wife did to her first not so terrifying experience. Enjoy your new life

  3. morgan lyons says:

    just started reading your blog and all i can say is fair play for taking the plunge, came to here from the cf forum and i know you will get alot of feed back that you dont want to hear on it but dont listen. from a person who has either spent their life beside or on the ocean anybody can do it………life is a ocean and love is a boat………………..captian morgan

  4. Bill Hogan says:

    Hey – good for you! My girlfriend and I cast off on a 1200 mile journey down the Baja coast on a 20 foot boat last winter:


    It was an amazing trip. Dont listen to the naysayers: Buy a boat – You might look at Tayanas – very well regarded, and surprisingly inexpensive – at least the 70ies vintage – and spend a year or so getting to know her by sailing several times per week as you outfit her. All boats have quirks and defects – You’ll figure things out quickly.

    …and dont rule out a Ketch rig – As you discovered on your maiden sail, there is a big advantage to having small sails in a blow – Ketch rigs split the main between two smaller masts, making sail handling easier, giving you more options, and helping you heave-to in extreme conditions easily.

    Cutter rigs are a good too, but they are a pain to daysail because you have to manage two headsails when tacking. The main and mizzen on a Ketch are essentially self tending. We saw a huge number of Ketches cruising the sea of Cortez.

    Consider flying or driving to some cruising ports in mainland Mexico like Mazatlan or Puerto Vallarta or La Paz – lots of well equipped, well sorted crusing boats for sale there, inclusing mine shortly. Once the journey is over, many people simply sell thier boats down their rather than bash 1000 miles upwind to return them to US.

    Seriously – you could get something really nice for well under 100k – more like 50 or 60k, and turnkey – little or no work required. The Sea of Cortez is a perfect training ground for a world cruise – lots of anchorages, remote, but not super hairy like the South Pacific, and a huge cruising community.

    Whatever boat you get, practice REEFING her in moderate conditions until you can do it litterally in the dark. I could reef Nomad, our boat, in under 60 seconds, even in a gale –

  5. Bill Jackson says:

    I would like to add a couple things.
    1. Think about a 30-35 ft. You might be a little tighter, but cost will be reduced significantly.
    2. Don’t discount a ketch rig.
    3. There are many deals to be found, but not by a broker. Craigslist is a great resource . (infact you guys missed a lot of boats on your way down, ie Annapolis, MD is sailing capitol of the world. Also less UV damage has been done on a northern boat, as well as the fresh water factor.
    4. Great blog, great story. Have fun, stay safe and follow your heart.
    Would love to have you up here, on the Chesapeake, this summer if you dont find anything south.

  6. Rob D says:

    I second Bill`s advice on the Chesapeake. From reading your blog it seems that you missed the areas in VA and Maryland that are known for boats! As he mentioned, older boats in the Chesapeake usually fair better because lower UV and the water is brackish (less salt). I think you will appreciate a late 80’s early 90`s Catalina 36. We have already sailed one and will probably move to this boat if we decide to cruise full time and or current budget stays the same.

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