Nick sailed from 2007 to 2009 aboard Constellation, a Jeremy Rogers (original UK version) Contessa 26 (26 feet) hailing from Southampton, UK. During those years he sailed in the UK, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Caribbean, New York, California, Hawaii, South Pacific, and from Europe to Australia. More information can be found on his website. Despite the hailing port, he is Australian, not British, gets seasick, and calls himself a terrible sailor.
How did you (or did you) gain offshore experience prior to leaving?
Prior to departing, I had very little offshore experience. I gained any real tangible offshore experience sailing for several weeks with a friend who had just sailed solo across the Atlantic. We were caught in miserable conditions in the North Sea, and sought refuge in Belgium. I then spent around 6 weeks coastal sailing every day down the coast of Europe, slowly making longer and longer passages, until I did my first overnight passage. I then did a three day solo passage, and progressed to ten days, before jumping to my thirty day solo Atlantic crossing.
What do you dislike about cruising that surprised you?
As I was most often alone, I found it rather interesting that I felt most lonely in port, rather than at sea. It wasn't so much that I disliked any one particular thing, however, because I was a solo cruiser, sometimes the loneliness of walking around after making port was awful. Also, because of my age (I was 26-28 during my cruising), it was sometimes hard to find people I could socialise with. More often than not, the 'cruising community' is made up of people who are significantly older. In the south Pacific, I did run into some younger sailors which really made a big difference to my social experience of the voyage. I really enjoyed socialising with older cruisers, especially the highly experienced ones, but sometimes it's nice to mix with your own social group. I guess I found the whole social aspect of cruising quite a surprise.
What piece of gear seems to break the most often?
I had such a complete and utter LACK of gear, very little really broke. It was the complex things like the engine that gave me the most hassle. However even the Yanmar with regular work seemed to stay alive and run when most needed. I think the fact that my boat was more or less stock standard and built in 1972, is really a testament to simple cruising in a well built boat. That's not to say things didn't break... I tore two sails, broke my boom, and lost my electrical system.
Can you think of a sailing tip (e.g., sail trim, sail combination) specific to offshore passages (e.g., related to swells)?
Don't leave home without a really good set of light wind sails! Unless you're venturing out of the tried and true cruising grounds, the fact is, you will encounter more LIGHT wind that you will HEAVY wind. Carry a nice drifter. For offshore cruising, I would also recommend making a lot of canvas dodgers. Keep yourself and your cockpit dry. Mind you, this may be more specific to me, since my freeboard consisted of about 2ft.
How much does cruising cost?
How much do you want to spend? This is such a general question... I mean, really if you leave with a well found boat, cruising costs as much as food and port fees. It also really depends on how much you can withstand in the name of budgeting. If you don't mind cooking every meal, never drinking, and sometimes dieting on pasta for weeks on end. You can do it for very little. But, that tends to take the enjoyment out of it. I'd estimate $140USD a week with several thousand in the bank for repairs if you're on a small boat. This assumes you do all the work yourself, mostly cook your own food, stay out of expensive marinas, but treat yourself to the odd dinner out and protected slip every month. I tended to live on less than that, and met people who lived on $100 a month with considerable success. Having debt makes things very hard - I would recommend on the topic of money, to leaving on your cruise with no debt - For most, this means a smaller boat and cutting up your credit cards.
Share a piece of cruising etiquette
Just be generous with what you know, and accept the knowledge of others who know better than yourself. Also look after the environment and people you meet along the way, so people behind you can experience the best of us sailors.
With the benefit of hindsight, what are the boat selection criteria you would use to purchase a boat for long term cruising ?
I found my boat to be exceptional at sea, but miserable in port. I would suggest a boat you can stand up in (I had no standing headroom), and easily cook aboard. It will be your house, so whatever size it is (and really, size means very little), invest some time and effort in making things comfortable for yourself. Invest in quality and forget about size. Buy outright.
What did you do to make your dream a reality?
I left the dock. And I kept going regardless of what people told me I could and could not do. Even when you're tired, broke, and angry, the only way a dream will ever become real is if you just keep going. It cannot be forgotten that my dream was assisted by many very generous and wonderful people around the world too, as are most dreams. They rarely eventuate without others.
How has cruising affected your personal relationships?
It was very hard maintaining any semblance of a personal relationship when I was attempting to sail solo for many years at sea in a small boat. I won't go into details, but, it wasn't easy, and didn't really work.
What question do you wish I would have asked you besides the ones I've asked you and how would you answer it?
I wish you had asked me about sea monsters. So, if you had of, I would have answered as such:
One night while sailing somewhere in the Pacific, I dreamt of the tentacles of a giant squid squirming through my hatch. This, as you can imagine, is an awful dream to be having, hundreds of miles from anywhere, alone in a small boat. I awoke with much panic, only to find myself sailing briskly along under a full moon, on a near-flat sea, without a single sea monster to be found. There is no moral of the story, but, I do wonder if those tentacles adjusted my windvane, because without any reason or logic, we were in fact, sailing in the wrong direction.