|It is the season when the geese and a lot of sailors from the temperate states turn their beaks and bows southward and head offshore for sunnier and warmer climes. It is estimated that over two thousand boats leave the East Coast bound for the Caribbean and Bahamas each year. On the west coast an equal number head to Mexico and Central America. All of these sailors are making offshore passages where they need to be prepared for anything that might arise. In my experience, it takes a year to get a boat ready for offshore sailing unless you work at it full time. And, if you are starting from scratch, it can cost as much as a quarter the value of your boat.
There are so many details that need attention, so much gear and spares that need to be bought, labeled and stowed away. There are the skills we need to hone to be safe out there. And then there is the crew, which in bad weather is often the weakest link in the seamanship chain. I am often surprised by how many skippers and crews sail together for the first time the day they head offshore. In my view, real passage preparation culminates with a couple of days at sea with the people you will be making the longer passage with. Call it what you like, a shakedown cruise, a sail to nowhere, a getting-to-know-the-ropes sail. The important thing is to do it so that everybody is familiar with the boat, gear, sailing style, shipboard routine and all of the safety procedures. When the time comes offshore that the crew is put to a test by bad weather, emergency repairs or even an MOB emergency, you’ll be glad you had built skills and experience before you left.