There are numerous books written on this subject so I’m not going to try and re-invent the wheel here. I am merely providing some insight into how we are preparing El Rubicon for our extended winter cruise down to the Canary Islands.
Firstly, start planning early. It seems obvious but time has a way of running away from you, so the sooner you start gathering ideas the better. I first looked at the charts and pilot books over 3 months ago and keep coming back to them so I can picture the islands, distances involved and potential stopping off points.
Having gathered charts for both the journey down and when there, you can along with the pilot guides start to get an impression of the area. This also gets you thinking about safe havens and areas that you don’t want to get caught in should the weather turn. Talking of weather, don’t forget to study wind roses on the pilot charts and gather information on local conditions and likely patterns. At the same time I have started researching things to do ashore and places of interest to visit, be it a great snorkelling spot or hiking up a volcano, there is always something new to see and experience.
Now El Rubicon is pretty up together, but as with most boats there is a constant list of niggly jobs that are easy to live with when coastal sailing and if problems develop there is always local knowledge to source a replacement part or repair. Occasionally special tools may be required and/or a willing helper to assist in the task. When you leave the safety of your local area this niggles may prove quite troublesome or expensive if the item you need happens to be the only one on the island. So the tool box is out and the niggle list is reducing.
Having addressed some of the niggles there is the probability that others will suddenly appear in the never ending battle to keep the yacht as ship-shape as possible. So gathering spares is essential but without going mad otherwise you will need to tow a similar sized vessel to house all the spare parts and tools. But silly things like locker hinges and catches, spare halyards and lines have been added to the existing spares list for the engine, rigging, sail repair, domestic plumbing, electrical connectors, bulbs etc.
Another area we have looked at is shade and covers, after all we will be living on the boat for at least 4 months so being able to escape the sun and leave hatches open should we encounter some rain will add to comfort onboard. Then theres the entertainment side of things, fishing equipment has been upgraded and new lures sourced in anticipations of sourcing free food on our travels. The dinghy has been replaced, outboard serviced and snorkelling equipment added to the inventory. I have also just taken up kite surfing so thats got to find a home on the yacht. The BBQ has been dusted off and and reading books are being put aside. It’s important to have some hobbies and interests for the non sailing days allowing us to explore the islands and get to meet the locals and other sailors. It’s often the little comforts and items that you miss the most so we are trying to make sure we take them with us.
With all the extras that will make their way onboard over the next couple of months, a stowage plan is going to prove vital, this will be done in two parts. Firstly the trip down to the islands and then altered for more local sailing and day to day use. Locker space is scarce so every inch will have to count, once stowing commences a list of what and where will be created. That way we should be able to locate items quickly as we need them.
Provisioning is always made harder when away from your home port. You don’t know the shops, there layout and it’s unlikely that they will be on your doorstep, so shopping often involves a long walk, bus ride or taxi. With new foods to try it always leads to some experimental cooking. But even with all the new exciting foods there is always a staple that people tend to miss, so make sure you sneak in a few of the old favourites as they can make the difference between a great trip or wishing you were elsewhere. Talking to a friend recently he was telling me that he ran out of Lea & Perrins sauce and was unable to source any locally. Nothing major in itself but it’s the little things such as English tea, Heinz baked beans or favourite biscuits that can cause mild doses of homesickness. So take any favourites with you as they may be harder or even impossible to source in more remote locations.
For our trip South extra fuel and water will be carried in jerry cans secured on deck, hopefully these will not be required but as with any adventure a little extra fuel and water could get you out of all sorts of trouble.
Communications is something that drives most yachties crazy. We are fortunate to be on Spanish contract mobiles so they should work fine in the Canaries. But if we were travelling further, I would be tempted to invest in a Sat phone over a more traditional SSB radio. WIFI is pretty much everywhere nowadays so if we need it we’ll simply have to go to a bar and buy a beer or coffee and catch up with the World. In many ways it’s refreshing not to be constantly bombarded with information so not being constantly wired to the World is not a bad thing in my eyes. Failing that just buy local sims and dispose of them when you leave that Country, you will pay more for calls but at least you can give family and friends a contact number should they need to communicate with you.
Medication, this is an area we are fortunate with as we don’t have any long term requirements. But if medication is required make sure sufficient is packed and take a few extras just in case. In some places it is possible to buy quite strong medication over the counter but anything serious will always involve a trip to the Doctors and getting a prescription. So medical insurance should always be taken out where possible.
There is a lot of preparation to be done for even a relatively small trip, so imagine getting ready for a World tour!
As mentioned start early, check the yacht over and get to know as much as possible about your boat. We recently had the rigger onboard to give us a clean bill of health in that department. Getting the yacht and crew 100% ready is going to prove near impossible so getting as ready as you can is the best you can hope for and then cast off. If you delay it could put you behind by a year or two easily or worse still leave you with the best prepared boat in the harbour.
Finally make sure all paperwork is in order i.e. ships papers, insurance (upgraded to include new area), VAT status, Skipper/crew qualifications, passports in date and don’t forget to check if cruising permits are required as some can be arranged on arrival whilst others must be arranged in advance.
The list is only a guideline and I hope it gives some insight and help for planning a longer trip. As mentioned there are several excellent books that have been written over the years and these should be read well in advance before setting off. For many people the dream of sailing to new shores is a realistic proposition but lack of planning or foresight will quickly turn the dream into a nightmare. So get dreaming, prepare the yacht and crew and let the sails fill with wind. Let the adventure begin…