When is the best time to go off sailing?

18 March 2020

World Cruising Club’s communications director shares his thoughts of the right time to go live-aboard sailing, based on more than twenty years of conversations and experience with sailors in the ARC rallies.

Jeremy WyattI spend much of my time at Boat Shows and the various seminars we organise, chatting with aspiring bluewater cruisers about all aspects of “living the dream”. Some folks have a well thought out plan, and start the conversation with “We will be going in 3 years”. To them, I say, well done and keep focused. The harder conversations often begin with the comment “As soon as X is sorted, we will be off”. In mathematics, X is a “variable, sometimes unknown”. It seems apt when thinking about the best time to head off cruising, as the factors influencing your decision will vary depending on many variables.

So, here are my thoughts on some of the most common X factors to consider when planning for the best time to go off cruising.

1. Employment, or perhaps I should say the lack of it, for to truly enjoy your live-aboard cruising life, it is best done without work interrupting. Trying to balance work and sailing is hard, even more so when you have to fit-out and prepare a boat.

2. Funds, somewhat related to item one. If you can organise your life to have sufficient funds without needing to work every day, then that is another box ticked. How much is sufficient? Well, that depends on your lifestyle. Most cruisers tend to spend what they can afford and manage their cruising life accordingly. Just remember that once you have bought and fitted out your boat, that is the significant spend done.

3. Health, or at least relative health is important. This is probably the number one factor we find that causes cruisers to cancel or radically alter their ARC sailing plans. Perhaps understandably, as those with the time and the funds to go sailing, tend to be retired and therefore at a time of life when health shocks are statistically more likely.

4. Children or grandchildren. Ages are important, especially if planning to sail with a young family. With younger children, the best time to cruise is from around 6/7 years through to about 12 years of age. Children need to be old enough to listen and understand instructions from their parents – their safety will depend on this; young enough to still enjoy spending time with their parents; and lastly not yet into the secondary education exam pathway. If you are the kind of parent who would consider taking your young children away for extending time sailing, then you are probably capable of home-schooling, at least until secondary level. The emotional tug of a first or new grand-child will also be an anchor to keep you close to home. Having grown-up kids may not make it any easier, at least until they have flown the nest and are independent. Grabbing your gap-year 18-25 year old son or daughter (or their friends) can be a good crew strategy, but best have two teenagers with you as they like company of their own kind!

5. Parents. Caring for ageing parents is becoming the norm these days as we all live longer. No doubt this is a big factor on when to go, or not.

6. Partner. Unless you are a dedicated single-hander, or have a large pool of family and friends to crew for you, then you will want your significant other to be with you. Often this needs some time to build confidence and experience as a cruising couple, not to mention, getting used to living close together in a space just 45 feet long!

7. Pets. We love our pets dearly, sometimes more than our children! The thought of leaving the fluffy bundle of fun at home with family or friends may be too much for some people to consider. Certainly taking Fido away with you is a good solution, but it will impact on the type of boat you chose, and where you are able to go. If you are planning a round-the-world voyage, then Australia and New Zealand are immediately off the itinerary due to very strict quarantine rules. Plus, you should also think about the needs of your pet; is living on a boat the right thing for them, or should you wait a few years until they are no longer with you?

8. Homes. Perhaps one of the easier X factors to get right. It may be a case of “we’ll leave the kids living at home” or finding a tenant, or a house sitter. Some folk do “sell-up and sail” but this has its own degree of difficulty since it involves major life de-cluttering; not an easy thing to do.

9. A suitable boat. No less important that the factors above, although much more subjective and in some ways easier to solve. My advice for offshore cruising is to get as much boat as you can afford, and no more than you can handle with two people. Don’t forget that this boat will be your home for many months, so you need to enjoy living on it, and have sufficient room to store all those trappings of boating life. Locker space makes living easy!

I can’t tell you when is the best time to go off and sail, since your mix of X factors will be different to mine. Having all your X factor boxes ticked will be the right time for you. However, having seen many plans fall away when one or more the X factors isn’t right, I am a strong advocate of “don’t leave it too late” or you may not go at all.

Jeremy Wyatt is the Communications Director for World Cruising Club, organisers of the annual ARC and World ARC sailing rallies.