Quetzal - Kaufman 47 "... Never lost, just hard to find ..."

John Kretschmer Sailing

Training Passages - Workshops - Presentations - Expeditions - Writing/Photography

A Serious Ocean

You know it by the northern look of the shore,
by the salt-worried faces,
by an absence of trees, an abundance of lighthouses.
It's a serious ocean.

North Sea off Carnoustie by Anne Stevenson

Tomorrow will have an island
by William Stafford

Tomorrow will have an island. Before night
I always find it. Then on to the next island.
These places hidden in the day separate
and come forward if you beckon.
But you have to know they are there before they exist.

Some time there will be a tomorrow without any island,
So far, I haven't let that happen, but after
I'm gone others may become faithless and careless.
Before them will tumble the wide unbroken sea,
and without any hope they will stare at the horizon.

So to you, Friend, I confide my secret:
to be a discoverer you hold close whatever
you find, and after a while you decide
what it is. Then, secure in where you have been,
you turn to the open sea and let go.

More Poetry...

The most important lesson...

reprinted with permission of SAILING Magazine July 2001

By John Kretschmer


    What is it that you actually learn on an offshore training passage?


    An offshore passage is an unpredictable affair at best, and for me, that's where the magic lurks.  I like planning and preparation that a passage demands, but I also like the fact that no matter how many oceans you've crossed, you're still never quite sure what will happen each time you cast off the mooring lines.  You might experience the best 72 hours of sailing imaginable, you might learn something about yourself in a gale, you might be scared to death in a lightening storm, you might be seasick the first day out and you might see the green flash after a perfect sunset.  A good passage might include some of these events, a great passage might include all or none of them.


    I cherish the spontaneity of contending with the ocean's idiosyncrasies.  Offshore seamanship is the art of keeping ahead of those two quibbling siblings while maintaining a sense of perspective.  Mind you, I believe fundamentally in being well-prepared for a sea passage, but this does not include creating a set of expectations that can't be adjusted underway.  Expectations are usually what lead sailors headlong into trouble.  I realize that this runs contrary to the very essence of being a so-called expert, but personally, I can't stand experts anyway.  All of us go to sea for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is to find a little bit of magic that seems to be missing ashore.  A structured curriculum can snuff the magic out of an offshore passage.


    This past year I have turned a couple of my deliveries into training passages, with good results.  I have led a crew of five from Annapolis, Maryland to Antigua aboard a Hylas 49 and taken another crew of five from Key West to Isla Mujeres and back aboard a Catalina 400.  Soon I will lead another crew on their first offshore passage when we bring the Hylas back to Annapolis.  Just what do my students expect to learn on one of these passages?


    On a practical level, the day before we shove off, I discuss what elements go into passage planning, knowing when to sail where and what conditions we're likely to encounter on our passage.  From pilot charts to long-term forecasts, anxiety of a first offshore trip can be reduced, and having an understanding of the task at hand also enhances confidence.  I also include an overview of basic navigation skills and lay the framework for teaching celestial navigation.  Ironically, celestial is alive and well in this GPS age.  I am amazed at the zeal my crewmembers have shown for mastering this so-called outdated navigational method.


    Before shoving off I also discuss safety and housekeeping procedures.  I am not a stickler for cast-in-stone safety rules, but I have little tolerance for a lack of safety sense.  Harnesses should be worn when working the deck or on a night watch.  Leaving the cockpit at night requires at least two people on deck, and in the early going, one of those people has to be me.  We discuss man overboard and abandon ship procedures, which are always sobering topics.  Housekeeping duties are laid out with an emphasis on respect and sharing.  Some crewmembers hate to cook, so my feeling is not to force them, instead let them cheerfully tackle the clean-up chores.


    Once we shove off, I emphasize the importance of letting your body adjust to the rhythm of a passage.  I stress the importance of getting sleep, and, don't laugh, getting regular in terms of bodily functions.  This discussion always creates a chuckle, but it is an important part of living comfortably and healthily at sea.  The watch schedule is established, and this is one routine that I don't like to alter unless I have to, because it becomes the backbone of the passage.  Most crewmembers are surprised as the days fly by.  New skills are learned, from diesel maintenance to trouble-shooting an electrical problem.  Subtly, the sea weaves its spell, and the crew begins to appreciate the natural rhythm of a passage.  By the time land looms on the distant horizon, we all feel a powerful sense of accomplishment.  For some the passage is enough, for others it is just the beginning.  I have been introducing sailors to offshore passage making for 20 years and rarely does a month go by when I don't receive a postcard from a former crewmember now aboard his or her own boat, anchored in a far-away harbor -- always richly satisfying.

What's New

Two new trips have been added for 2019: Trans Caribe 3 and Adriatic/ Ionian Passage. Click here for details.


Official PayPal Seal
John Kretschmer Sailing