Every day on sailing forums, I encounter people who say they want to sail around the world. Unfortunately, they don’t know how to sail, and most of them have never been sailing or set a foot on a yacht.

They ask which sailing course they should take to learn how to sail to distant shores.

Their most frequent question is which boat they should get to make the trip.

They have seen sailing videos on youtube, and they are sure a circumnavigation is in their future. Just get a boat and set sail. Right?

As a circumnavigator, I have to say these questions are more than a bit naive, but they are fair questions. They are the questions anyone might ask who has no real knowledge of sailing.

Selecting a yacht for a circumnavigation is not that difficult. Finding a yacht that is circumnavigation ready is much harder. Circumnavigation ready yachts don’t grow on trees.

When you select a yacht for a circumnavigation, the first thing you need to do is match the yacht to your voyage.

While it might be true you could sail around the world in a bathtub if you always had perfect conditions, there is a 100% chance your weather and sea state will be far from perfect, and bathtubs just won’t cut it.

It doesn’t matter how your yacht performs when conditions are favorable nearly as much as how it performs when conditions are arduous. A coastal cruiser may experience a demolition derby when it sails offshore.

It’s how your boat performs in difficult conditions that is critical. If you can’t safely make it through the hard times, your voyage will be short and the end will not be sweet.

When we started our circumnavigation, we were supposed to rendezvous with an east coast yacht in the Bahamas. Unfortunately, the east coast sailboat had a rough trip, and by the time they arrived in the Bahamas, the circumnavigation was over. They broke a lot of gear on the voyage south, and they were done. They had enough. Neither they nor their yacht was up to the task.

If you are going to sail around the world, your yacht needs to be “circumnavigation tough”.

The definition of circumnavigation tough depends on where you plan to sail.

Circumnavigation tough sailing down wind in the trade winds is different than circumnavigation tough in the high southern latitudes. A boat that performs well running down wind in the trades may be a total disaster in the high southern latitudes.

That is why you have to match your yacht to your voyage.

My Privilege 39 catamaran is an awesome trade wind yacht, and sailing down wind is the stuff sailing dreams are made of. But if you take my boat to the high southern latitudes, my catamaran will take a beating.

If I had a sixty foot catamaran with a high bridge deck, I might consider sailing in the high southern latitudes. But I am only a 39 foot catamaran built for sailing in the tropics.

If I was going to sail in high southern latitudes, I would get a heavy displacement monohull with beefed up rigging and plenty of storm sails.

Nowadays, people frequently put the cart before the horse.

Although they don’t know anything about yachts and sailing offshore, they purchase a yacht thinking they will tweak the yacht until it is circumnavigation ready.

Some people purchase the latest and greatest production yacht that looks great in a marina, but when you take it offshore, the vessel is not up to the task.

Production yacht builders know that the vast majority of people will never sail offshore, and instead will spend most of their days tied up in a marina. So they build yachts “marina tough” which is not very tough at all - certainly not circumnavigation tough.

The rigging is too light for offshore sailing. The construction of hull, keel, and rudder are adequate to sit in a marina, but taking that boat offshore in arduous conditions is an invitation to disaster.

Yacht builders know their markets, and most production yachts are not circumnavigation tough.

That’s not to say an experienced sailor could not get the vessel safely around the world, but it would be touch and go. They would have to nurse the vessel along and make a great effort to avoid challenging conditions.

Inexperienced sailors live in a state of denial when they believe their lightly constructed and under-rigged yacht is circumnavigation ready.

Just walk through any marina and look at the latest, cheapest, and most popular sailboats with swept back spreaders, puny mast, and flimsy rigging designed for day sailing under twenty knot winds and two foot seas. If those yachts lose a single rigging wire, their mast is history and their voyage is over.

When optimism and inexperience collide with the realities of offshore sailing, disaster often happens.

I could not believe my eyes when I saw an overloaded catamaran with it’s escape hatches submerged. The captain told me the hatches were certified by the company to not leak when the hatches were under water.

I have been in storms at sea, and I know that escape hatches leak when sailing to windward in difficult conditions. You can only beat on a hatch a certain number of times before it begins to fail. The sea is relentless and does not tire when it beats a thousand times on an escape hatch.

This captain will have to deal with a major leak when the seals fail on the hatches and water comes rushing into the yacht. Submerged hatches sink yachts.

This same captain told me he was going to sail his overloaded catamaran with submerged hatches around the world. The sea gods will have to be kind to that sailor to keep his sailing dreams from turning into a nightmare.

Matching your yacht to your voyage is hard if you have never sailed offshore and you don’t know anything about sailing. You have to trust a yacht broker to give you good advice which is unlikely to happen. He is more interested in selling you a boat- any boat - than telling you a particular yacht is not suitable for the intended voyage.

In the real world of sailing, every yacht is a compromise between speed, safety, and comfort. Until you sail offshore, you won’t understand which compromise works best for you.

The odds that a broker is going to sell you a circumnavigation ready yacht with all the right compromises is essentially zero.

It’s not the size of the yacht that determines whether it's seaworthy. The size determines the compromises you have to live with when sailing offshore. It also determines the level of seamanship required to make a safe voyage.

Web Chiles sailed six times around the world in six different sailboats. All of them were different sizes and were small by modern standards.

His first circumnavigation was in a 26 foot sloop. The second circumnavigation was in a 35 foot sloop. The third circumnavigation was in a 37 foot cutter. The fourth circumnavigation was in an open boat - an 18 foot yawl. His fifth circumnavigation was in a 36 foot sloop. His sixth circumnavigation was in a 24 foot sloop.

Webb Chiles is living proof that a boat doesn’t have to be big to be seaworthy, but not many sailors would be willing to live with the same compromises that were a routine part of his sailing life.

Webb Chiles is an exception to the rule that you must match the yacht to the voyage. In his case, persistence and tenacity made up for any deficiency in his yachts.

Matching the yacht to the voyage is at the top of my list for offshore sailing, but it's only the starting point.

If you are going to sail around the world, there are other important things to consider such as, parachute sea anchors, drogues, anchors, satellite communication, radios, EPRIBs, life rafts, dinghies, engines, fuel tanks, water tanks, solar panels, wind generators, watermakers, emergency repair supplies, tools, sails, and new rigging. And that is just getting started.

There is no doubt about it. Anyone can sail around the world. But it’s more than just taking some sailing lessons and getting advice about the right yacht.

You need lots of sea miles under your belt, and before long you will know what compromises you are willing to make when sailing offshore. And at that point you will be able to answer your own question. You will know what vessel you need on your own voyage around the world.

Captain Dave

Captain Dave - David J. Abbott M.D.





Exit Only

See what it's like for a family to sail around the world on a small catamaran

Captain Save Our Souls

Awesome music video that captures the essence of what it's like to sail offshore in a catamaran around the world when conditions are less than perfect. David Abbott from Too Many Drummers sings the vocals, and he also edited the footage from our Red Sea adventures. This is the theme song from the Red Sea Chronicles.

Red Sea Blues

Sailing up the Red Sea is not for the faint of heart. From the Bab al Mandeb to the Suez Canal, adventures and adversity are in abundance. If you take things too seriously, you just might get the Red Sea Blues.

Red Sea Chronicles Trailer

If you like drum beats, and you like adventure, then have a listen to the Red Sea Chronicles Trailer.

Red Sea Chronicles Episode 1 - When Flying Fish Attack

Flying fish assault Exit Only in the middle of the night as we sail through the Arabian Gulf from the Maldives to Oman. And so begins our Red Sea adventures.

Red Sea Chronicles Episode 2 - Pirate Alley

Sailing through Pirate Alley between Yemen and Somalia involves calculated risk. It may not be Russian Roulette, but it is a bit of a worry. Follow Team Maxing Out as they navigate through Pirate Alley.

Red Sea Chronicles Episode 3 - Aden, Yemen

Stopping in Yemen was just what the doctor ordered. We refueled, repaired our alternator, and we made friends with our gracious Yemeni hosts. We also went to Baskins Robbins as a reward for surviving Pirate Alley.

Red Sea Chronicles Episode 4- Gate of Sorrows and Sandstorms

After you survive Pirate Alley, you must sail through the Gate of Sorrows (Bab Al Mandab) at the southern entrance to the Red Sea. The Gate of Sorrows lived up to its name with fifty knots of wind and a sandstorm that pummeled Exit Only for two days. Life is good.

Save A Tree Bookstore

Although I like the feel of a paper book in my hand, I love trees even more. When people purchase an eBook, they actually save trees and save money as well. Ebooks are less expensive and have no negative impact on the environment. All of Dr. Dave's books are available at Save A Tree Bookstore. Visit the bookstore today and start putting good things into your mind. It's easy to fill your mind with positive things using eBooks. No matter where you are or what you are doing, you can pull out your smart phone or tablet and start reading. You can even use electronic highlighters and make annotations in your eBooks just like paper books.