The silhouette of a small sailboat outlined against the distant horizon brings thoughts of an idealistic life filled with peace, romance, and adventure. Like Huck Finn, we imagine ourselves floating, barefoot, with brand-new experiences waiting round every bend. This type of musing buoys up the sagging spirit, especially when faced with life’s slings and arrows.
Certainly, contemplating cruising is a socially acceptable solution to everyday problems, but cruising itself is a paradox. It is a common dream, but few experience the reality, and fewer still pursue the experience longer than 18 months. One reason for this paradox is that the right people often have the wrong equipment. Too many people go ill prepared.
Every sport seems to go through a technology explosion. For example, I remember backpacking when there was no freeze-dried food and the "Trapper Nelson" packs weighed about 8 pounds empty. Those who participated had years of experience in the outdoors and were referred to as "back woodsmen." An influx of people generated a market that produced improvements in equipment so more people could participate, which generated a bigger market and still more improvements, and the process continued in a self-perpetuating cycle. Today, with the right equipment, backpacking can be experienced by a larger cross-section of people.
Cruising has reached a point in its development at which changes in equipment are occurring rapidly. One result of using the new equipment and procedures is that, presently, many people who could not have enjoyed cruising before can do so in safety with less difficulty and more comfort. Today you no longer need to be born to the sea. It is possible for almost any prudent, intelligent individual with contemporary equipment and good preparation to sail away on that dream cruise.
On the other hand, the greater profusion of equipment causes a certain amount of confusion and a need for better preparation. Joshua Slocum just picked up his alarm clock and set sail. Today the prospective cruiser has to sort through a large selection of electronic equipment such as GPS, chart plotters, depth sounders, radars, sonars, radios (ham, SSB, VHF, EPIRB), to mention a few. Each of these categories has multiple suppliers, each with different features and constraints. Sorting through the claims and counterclaims can easily lead to frustration. Frustration often leads to reflex buying, which leads us back to the problem: the right people with the wrong gear.
Be aware that every individual has a given threshold of research. Information can only be fed to the mind at the rate it can be processed. It is important for each individual to gather data below this critical rate. The best way to make the best decisions on equipment is to give yourself enough time to read, talk, and think about each piece of equipment. The more data you can gather, the better your decision, and the better you will understand the equipment and its uses. The following section on equipment will get you started on your way.