Preparing for a circumnavigation of the Earth by sailboat is not anything like planning a two week vacation. First, you can’t sail around the world in two weeks. Even if you went non-stop at an average 7 knots, it would take you about 150 days conservatively to get around the world. But, unless you’re in a race, why would you want to go non-stop? The whole point is to stop and see unique places around the world. So, our plan was to take 5 years (as of 2014 we are now thinking 2016 before we finish).
When you’re planning a trip for 5 years away from home, you have to make a lot of decisions. In our case (as many circumnavigators do) we decided to sell our house and cars. We decided since the boat would be our home for the next five years that we should purchase something we would not only be comfortable with, but could also enable friends and family to join us. So, we concentrated first on buying a boat – in our case a 50-foot catamaran. Four queen-sized staterooms – plenty of room to invite a few guests. Still, it will be a lot less space than most of us are used to for living. A lot of our accumulated belongings will have to be stored for our eventual return. A great deal of it will need to be sold before we leave (we’ll get used to Craigslist and eBay).
Preparations go way beyond just getting your house ready to be sold, and selling extra belongings. You have to figure out and handle many important personal details: healthcare plans, prescription medicine sources, insurance, wills, emergency contacts, mail handling services (someone has to open your mail and let you know if something urgent arrives, and arrange to forward an accumulated stack occasionally to your current location), how to handle taxes (yes, they follow you everywhere), and much more.
Thankfully, in the age of the Internet, many things are easier than they once were on a long trip: Online banking, electronic payments, E-mail and Skype (for less expensive – or free – international voice communications), online purchases, online support for many products you’ll break along the way, and don’t even get me started on the travel planning tools available thanks to Google Earth! A lot of essential tasks and communications will be very practical compared to even 5 or 10 years ago.
Another big aspect to the preparations for the trip is getting the boat properly outfitted. Our boat came “blue water” ready. So, it already has many things like a lifeboat, a good compliment of sails, anchor, chartplotter, radar, freezer, stove, electric winches, watermaker, TV/stereo, BBQ grill, and more. But, every captain has his own ideas about essential equipment – and some things didn’t come with the boat we purchased. A few examples of things we’ll be adding: a dinghy (this is the essential “car” for our “house” – it will be a small partially inflatable boat with an outboard motor capable of carrying a few people and provisions between our boat and shore), AIS (Automatic Identification System – which is even better than radar in some respects), shortwave radio system, satellite phone/Internet access, a small washer/dryer unit, custom software and electronic charts, a couple of laptops, scuba gear, and of course digital cameras. The boat will also need a lot of spares in case some essential piece of equipment fails along the way. Then, we mustn’t forget basic things like galley needs (dishes, flatware, cooking utensils, cleaning supplies, etc.), linens and beddings, curtains, and many other decorations. This will be our home remember. Oh, and lets toss in a few fun (but possibly essential) things like fishing gear, a kayak, bicycles, DVDs, books, etc., etc.
As you can imagine, planning, identifying, shopping, purchasing, installing, and testing these many systems is a complex job in itself. And you want everything important working properly before you leave. The boat will need one last visit to the boatyard to insure the bottom has fresh anti-fouling paint, and all the systems are in top condition.
Over the coming years, you’ll get more of a taste of the complexity as we describe the trials and tribulations, joy and excitement as we go through the process of our preparations. And, you’ll see there’s a whole lot more than what I’ve just described.