Crewing a Catamaran – Success is Failure Inside Out

Crewing a Catamaran – Success is Failure Inside Out

Someone once said success is failure turned inside out.  So, while some might say our first sailboat crewing experience on a catamaran was a failure, we see it as a success and valuable lesson learned.

It was one of those sailing experiences where nothing went right and everything was wrong.  The only true and steady thing throughout this craziness was our optimistic attitudes.

jason sailing

Our new friend Sheldon is an ASA sailing instructor and he just purchased a 2005 Lagoon 410 catamaran.  It was sitting in St. Augustine and he needed to move it to Ft. Lauderdale where he will be keeping the boat.

This is where we come in.  Sheldon knew that we were eager to learn and jump on any sailing opportunities that we could.  He needed a crew and we wanted more experience and education so the situation was perfect.

We found a great place to board the kitties, a friend offered to let us leave the RV at his house and we were all set for our first crewing experience.  Little did we know we were in for a much bigger experience than we bargained for.

What are the odds!  Electrical problems, failed engines, a sea sick captain and no fair winds!

The trip didn’t turn out as expected and we didn’t make it to our intended destination.  We were up for almost a solid 28 hours and by the time we reached the dock at Ponce de Leon we were utterly and completely exhausted…but not defeated. We didn’t panic, we remained steadfast and to be completely honest I am damn proud of how well we did!

Sure, we are just a couple of newbies who were only 15 miles off shore, no biggie right? I can already hear the “that was nothing” comments flooding in.  But for us, it felt like one of those defining experiences…like we just passed an entrance exam to the next phase of our life with flying colors.  Our friend Sheldon gave us plenty of kudos too.

We may be lacking in experience, knowledge and education but we’re determined to make up for it with tenacity.  The rest will come with time.

In other words, it solidified our determination and confidence that we will be sturdy sailors.  It also taught us a lot of unexpected lessons.


Lessons Learned

Our previous boat ownership and sailing experiences have taught us a lot, but this particular experience really hammered in certain points for us.  We already knew the importance of all the things listed below but now we have the first-hand experience of knowing why they’re important.


A Well Equipped and Maintained Boat

This Lagoon is a bare bones boat that needs a lot of love (which I am sure it will get).  Proper maintenance would have prevented a lot. This particular sailboat was previously chartered, purchased by an owner that didn’t care for it, then it had sat at a marina for two years with little to no maintenance.

The dingy was flat, anchor wasn’t usable because the chain was rusted through, the life raft was expired, batteries were corroded, electrical was all over the place and the fuel filters and bilge pumps were filled with algae.

We’re handy, and don’t often shy away from work, but a boat like this is far more work than we are prepared to take on.  In our own sailboat search we aren’t looking for a fixer upper like this so we’ll stick to searching out a well maintained boat and try our best to keep it that way.  We quickly found out that Lagoon Catamarans have accessibility to most of the wires and bilge pumps, but it’s nowhere as easily accessible as the Leopards we’ve looked at. This was also a great reminder of how much easier things can be when you have spare parts and the proper tools to install those spare parts when needed.  If we would have had the proper tool for removing the fuel filter, we might have fixed the engine and made it to Ponce de Leon without the sea tow.

In case you’re wondering this 05′ Lagoon 410 S2 catamaran was listed over $200,000 and sold for just under that.


Survey & Shakedown

The wild and crazy thing for us was that this boat just had a haul out and survey done, yet so many of the issues we ran into were surprises to the new owner.

Big lesson learned!  We will get a reputable surveyor, be present for the survey and won’t assume they will find every issue.  Which is where a shakedown trip will come in.

When it comes to RV’s we always recommend staying close to the service center for the first week.  This way we can use, test, and fix all systems to make sure everything is working well before taking off on a long trip.  We will definitely do the same with our sailboat.  We will stick close to shore, go for day sails and once we feel like everything is in good working order only then will we explore further. Of course we’re not kidding ourselves, things can easily happen at anytime but at least we shouldn’t lose everything like we did here.


Planning and Un-planning

The original sailing plan was too simple. It was not based on weather or winds and there was no backup plan.  We were to sail/motor directly from St. Augustine to Ft. Lauderdale (approximately 3 days around the clock with no stops).  There really should’ve been more planning and certainly a “plan-b”.

Shel had brought a tiny hand-held gps, a map and a Florida cruising book so even though we lost all electrical we weren’t lost in the water.  Without those few items (along with the compass on the boat) we would’ve had no idea of where we were and we wouldn’t have been able to look up the closest marina when things started going south.

Planning is always important…even though we call ourselves un-planners. We call it un-planning because that is our style when it comes to the big overall travel plans and what new places we want to discover next.  We think it’s important to keep an open mind, be pliable and open to change when you live this very un-sedentary lifestyle.  We never know what curve ball will be thrown our way (good or bad) that could change our plans.

However, just like planning any trip by plane, RV, car, bicycle, foot or any other means of transportation we have to look ahead and be prepared for anything.

We will make sure to have a route planning and travel day check list.  We used one when we started RV’ing to make sure we didn’t forget anything and I see an even greater benefit to use one for sailing until we get our bearings. We can guarantee you’ll see all kinds of checklists being shared later on this year as we begin to create them.


Not Sure, Don’t leave the Dock

Maybe it was our early years of road tripping in an old VW vanagon that broke down all the time or the combined years of RV issues, but for whatever reason, I am a slightly more cautious person now.  I don’t like taking off in a vessel that I am not sure will make the trip.

In the future, if I am second guessing my vessel, route, weather or just not sure, I simply won’t leave.  Rushing leads to mistakes and there is no need to make things harder than they have to be.


So there you have it, our full, gritty, lesson filled experience.  A sailboat crewing adventure that was a failure turned inside out.

Do you have a failure turned inside out travel experience to share?  I feel like the everything went wrong stories are the most fun to read.  So please share!!!!  We want to hear what happened to you and what you’ve learned!