Top Menu

Ages and ages ago (it just seems that far away), when Rebecca and I spent our days running a martial arts gym, confidence was a subject that we thought a great deal about. Parents often quoted confidence as a prime motivator for enrolling their children in our school, and we knew that even fighters needed to have high levels of confidence to be able to perform well in the ring. So, what does confidence have to do with cruising, and more importantly, how does one go about acquiring this valuable trait?

Personally, I think confidence is of supreme importance to both beginning on, and successfully navigating your way through cruising. We hear over and over about people that are still preparing to head out cruising. Some folks have been at it for years, and they likely always will be, never cutting the lines from the dock to actually set out.

Why is it then that a couple like us, who don’t have decades of experience, who don’t have the most tricked out boat, and who don’t have Bill Gate’s fortune can actually do it while others with many more resources don’t, or can’t? I bet you can guess what I’m going to say… I think it relates to confidence.

In this case, I’m talking about the confidence that you can make things work out, even though you don’t really know how that might occur. And to be clear, I’m not talking about blind faith either, because I believe there’s a huge difference between false confidence and real confidence, that which is backed up by experience.

How do I acquire confidence?

Which brings me to the whole subject of developing confidence. One of the things I am very grateful for is the coaching I have received from our martial arts friends at Straight Blast Gym. When it comes to coaching methodology, I believe there are few better. I learned from our friend Matt Thornton, and later employed on a daily basis in our martial arts classes, how to use the concept of progressive resistance to aide in the development of functional skills, and the confidence that went along with them.

The basic idea is, that when working on a new skill, to have your training partner resist or struggle against you just enough to make it a little bit tough for you. When you succeed – and that is important, at the beginning you need to succeed – your partner would then up the resistance, struggle a bit more, to make it a tiny bit more challenging. This process would continue until your partner was resisting completely, and you were still, in most cases, able to apply the skills that you were training.

So what?

Well, that’s all cool, but what does that have to do with this sailing/cruising thing? I could give a hundred examples!

Let’s take yesterday’s post about tearing apart the carburetor for example. Why, with no prior experience with such a task, would I feel that I could be capable of successfully taking apart an outboard engine and putting it back together? I would say that because of the smaller engine-related tasks that I have already successfully accomplished (changing fuel, changing the oil, changing the spark plugs and filters, removing the gas tank… notice that I listed all these in some type of order, from simple to slightly more challenging), I developed some confidence that I would have a good chance of being successful. Not a guarantee of course, but that’s not what I’m taking about. There are never guarantees.

What about the confidence to sail in heavy weather, such as we had a few days ago? Again, much of this is confidence related. Confidence that your vessel will perform as you want it to in those conditions, and confidence that you can deal with it too.

When we first started sailing a little over a year ago, we would have considered a 10 knot breeze to be windy, and 20 knots was way out of our comfort zone. Now, having been sailing in progressively stronger winds, and rougher conditions since that time, our confidence has grown substantially.

Mother Nature can be a bad training partner!

But, here is where we come to a little bit of a problem with the progressive resistance training model… Mother Nature is what we would refer to as a bad training partner.

Actually, we had less complimentary terms that we would use for those people, but you probably get the idea.

Instead of incrementally adding a tiny bit of resistance as your confidence and skills increase, Mother Nature can go and throw a gale at you, as she did to us on Saturday. So, as it sometimes happens, when you take on too much resistance, things may not go as planned. That is not an aide to developing confidence, but, that’s life. What can you do?

How about the confidence in your crew? I have read that certain sailing schools prefer to have husbands and wives take their courses separately. While I understand their arguments, at least in our case, I think doing our training together was the best. A couple out cruising needs to know that they can rely upon one another. If not, at least one of them is going to get pretty sleep deprived. Rebecca occasionally remarks that she feels that I don’t have confidence in her skills (at the helm for example), and it usually is at some time of great stress (imagine fighting with the overpowered boat in 35 knots of wind). In my defense, in conditions like that, I don’t have much confidence in myself either, or in our boat. It was beyond my confidence threshold. I know that will change though.

As a final example, many people, our friends and family included, want to know how we can simply sell everything we have and set sail with an admittedly, limited amount of money to sustain ourselves. I again relate this to confidence. For quite a long time, Rebecca and I ran a business that, if we didn’t do something to make money every day, we wouldn’t eat. This really isn’t all that different. Although I don’t know how Rebecca and I will be able to sustain this lifestyle, we are both confident that we’ll find a way, and I believe that we feel this way because of our prior experiences, and the confidence developed from them.

What next?

So, where does that leave us? Rebecca and I will no doubt be faced with multiple new challenges along the way, hopefully adding to our skills, and our cruising confidence, and of course, having fun while doing so. If this post was a bit too cerebral, when compared to most of the fodder that I post here, rest assured that there’s a good chance that I’ll be back to discussing sunsets and marine toilets tomorrow. 🙂

Dismal Swamp, here we come!


  1. Great Post Mike……So True…..My older son took karate for 3 years and my younger one did not…..I honestly believe that discipline, confidence and respect which he learned from karate shows today in my two kids……It has been fun watching you guys gain confidence since I have followed your blog…….I hope to one day follow your same path…..

  2. I love this!! You’ve answered a fair amount of what I have wondered about folks who live aboard and cruise. We do know folks that live on their boat and it/they seldom leave the marina. Love being on the water and love the few short trips we have made that we figured things out, made it work and had fun at the same time. There is such freedom. You’ll be fine and you always look happy!

    • What’s not to be happy about? We could be “working” instead of doing this. Not a tough choice really. 🙂

      We saw many people who seldom left the marina too. If that makes them happy, that’s cool. It sure wasn’t for us though. We aren’t big fans of staying in marinas.

  3. Wow Mike….in a blog full of good posts I think this is the best yet! Your insight is inspiring and your writing is very good….perhaps a future as a freelance writer awaits you to bring in the income to sustain cruising for a long time.

    I wish I was headed south on Liberty following you and Rebecca, and believe me I think about packing it all up right now on a daily basis, but with a kid in high school for a few more years the timing is not there yet. I hope when I have the freedom to do so that I will have as much confidence in myself as you both did.

  4. Great post, especially for people like us that are just starting and can’t wait until we’ve gotten that confidence! But as you previously commented, “Don’t rush it”! … we’re taking what seems like baby steps. Ya’ll (can you tell we’re from the South?) have really been an inspiration to us, proving it can be learned – and done!

    • Taking small steps is crucial. If you take too big a step and get crushed, that sure won’t help your confidence. If anything, it would set you back a few steps. Just have fun with the journey.

  5. A great post Mike, and one of the reasons I enjoy your blog is because you throw in these “curve balls” every so often.

    It’s interesting to me how much sailing is a metaphor for life. It also fascinates me how many little phrases we have that come from sailing like, “Three sheets to the wind”, or “Three squares a day”.

    Back to your sailing lessons thing. The biggest positive to separating the women from the men (not just husbands and wives, is to get people out of the “pink” v. “blue” jobs idea. Some people need to explode both the myths (the “man” needs to dock/raise the main/operate the engines) and the patterns that couples can fall into. We work hard on this for a variety of reasons. The most important is to make our life afloat one that we both are invested in, but also there is a safety aspect should one of us fall ill or become incapacitated.


    • I agree 100%, Mike. Although Rebecca and I have some tasks which we do ourselves on a regular basis, in many cases we toggle back and forth on the important sailing stuff. Even in the case of taking apart the carb, Rebecca was right there beside me while I was doing it, helping me with bolts, etc., just because she wanted to know what was involved too. There isn’t a job on the boat that I can think of that we each “couldn’t” do if we needed to.

  6. This is a really great piece of writing, Mike. REALLY great.


  7. Mike,
    Very well put. We feel the same way. It seems that when we start to feel like we have things figured out and have that confidence thing going we get slapped up side the head. In our short sailing lives we have been dismasted, lost in the fog, scared silly in high winds and seas and feel hopelessly dependant on the GPS when sailing at night. I guess since we climb back on the horse every time we are either building our skills or just plain stupid. You should turn your thoughts and experiences into a book some day. Have fun on the Dismal Swamp!

  8. nice post Mike!

    I am wondering, however, if you are taking it a bit too far when you are planning to enter “The Dismal Swamp”… Have you ever watched The Princess Bride? They also ignored similarly well named geographical locations…

    • I have not seen that movie but the name does sound unappealing, doesn’t it? I bet it would be quite eerie to be going down at night in a small boat.

  9. I like it. I’ve been sailing for only about 40 years and I learn something every time we move the boat. Know what you know; learn what you don’t. You can live aboard very inexpensively if you anchor out and find the free docks along the way. You have identified the all important line between know-it-all and want-to-learn-it.

    Learn all you can from watching and listening to others and then have the confidence to do what you feel is right for you and your boat. One of the lessons we continue to teach ourselves every day, after two years and about 10,000 miles aboard, is that we’re only as safe as the admiral, who has limited sailing experience, can do what needs to be done.

    I’ve been keeping up with your blogs and you guys are going to be fine….take it as slowly as you can and that will be the safest thing you can do as you gather the experience you need and want.

    Fair winds,

  10. It’s always scary to start something new. I liken it to going up on the high diving board. once you climb that ladder, you can’t go back down. There’s only one way back into the water! You and Rebacca have jumped off and are now back learning new dives. I really enjoy your writing and your progress. Keep up the good work, and enjoy the journey.

  11. Great post.

  12. Just found your blog recently and have been enjoying it immensely! We too hope to leave in a catamaran before too long and it’s great to follow your development. Thanks for the tremendous insight.

    S/V Nomad

    • Hi Deb

      Thanks for the link to your Blog. I see you weren’t a big fan of the gunboat (at the show). Fridge and freezer not in the galley? Who’s bright idea was that? We didn’t even bother going on those mega-boats.

  13. So how is that new Jabsco head working out ?

    Just had to ask…

    Good post, but I just can’t wait till you guys get down here in South Florida and start getting ready for the real “jump”… I’m excited for you because you guys are going to have a blast !


  14. I don’t think you will have any trouble at all finding ways to sustain your new lifestyle. One idea comes to mind… WRITING!! You’re very good at it and this blog proves it. I think you could freelance for boating magazines everywhere!

  15. Very good read. Confidence isn’t something I’ve done a lot of thinking about but learning in steps that are small enough to enjoy (and not suck) is. I guess that means that I (probably like most people) find incremental confidence building fun.

  16. You’ve never seen The Princess Bride?!?! Okay, you must find a way to get the DVD as soon as you are able. It’s fabulous!!!!

  17. Mike-I liked this post more than all the others…well except maybe the toilet stories! It hit home for us. As you might recall we are about one year behind you, now 222 days (but who is counting eh?) away from moving aboard and about one year from being right where you are, in Norfolk and heading south. We too do not have much money (and there will be a whole lot less when we finish the remaining projects this winter), and we probably have a bit more confidence than you do at this moment, having sailed and raced together for 30 years. But rarely in salt water and never with the boat being our home. And so the doubts creep in, even though we have more than 15,000 miles of sailing time. Nice post…loved the honesty and humility. We sure hope to meet up with you guys someday.

    • Hi Eric

      Thanks for the nice comment. I’m sure that having all that time on the water would be huge boost in the confidence area, at least where it applies to the sailing part of cruising. It’s interesting how many new things we have to deal with, and of course, you guys will get to do too (in just over 200 days).

  18. Reading this no less than 3 years later, I too think this is the finest example of inspirational writing as anything I have read recently. Can I have the rights to the story when its filmed?

  19. Darla and I, lime many, are following in Rebecca’s and your footsteps. We’ve been, following your lives/experiences for the past 4 months though Face Book and your Blog.

    Darla is at the gym for her usual 3 hr Sunday morning workout. I’m setting here this morning, 9 degrees outside and I’ve just now gotten to this point of your blog. The necessity of work interferes w/my reading and getting more current. We had sent you an email about 4 months ago, you forwarded it onto Micheal, I spoke w/him for over an hour, gained considerable information. Micheal connected us with Wiley, who is helping make our dream a reality. It’s not always what you know, but who, that helps make you successful.

    We are unloading all the material things that we thought we couldn’t live w/o, counting down on the calender until the first of Spring when when we can aggressively get the house ready to sell. Making plans, excited about the potential of a new lifestyle. It’s been dismal and ungodly cold here for the past couple weeks bringing our moral down to the, this is impossible, there is no way to make this work mindset.

    As a Paramedic, I sometimes have patients whose condition scare the heck out of me, I have always believed and followed “show no fear everything will work out, you’ll know what to do, when you need to do it, and what you don’t know, you have a partner to help”. Confidence along with some male ego has always been a savior for me.

    This post may be 3.5 years old, but it helped me just as much, if not more than your others. it uplifted me just when I needed it. Gave me back the confidence that we can make this happen.

    Thank you.

    I will add, look where you are today, due to your confidence. you guys should be proud!

  20. Wow, I can only say wow what a wonderful post. I enjoyed reading people’s responses almost as much as the post itself. Interesting timing in that yesterday my Son was visiting his Grandmother’s house and when he shared his parent’s “hair brained” idea to sell everything and live on a sailboat he was firmly “poo-pooed” by both the Grandma and the Uncle who was also visiting. They didn’t come right out and say it was a stupid idea, but the underlying implication was there, no question about it. Perhaps this is why you two kept your plans so close to the vest while you hatched them??

    The truth is this is a goal my wife and I have shared for years and while we raised a family it was kept in our back pocket. As we send our second and last child to college this fall, it’s time to take them out and dust them off. Part of me wishes we would have kept our goals from others, but the other part of me says, “doubt all you want” it just adds fuel to my fire to burn a brighter flame and not sit and smoulder as too many people do! Thanks again, for both inspiring us to pursue our dream and providing an excellent road map to see it through successfully. And thanks for writing this apropos post!

Comments are closed.