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Dream of Sailing Continues in Rio Dulce Caribbean

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Dream of Sailing Continues on the Rio Dulce, near Caribbean

FINCA TATIN, Guatemala- The dream of sailing the world continues as I sit on the Rio Tatin, a tributary of the Rio Dulce, one of the most famous hideaways in the world for sailors. There are large sailboats everywhere, some of them are being sailed recreationally for a short period of time, some are lived on full time, using the marina as though it were a floating trailer park, and some, very few, are fully rigged for long term, around the world, perpetual sea travel. Among all the sailors that I have met in this region, I have only met a couple who really sail. But this has been enough to keep the dream of sailing around the world alive.

There are two radically opposed streams of advice that I receive when I tell people that I am looking to get a sailing ship and continue my travels around the world by sea:

1. You have to know what you are doing first, you can’t just get on a boat and expect to sail, you should crew on a boat first, you should take classes and learn how to sail better, you need lots of experience before you can buy a boat.

2. The only way you are going to know if you want to sail is if you buy a boat and go. Take it out for short trips first, get a feel for it, learn as you go. The only way you can learn to sail is by sailing, the best way is to jump in with two feet and get your own boat.

These are the two extremes of advice that I receive about how to begin sailing, oddly there does not seem to be much of a middle ground. There are also two distinct groups who give each particular stream of advice:

The first type of advice is always, invariably given by people who have never sailed a day in their lives, by people who have never owned a sail boat, by people who have never lived any sort of dream that had anything to do with sailing, those whose advice steams from roundabout hearsay, and fear — not experience or knowledge.

The second type of advice is, almost without variation, given by sailors, by people who have sailed, by those who own boats, by those who live the dream — by those whose experience denotes that they know what they are talking about.

It is funny to me how wide eyed and nervous people who have never sailed get when I tell them that I am looking to buy a sailboat. “Do you know how to sail?” they ask. “Yeah, somewhat,” I answer. “How are you going to sail if you are not an experienced sailor, it is dangerous, you can’t do that with your family . . . ” On and on, they tell me that I can’t do it, but what these people are actually saying is “I can’t do it, I can’t do it because I am scared.”

Simply put, you cannot do anything great, cannot live any dream, if you constantly barrage yourself with reasons why you can’t do it, if you constantly make excuses to stay where you are rather than going, if you convince yourself that it cannot be done, or that their are a million steps that must first be done before starting. The false logic of putting up barriers, walls, external limitations is often far easier than admitting to yourself are really just afraid, that you are a coward, that you are just scared.

I am a coward and I can admit it. I am scared of sailing. But because I can admit this to myself, I know where I stand, and I know what I need to do to meet my goals. I do not have false parameters set up before me that allow me to easily make excuses for inaction — I cannot tell myself that I will put off sailing until I learn more, I am not deluding myself by saying that I need to do a list of a million things before I can even think about sailing, no, I have no excuses, I am just afraid. Now, I can deal with my situation and learn how to sail better, buy a boat, and live out this dream that I have been cooking since childhood. I know what I am working with, I can see clearly what I need to do: I need to sail enough to turn my fear into respect.

The only thing left to it, is to do it

If I put off buying a boat and sailing because I feel as if I am not prepared — I have only been out sailing a few times, I have a working knowledge of the mechanics of sailing, I know how to do it, but not much more — then I will never buy a sailboat, my dream is as good as dead. This is not how people learn to sail.

I recently asked a sailor if he would recommend sailing lessons to someone who wanted to learn how to sail. He shook his head and spoke, “You can learn how to sail in a day, but it takes 20 years to be any good at it.”

I have already had the basic lessons in sailing, I know the core maneuvers, I just need the twenty years of experience to be any good at it. This means nothing other than making twenty years of mistakes. But twenty years of sailing must start somewhere.

When I tell a sailor that I am thinking of buying a sailboat to travel on full time with my family, they do not look shocked, they do not look at me like I am nuts, they do not shriek, “But do you know how to sail !?!”, no, they smile and tell me to do it. It is as simple as that, they hardly even bat an eyelid. They shrug at my learning curve, say that the only way to learn how to sail is to do it, and recommend that buying your own boat is often the best way to find out if you really want to sail.

“This may not be the best advice,” a long distance sailor named Bob spoke to me, “but the best way to do this is to jump in with two feet, buy a boat and try it out. It is the only way to find out if its for you.”

Across the board, the people who have actually learned to sail, have owned boats, who have lived the dream, speak practically about sailing, their words are not wrapped in fear, they teach me about the actual barriers and difficulties of the sailing life and also provide suggestions on how to get around them. For each problem they raise about sailing, they often follow up with a possible solution. They tell me the honest parameters of the lifestyle, the drawbacks, the difficulties, but they always fully encourage me to try it. They also look at me and my family and smile, very often they tell me of other families that they have know who lived and traveled on sailboats, each story is unanimously positive.

Sailing is not a crazy proposition to a sailor, for sailing the world is no longer a dream to them — it is a reality. When something is a reality it becomes possible to manage. Once you do something outside of dreaming about it, you can work through difficulties rather than looking at them from afar. Dreaming is a cerebral exercise, the obstacles that you dream up cannot be penetrated because they do not exist in reality, while real life can be dealt with, learned from, altered, fixed, made better — no matter what you do, real life is tangible, it is manageable. To a sailor, sailing is possible, and their advice to prospective sailors is often simple: go do it.

Sailors have often given me this one, unified, piece of advice: buy a boat, get a feel for living on it, sail it around locally, only going farther when you feel that you are ready, learn to make repairs by making them, take it slow, go do it.

There is no other way.

All those people with sailboats that you see, all those marine travelers that you dream about being like, if you wonder how they learned to sail I tell you now that they did not do it by taking classes, they did it by jumping in with two feet — they cut the tether away from their dream, brought it close, and made it a manageable reality. As far as I can tell, there is only one way to do anything in this world, there is one way to live a dream: go do it.

Preparation has nothing on experience, experience is only gained through doing. There is only one way to do something, and that is the hard way: you go out, make mistakes, learn how to not make them again. There seems to be no short cuts in sailing, there also seems to be no gracefully accelerating long cuts either, there is only the reality of taking the jump, and then working through one problem at a time, learning from each mistake as it comes, building knowledge as directed by experience, going farther as your confidence grows.

A dream is always only one perilous step away from becoming a reality. It will only take me one step to break out of the dream land of sailing the world, and into the reality of it. If I find a boat for the right price around Rio Dulce, I will buy it, jump in with two feet, have no other choice other than to make the dream of sailing the world into a reality, one step at a time.

My friend Andy is also here on the Rio Dulce, he is also chasing a dream of sailing, he writes, “People who dream of living on Sailboats may know of Rio Dulce, Guatemala, this is one of my dreams, therefore I came to Rio Dulce to chase my dream. I am in the living business, and search for places on this small planet that allows me to live my dreams.” –Cairbbean Sailing Port Rio Dulce

So often in traveling, so often in life, you must make a decisive move that changes the parameters all together. If I buy a boat I am looking at a new path, there would be no going back, no other way than to learn to sail well, make repairs, take it slow, treat the dream as an ordinary old reality, because that is what it would then be.

Related articles: Vagabonds Learning to Sail | Buying a Sailboat to Travel the World by Sea

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Filed under: Boat Travel, Central America, Guatemala, Travel Preparation

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3048 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Polis, Republic of CyprusMap