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Solo Sailor – Sailing – Sail Away Girl


Hello Sailors,

Since I will be sailing solo for most of my journey, I have been reading up on things to consider for the solo sailor from rigging to mental considerations.  There are so many features to consider and they vary with the size of your boat.  I have always contended that my ideal boat size would be from 37 feet to 42 feet and considering the fact that I will be single-handing most of the time, a 37 foot boat is probably my better choice.  I have a 37 foot boat in mind that I will share with you when the time comes.

Another reason for a 37 foot boat is overall costs of not only the boat, but its repairs and slip, dock and canal passage fees.  So despite my earlier inclinations towards a 42 foot boat, I am getting more and more comfortable with the 37 foot length.

Well what features and considerations should the solo sailor look into?  Here are a few that I read about and some I want from my own experience sailing.  Some are obvious and some not so much.  They are broken down by rigging, personal gear, and mental sanity as follows:

Sailboat rigging:

1.   Have lines that are easily accessible by the helm.  There are some personal exceptions to this for me.  I prefer that the main halyard and reefing lines for the main be at the mast with a winch at the mast versus led aft.  Now of course, the design of the boat could alter my desires, but this method reduces the amount of chafe on the lines and therefore their longevity.  If the lines are led aft, they will need to be led through eyes and other such tackle to lead them to winches that will ultimately wear on the lines.  They might also need to be led through or under a dodger and thereby create an opening for water infiltration into the cockpit or cabin that I would prefer to minimize.

2.   Autopilot.  This is a must for me.  I want to be able to sleep occasionally, even though I’ll still be near the helm, and if the weather is atrocious, I can sit under the dodger while my boat continues on the heading I desire.  I will also be able to go forward and raise and lower or reef the main while underway.  See 1. above.

3.   Self tailing winches.  As many of you know, when the sails are heavily loaded, tailing and grinding become very difficult.  Self tailors are a must.  They also need to be of adequate size and with a line gripper that will handle varying sizes of line.  One thing I want is the WinchRite Cordless Winch Handle.  This gadget will essentially make all your winches electric winches.  I saw this at the 2013 Midwest Women’s Sailing Conference in Milwaukee and knew I had to have one. 🙂

4.   All engine controls at the helm.

5.   Ample stowage lockers near the helm.  This could be for lines and personal gear (discussed next).

6.   Sails with dark threads.  The dark threads hold up better from UV rays and are easier to see breaks in the threads.

7.   A lightweight boat hook stowed near the helm.  Can be used for fending, retrieving something that goes overboard and tons of other uses.

8.   Non-electric winch handles whose lengths are four (4) times the width of the base of the winch for best functionality and purchase.

9.   A cutter rigged sailboat.  A cutter rig offers wind efficiency when sailing windward and keeps the center of effort more centered when the main is reefed and the jib is doused for heavy weather sailing.  This is much easier on the solo sailor.

10.   Sails that the helm can see under.  If the foot of the sail is all the way to the deck, then the visibility from the helm is completely cut off.  I know this from our own experience racing on Irish Rover.  We have a 155 genoa and the helm has to have someone on the leeward side  to be the lookout for traffic as the helm can see nothing on the leeward side whatsoever without physically leaving the helm.

11.  Labels on everything – heads, clews, tacks, battens and their pockets, reefing points and sail bags.  This way the solo sailor can change out sails, reef, etc. quickly in the event of the need for quick action.  This also helps when one is fatigued and the thinking is not as clear as a fully rested sailor may have.

12.  Probably the most important thing…know your boat!  Educate yourself as much as you can on it’s systems and rigging.

Personal gear at the helm should include:

1.   Foul weather gear,  aka foulies.

2.   Polarized sunglasses.

3.   Suntan lotion and chapstick.

4.  Rigging knife.

5.   Marlin spike.

6.   Lots of water.

7.   Snacks and other pre-made food that does not need refrigeration (primarily when you can’t leave the helm, for times you can leave the helm pre-made perishable food in the refrigerator or icebox).

8.   Proper sailing shoes worn at all times!!!  I know I am harp on this, but ask seasoned sailors about this one.

Mental Sanity:

Everyone handles solitude differently, but when you are completely isolated in an ocean alone, solitude takes on a completely different meaning. Here are some ways I plan to combat solitude and to maintain some sanity for the long hauls:

1.   Music.  I love music and love to sing and dance.  While I don’t do either well, particularly singing, no one will be able to hear or see me!  See some of my favorite sailing songs by clicking here.  I have been accumulating music on my iPod little by little.  I have over 2,000 items and about six days worth of music.  I am planning on adding on more so that I have at least ten days worth and preferably 14 days worth of music.

2.   Comedy tapes.  Nothing could help more with solitude than a good laugh.

3.  Electronic communication.  This is important for safety as well as for just hearing a another human’s voice.

4.   Keeping my log and proper charting.  This is a must for any sailor worth his or her salt, but also it is an anti insanity activity. 🙂

5.   I am still unsure about this one because I am afraid it might be purely selfish, but a dog.  I am particularly interested in a Portuguese Water Dog as they are the right size, known for being great companions, and of course as their name implies, good water dogs.  I just don’t know if  living on a boat is the best for a dog.  I know so many people do this, and I would love to hear feedback from you on this topic.

6.  Sleep.  This is probably the most important thing a solo sailor can do.  There will be those times when resting is out of the question so being well rested beforehand could be a life saver both physically and mentally.  I know that my legs go completely to jello when I have not had enough sleep on long charters.   Nigel Calder recommends 15 minute naps at night and longer naps during daylight hours, all in the cockpit by the way.

These are just some of the tips for solo sailing to consider.  If you have others that you have found invaluable, please share them with me in the comments section below.

Still can’t wait to go!

See you on the water,

Sail Away Girl



  1. Jeanne (see her blog) just finished sailing solo around the world nonstop. She spent much time below decks and slept for hours. You cannot do that on Lake Michigan. There is a solo Mac race in June.

    • Hi,

      Thank you! I did check Jeanne’s blog so thank you for sharing. I am not planning to circumvent the world without stopping so I’m glad to know that those that do, do sleep.

      I agree, Lake Michigan is not the place to sleep below deck, to unpredictable out there.

      Thank you so much for commenting,
      Sail Away Girl