- Communications with our families at home is critical to keep peace of mind, especially for our parents. We have a Globalstar satellite phone on Ithaka (that we use judiciously, as the per-minute cost adds up fast), and a super-reliable Trimble Inmarsat C for onboard e-mail. We don't call home much, but it's great to know we can. For regular e-mail we use the internet cafes, which in the western Caribbean are easy to find (excepting Cuba, where we had to use Pocketmail).
- We learned that the ICW is pretty but SLOW, and that everything with cruising takes a lot longer than we thought. So, now we just go with it. We no longer lock ourselves to any tight schedules to be anywhere, figuring if we like an anchorage we should stay there as long as it's really fun. At the Glover Reef atoll, for example, we didn't budge our anchor for three weeks. Plans are made now only to be changed.
- We've learned that we, and every other cruiser we've met, motor a lot more than we want or expected. Some cruisers say they end up motoring 60 percent of the time—a staggering amount. So, if you need to re-power, get the biggest engine your boat can handle. You won't regret it when you're in a 50-knot squall trying to avoid reefs or a lee shore, or when you're logging pokey days down the ICW.
- Don't over-provision before you leave the States. It will unnecessarily lower your water line when there are great supermarkets throughout the NW Caribbean. (We gave a ton of canned goods we hadn't used to charitable organizations in the Rio.)
- Bring the gourmet goodies and spices you love to enjoy as well as better-quality dried soups and many boxes of good, hard, whole-grain crackers to last you until you reach a major city—these are all items that are hard to find (As are some favorite feminine hygiene products, so stock up before you go.).
- We learned that the first year of cruising is more challenging emotionally and technically than we expected, but that it gets exponentially better and better as time goes by. We're grateful to be able to stay out more than one year to reap these rewards.
- Get a big headsail; before we left, we bought a furling 135 percent Genoa to replace our traditional Yankee, use it all the time, and love it. The boat flies, especially downwind! Yet, when we want to revert to our cutter configuration, we just furl the genny down to a smaller size, and raise our staysail. Presto, options.
Make sure you have the biggest ground tackle you can manage and lots of chain. Our CQR was the right size, but we replaced our smaller Bruce with a larger one. And we added more chain.