To the hopeful cruiser I say: don't be daunted by too much information. Like many pursuits, sailing can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. My instructions for someone with cruising dreams begin with learning the basics of theory and terminology (even from a book, like I did) and then:
• Sail in all types of conditions throughout the year (warm weather, cold weather, light air, during small craft warning, with sails reefed, in the rain, in the fog, at night, overnight) until you feel comfortable heading out. Because, as Capt. Ron said, "If anything's gonna happen, it's gonna happen out there."
• Practice anchoring and docking.
• Know your boat's systems and have the tools and spares aboard to resolve the common problems.
• Reef early, try and stay within your comfort zone, and don't push your boat like a Volvo or Velux racer—ultimately your judgment will develop.
And that's all it takes to be as competent as me and most of the cruising folks I know. You will continue to gain experience with each mile that passes under your keel and each unexpected event.