A Sail of Two Idiots: 100+ Lessons and Laughs from a Non-Sailor Who Quit the Rat Race, Took the Helm, and Sailed to a New Life in the Caribbean

A Sail of Two Idiots: 100+ Lessons and Laughs from a Non-Sailor Who Quit the Rat Race, Took the Helm, and Sailed to a New Life in the Caribbean

by Renee Petrillo


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“It was the best of dreams, it was the worst of dreams, it was an age of consulting the nautical experts, it was the age of landlubber foolishness, it was the epoch of determination, it was the epoch of despair, it was the season of hurricanes, it was a spring of beachcombing…”

If you dream about chucking it all away and sailing toward an island life, read this first

Renee and Michael didn’t have any boating experience and when their plans to remedy that fell through the two had to learn everything the hard way. Despite themselves they managed to get from Miami to Grenada, eventually dropping the anchor of their cruising catamaran at the island of their dreams. Determined to save future sailors from themselves, A Sail of Two Idiots includes lessons Renee and Michael learned and shares them with you as examples of what and what not to do. This a how-to guide wrapped in a funny story—kind of like getting your serving of vegetables from a slice of pizza. Read this and make your dream of sailing away a reality.

  • “What Broke?” sections explores the ongoing maintenance and upkeep of a cruising multihull
  • "Island” section provide assessments of the islands of the Caribbean

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780071779845
Publisher: McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing
Publication date: 03/16/2012
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 490,592
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

A Sail of Two Idiots

100+ Lessons and Laughs from a Non-Sailor Who Quit the Rat Race, Took the Helm, and Sailed to a New Life in the Caribbean

By Renee D. Petrillo

The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Copyright © 2012Renee D. Petrillo
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-07-177984-5



Whose Idea Was This Anyway?

So what drives a person to even consider buying and living on a boat? Two words: midlife crisis.

That's right. Muscle cars and dating high schoolers are so passé. If you're really serious about regaining your youth, you buy a boat! I kid, sort of. Boaters are more likely to be middle-aged though (which means between 40 and 90 years old these days). By then they've had time to accumulate enough money to buy a boat, maintain it, and eat and do fun things too—in that order. Whatever your age, you'll want to ensure that you have the strength and energy to do manual yachty things for whatever length of time you want to sail.

Potential boaters might be on sabbatical or enjoying early retirement. "Kids" (under 40) might want to get their wanderlust out of the way before they settle down and start a family. Seniors who have been sailing only on weekends or vacations can finally take off for good. You may even run across a few blokes who live and breathe the sea and have figured out how to make a living being on the water. Lest you think that boating is just for couples or men, you'd be surprised how many families you'll see out there with infants to teenagers and, yes, a few hardy solo women ply the seas as well. Folks of all sorts decide that they've done what they were supposed to do—they had jobs, earned pensions/401(k)s/retirement savings, and raised their kids, and so can now run free. Dogs? Cats? Yep, they're out there too. There's a mishmash of people in the sailing world, which is what makes it so much fun.

Nothing personifies the idea of freedom more than boating. Just about everyone we've ever talked to about our experiences says the same thing, "Boy, I wish I could do that." I don't think they really mean boating—it ain't quite what they think it is—but they like the idea of chucking it all and beginning anew. Do any of these people sound like you?

Michael and I were of the midlife crisis variety. We had just turned 40, didn't have kids, and didn't care about keeping up with the Joneses. We both had great, decent-paying jobs (mine as a technical writer, Michael's as a resort chief engineer); a small house in a town we loved for many years; and favorite restaurants, hikes, and TV shows. But we felt dragged down by the monotony of life. We were sooooo bored! Okay, I was bored. My husband was just fine, but I needed something else and didn't have too hard a time convincing Michael that he did too.

So how did we decide that sailing was the answer?

Well, first and foremost, I was still on my quest for perpetually warm weather. I'd spent my whole life seeking temperatures that only a lizard could love. I had grown up in New York City and never liked the cold—ever. College in Pennsylvania—brrrr! I dreamt of California, Southern California, and when I finally had the money to do so, I moved there. But 65 degrees—not warm enough! Next came Arizona, with summer temps of 110 degrees. Perfect—until winter brought frost and sometimes snow. Michael and I (by then a couple) gave it a valiant attempt, staying there 16 years (Arizona had a lot to like), but eventually the extreme temperatures got to us (Michael's a wimp too). Next?

The Caribbean seemed an obvious place to consider, but how to choose which island without seeing several? Even more baffling, how to do that with just two weeks' vacation? While reading several guides about the Caribbean, I couldn't help noticing all those pictures of sailboats anchored in various harbors. Hmm ... It dawned on me that buying a boat might be the way to go. We'd be able to see all the Caribbean islands (and more of the world if we wanted to) without worrying about how to get there and where to stay. Even better, we could bring along our 16-year-old cat, Shaka, while we looked.

I couldn't see any downsides to this idea. We could look for our new home while having a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and we might even make a few like-minded friends. Until now, no matter what state we had chosen to live in, we found it difficult to develop friendships. In New York, we were all workaholics; in California and Arizona, neighbors just pulled into their garages and disappeared. Nobody wanted to come out and play! I wanted to play!

It took me a year to convince Michael to jump on board, but once the idea took root, he got completely behind the concept. Ironically, it's usually the male who wants to hit the decks and the female who has to be dragged aboard. (I do not recommend this, by the way. Anchorages abound with enough abandoned men to start a support group.)

Michael and I have never exactly been a "normal" couple. Lucky for me though, I married an open-minded guy, who looked at this as a new adventure and trusted me enough to know we'd be okay.

Mistake number one? Just joking.

Of course, you'd think we might have been concerned about our lack of experience—Michael none whatsoever—me limited to childhood outings. Pfftt ... a minor detail. We'd just buy a boat and then take lessons on it. How hard could that be?

How to pay for it? Sell the house. Where to go—east or west? After much research, we decided to start with the eastern Caribbean because island hopping sounded more fun than sailing down the coast of the Americas. Plus there seemed to be more books on the subject. We'd need all the help we could get.

Now all we needed was a boat. We decided to look for a sailboat rather than a motorboat because we wanted options. Who knew how long we'd be out there and where we might want to go? A sailboat would give us more flexibility, provide sails as a backup for the engines should they fail, and save on fuel as well.

So that's how two perfectly sane, successful people decided to become cruisers.

Next up? Boat shopping!


Monohulls vs. Catamarans

Before you get started, you have to decide what kind of boat you want. Some people are die-hards—definitely monohull or definitely catamaran (not to mention power vs. sail). Some people feel so strongly about their favorite type of boat that it's tantamount to discussing religion or politics. Be careful lest you get launched into a dinghy without oars!

Because I feel pretty strongly about catamarans, we bought one; monohulls are like floating basements to me. Here are some pros and cons of each. To be fair, most of my monohull comments are based on preconceived ideas, observations, and Internet research. Before buying our catamaran, the only monohulls we had been on were anchored in harbors or marinas and were just fun places to drink beer. My pros and cons are purely subjective, and I may have exaggerated a bit (a lot?). Our cons may be your pros. But my comments reflect how Michael and I saw the boats and why we chose the type we did. If you don't already have a preference, try both types and make up your own mind.



BOAT SPEED AND ABILITY TO POINT. Monohulls slice through the water more cleanly and can point closer to the wind than a cat, an advantage if the wind is blowing from the direction you want to go (although weight matters, see next point). Some people prefer the monohull's heeled-over, cutting-through-the-waves movement, which to them defines the word sailing. The motion is completely different on a catamaran. Catamarans have a more seesaw-like movement. That's good enough for me. If I'm on the water and moving, I'm sailing. I don't need to be a purist about it.

ADDING WEIGHT. Monohulls can take on a bit more stuff than a catamaran before the weight starts to affect their speed, waterline, or sea slicing. That said, some newer monohulls are wider and so loaded with amenities (generator, air conditioner, electric toilet) that they cannot sail much closer to the wind than catamarans. (You need to know some sailing basics to understand why that matters, but I get to that later.) It is no longer uncommon to see monohull owners standing alongside their catamaran brethren in the boatyard raising their boat's waterline to accommodate all their heavy stuff, so maybe this is becoming a moot point.

OFFSHORE HANDLING/KEEL. Because of their deep, heavy keel, monohulls are better for offshore, deepwater sailing. That said, many catamarans have sailed—and will continue to sail—across oceans. In 2010, more than 250 boats participated in the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers from the Canary Islands to St. Lucia; 15 of them were catamarans. Had we decided to take the leap, we would have gone via catamaran (the previous owners of our boat had sailed it from South Africa; the boat could do it again). If you get a catamaran with centerboards or daggerboards, you will gain the deeper keel advantage of a monohull—but those boards add more work and more things to break, so they were not on our want list.

COST. Monohulls, size for size, are typically much cheaper than catamarans. Much.


WINDOWS. When you're sitting or cooking in a monohull, you can barely see out, so you might as well be sitting in your basement in Detroit. Unless you can see out, a rocking movement can bring on nausea. Sure, you'll likely be lounging in your cockpit most of the time, but I found those spaces rather cramped. I've noticed that the cellar effect seems to be changing since more women are sailing now. I guess rum-addled solo male sailors didn't mind the dungeon-like accommodations, but women tend to like daylight, so some manufacturers are installing more and larger windows. Smaller and/or fewer windows also lock in odors, and we did find quite a few monohulls a bit smelly. Sorry guys. Of course, more windows means more leaks (see cons in the Catamarans section).

BOARDING LADDERS AND STEEPNESS. It can be a vertical challenge to get on and off a monohull. If that's not enough, you get to tackle another steep ladder or narrow steps to go to and from the interior.

Some newer monohull designs have a flat swim platform and a sugar-scoop reverse transom. These additions make boarding easier and give more outside seating options as well. Apparently designs are also changing to lessen the vertical challenge of ladders and steps leading down to the interior, so all this may soon be a nonissue.

LAYOUT. The navigation centers, including VHFs (boat radios), are belowdeck in some cases. Leaving the wheel to go below to read a chart or communicate via radio seems dangerous and badly thought out to me. You'll likely find that many well-equipped monohulls now have instrument displays and a VHF repeater (or a handheld VHF) in the cockpit or on the steering pedestal, so this is a nonissue on many boats, but if you buy an older boat, beware.

DRAFT. Larger monohulls—over 40 feet—can have a fairly deep draft, so you should know where you want to sail before investing in one. A typical monohull draft is 5 feet or more, but 4 feet or less on a catamaran is better in shallower sailing or anchoring grounds.

For example, the Bahamas is not the easiest place to cruise in a monohull. Tides and shallow waters (5 feet or less is not uncommon) may keep you waiting hours to get in and out of anchorages. If you're not careful, you can ground out—even in places you've been before—due to shifting sands.

SPACE. Sorry, nothing beats a catamaran for space or easy-to-access storage. Nothing.

BOAT MOTION/ROLLING/HEELING. Catamarans don't typically have safety pot latches on their stoves because they aren't necessary. Catamarans don't roll or heel like monohulls do. Sometimes we'd arrive at an anchorage with our monohull pals only to watch them pick up anchor a couple of hours later. While we were wondering what we'd done to offend them, they'd radio to tell us they needed to find someplace more protected, assuming they could find such a thing. We also got seasick on their boats, so it was good to have lots of space on our stable two-hull so we could socialize. Monohulls can also swing like a pendulum. I've seen someone clinging to the side of his swaying boat before scrambling over the railing while his partner in the dinghy tried to avoid getting squashed by their tilting abode. That's no fun!

Monohull owners spend much prep time just making sure that everything belowdecks is secure because forgetting to latch something down can lead to a mess. We only placed one vase in the sink before we took off for a sail. We were also able to set down a full cup of liquid and walk away from it while under sail! I definitely have a problem with the thought of having to strap myself into bed. So I don't fall out (I know what you were thinking).

DINGHY STORAGE. Many monohulls don't have a davit system to raise the dinghy out of the water, so some sailors will tow the dinghy behind or take off their dinghy motor before hoisting the dinghy onto the deck for stowage (it's often lashed forward of the mast). What a pain! Creating drag while towing the dinghy is a bummer, and sometimes you need that dinghy with motor to deal with a bad anchoring or mooring situation. If you purchase a monohull, make sure you have a decent davit system or some way to get the little boat out of the water. Get a lighter dinghy and motor or stronger davits, if necessary.



SPACE! You'll spend more time on your boat than you can ever imagine. Really. So you want space. You want seating options. You want to have friends over and you need a table big enough to play Mexican Train Dominoes! We had a 37-foot boat that was larger than the apartment I had in New York City. We could have guests in one hull and never see them. Between the space on the trampolines, the rear of the boat, and the salon, we could entertain an entire anchorage. We had so much storage that half the spaces were empty. Our monohull pals had storage envy.

LAYOUT. The convenience of the navigation center being a step away from our cockpit made me happy. The big, multiple windows let us actually see where we decided to visit. A big kitchen (galley), up or down, is another plus. Seating is plentiful from the deck's cockpit, candy chairs (optional deck-rail seats, located stern and/or bow), and trampolines, to the interior's salon and cabins. How to decide where to sit?!

EASE OF BOARDING. Getting on and off a catamaran is a cinch. Some stairs or sugar scoops are steeper than others, which should be a factor during your search, but at least no one has to cling to a rickety ladder with a bag of groceries in order to board.

SAILING MOTION. We liked the seesaw movement of the catamaran under sail. To us, it felt better than sitting at an angle for umpteen hours or trying to cook or sit in the head at a tilt. We could walk around or play games and not be worried about a gust of wind sending us into a full-blown tip. I should clarify that we liked the seesaw movement on a calmish day. Pounding directly into large waves nose first was not a good time on our catamaran, but I can't say they would be a blast in a monohull either. We tried not to sail in conditions like that. I always felt insecure under sail on a leaning monohull. Sitting straight up on a double hull felt reassuring to me.

BOAT MOTION AT ANCHOR. At anchor, we could put up with fairly rolly conditions without turning green or drunkenly stumbling around our boat, at least most of the time. (The anchorages can get rolly once you're south of St. Martin. Location matters.)

DRAFT. Our catamaran got into many places that monohulls couldn't, and many times with better holding (it can get sandier toward shore). We also waited for tide changes a lot less, if at all. If the outgoing tide did ground us, at least we could just sit there until it came back in. Monohulls would tilt or fall over if that happened.

REDUNDANCY. It was comforting to know that we had a backup to the engine, toilet, and bilge pump. (Two-hulled boats have two or more of everything.) Also see Cons.

SAIL AREA. Both a pro and a con. Our large sails usually kept us moving faster than our monohull friends, sending us ahead sometimes by hours (depending on their size). Our large sails were heavy. Sometimes it took two of us to hoist the mainsail. The large front sail, a genoa in our case, could also be unwieldy and was hard to remove for maintenance or storage because of its heft.

MANEUVERABILITY. It's fun (and a relief) to be able to spin a catamaran in a tight, perfect circle in a crowded anchorage or a scary reefy area thanks to two perfectly located engines. Two engines almost act as thrusters when docking, as well.


MAINTENANCE. Catamarans have at least two of everything. Two of everything to break and two of everything to clean. Not only do you have two hulls housing all those duplicates, you get to scrub the bottom of those two hulls plus the middle (bridge) when your antifouling paint fails. Two heads and four cabins kept us pretty busy. Good thing we didn't have anything else to do all day!

SAILING MOTION AND SLAMMING. If you're going into waves and you're on a catamaran, you will have water slamming between the hulls. Some catamarans have a higher center than others, but that just makes them top-heavy, and I'll bet they still slam. What I have found, though, is that the sea and wind conditions that cause slamming are also likely to cause boaters not to go sailing that day, so slamming doesn't happen as often as you might think or might have been told.


Excerpted from A Sail of Two Idiots by Renee D. Petrillo. Copyright © 2012 by Renee D. Petrillo. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Lessons viii

Nautical Mumbo-Jumbo xii

Preface xiii

Contemplating the Plunge

1 Whose Idea was This Anyway? 3

2 Monohulls vs. Catamarans 6



Safety for Catamarans and Monohulls

Still Not Sure?

3 Let's Buy a Boat 13

Research Makes Perfect

Who's Paying?

The Process

So What Happened Next?

4 The Best-Laid Plans 26

5 Ahoy, Matey! 29

What's in a Name?

Thanks... I Think

Final Preparations

Casting Off

6 And We're Off-Not 35

Need Fuel?

So Thirsty

Energize Me

7 Bahamas Here We Come! 39


Back on Track

Exploring the Islands

8 Welcome to the Bahamas! 45

Great Sale Cay

Allans-Pensacola Cay

Green Turtle Cay

What Do You Mean You're Leaving Us?

Who's in Charge Here?

A Quick Note About Charts and Navigation

9 Becoming Green Turtle (Abacos) Bahamas Residents 53

Who Anchored This Thing?

If One Anchor is Good, Two is Better, Right?

Making Friends

Brrrr on Green Turtle

Not Again!

Thankful on Thanksgiving

The Whale (Cue the Suspense Music)

After the Whale

What Did We Learn Here?

10 Breaking Free! 69

Ping-Ponging Around the Rest of the Abacos

Becoming One with the Abacos

11 You Can't Go Home Again 77

12 Back to the Abacos: Practicing and Fixing, Fixing and Practicing 79

Sailors in Training

Fixing Things in Exotic Locations

I See Another Pep Talk Coming

Final Days in the Abacos

13 Good-Bye, Abacos, Hello, Exumas (in the Central Bahamas) 88

Royal Island

Allen's Cay

Hawksbill Cay

Warderick Wells Cay

Compass Cay

Big Majors Spot and Staniel Cay

Black Point Settlement, Great Guana Cay (Yes, Another One)

14 A Milestone is Reached-George Town (Bahamas) 97

Long Island

George Town-Part II

Guess It's Time to Stop Pussyfooting Around and Get Out of Here

15 Who You Calling Chicken? Bahamas, Stage Left 106

What Broke?

16 Turks and Caicos-Definite Possibilities 109

East Caicos

Grand Turk

Big Sand Cay

What Broke?

17 The Dominican Republic-Island A+, Anchorage F- 114

Life on Luperon and Beyond

Road Trip!

Who Invited Hurricane Dean?

Break Out the Tissues

Hurricane Season? What Hurricane Season? We're Leaving

What Broke?

18 Our Longest Sail Ever-Adios, Dominican Republic! 127

19 Hola, Puerto Rico! The United States on Island Time 131

A Tour of the Southern Coast- First Up, CaboRojo

La Parguera

Coffin Island


Puerto Patillas

Cayo Santiago

Isla Palominos

What Broke?

Let's Talk Anchor Rode

20 If We Can't Be Virgins, Then Let's Go to Them (the Islands, That Is) 138

Spanish Virgin Islands

U.S. Virgin Islands

British Virgin Islands

Gobble Gobble on Tortola

Final Moments with the Virgins

What Broken?

21 Bonjour! Welcome to St. Martin (and a Quickie to St Barths and Anguilla) 151

St. Martin: The Prequel

St. Martin: Redo

Work, Work, Work

Play, Play, Play

Back to Work

What Broke?

22 Island Hopping to Saba, Statia, and St. Kitts and Nevis (Islands That Brush the Clouds) 160


What Broke?

Statia (St. Eustatius)

What Broke?

St Kitts (St. Christopher)

Nevis-The First Time

Back to St. Kitts

What Broke?

Nevis as a Launching Pad to Antigua

What Broke?

23 A Stowaway on Antigua 168

What Broke?

24 Graffiti and Guadeloupe 174

What Broke?

25 Oh When Des Saintes 177

What Broke?

26 Lush-Ous Dominica 179

What Broke?

27 Martinique Gets a Quickie 183

What Broke?

28 Was That St. Lucia? 186

What Broke?

29 Reverse Course-Back to Antigua! 187




What Broke?

30 And Back Down Again on the Jacumba Express 190

What Broke?

31 Coo-Coo for Carriacou 192

32 From Miami to Grenada: Who'd Have Believed It? 194

Island Fun

Hauling Out and DIY

What Broke?

33 St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Otherwise Known as Paradise 198


Sandy Island

Back to Carriacou

Union Island

Tobago Cays




St. Vincent

Bequia (Again)

Tobago Cays (Again)

Union Island (Again)


St. Vincent (Again)

What Broke?

34 Solo Sailor on Grenada 208

And He's Gone

A Trinidad Quickie

Backto Grenada

Solo Sailing

He's Back

Waiting Out Hurricane Season

A Brief Respite

It's Time

What Broke?

35 The Final Run 220

The Grenadines to St. Lucia


Les Saintes to Guadeloupe


Nevis and St. Barths

What Broke?

36 Hurry Up and Wait 225

37 Is This It? 227


A Visitor!

Work, Work, Work

38 Maybe, but Let's Go to Barbuda for a Look-see 231

What Broke?

39 It was a Bad Sail; It was a Good Sail 233

Spinnaker R.I.P.

Landlubbers Again

40 You're Hired, We're Home (Sort of) 239

Back On Board

What Broke?

41 Sell, Sell, Sell! 242

Who's at the Helm?

Meet Ana and Bill

Happy Feet

42 Sold... Based on Survey 248

Another Survey Story

43 D is for Deflated, Dispirited, Depressed 252

44 Change That to Delighted, Delirious, Disembarking! 253

Our Last Tropical Storm!

Our Last Shark Sighting!

Our Last Boat Bottom Scrubbing!

Our Last Deck Scrubbing!

Our Last Intruder!

Our Last Peeping Toms!

Our Last Boat Payment!

Our Last Night of Lasts

45 Where are We Now? 257

Now It's Your Turn

46 Time to Take the Plunge 261

47 Observations and Lists 263

General Thoughts


The End

Appendix: How We Chose Our Island 279

Acknowledgments 286

Index 287

Customer Reviews