Take Your Passion Cruising

Beth Leonard becomes a writer at sea

Beth Leonard When my husband, Evans Starzinger, suggested sailing around the world, I had almost no sailing experience and reacted much the same way I would have if he had suggested flying a rocket to the moon.

It took him two years to convince me to sail away with him, and he never would have done it if I hadn’t decided there was something in it for me – besides being with him! That something was writing.I have always wanted to be a writer. I completed my first book at age 7, a long story (with illustrations) about a police horse who saves his master. I spent many hours as a child sitting in a closet with a dog-eared notebook and a chewed on pencil spinning out long and outrageous stories about my many fantasy lives.

Beth and EvansWhen Evans and I started thinking about walking away from our careers and heading off in a totally different direction, I wanted writing to be part of whatever the future held. Today I think of myself as a writer and a sailor. But the transition was not an easy one and took dedication and hard work for me, and compromise and acceptance from Evans.

During our first circumnavigation between 1992 and 1995, I got exactly two articles accepted by the sailing magazines. I wrote those articles on a manual typewriter and mailed the manuscripts in from halfway around the world. It was months before I heard back from the editors, and the articles only appeared in print several years after I wrote them.

It was while we were ashore building the boat we have lived aboard for the past ten years that I really managed to break into the sailing magazine market. I submitted article after article, and I gradually mastered the craft of putting words down on paper so that others understood what I was trying to communicate.

I built relationships with the editors of four sailing magazines, and I learned what each magazine was looking for and how to tailor my writing to their needs. I also wrote my first two books, which increased my credibility and visibility.

By the time we left on our second boat in 1999, I had the contacts and the reputation to be able to set up a writing schedule a year ahead of time with the editors of the various magazines. The income from my article and book writing covered most of our living expenses over the last ten years.

Hawk at Staten Island -We will often sit for a week in a bulletproof anchorage like this so I can get my writing done for the month. Writing from a boat is not easy. Most writers say they need a consistent routine, a daily appointment with their computer, in order to be productive.

Ashore, I sat down in my chair at my desk at 7:00 in the morning each weekday and didn’t get up again until noon. But that doesn’t work on the boat where tides, weather, maintenance and, on passage, watchkeeping all force us to work to a schedule other than our own.

I have had to learn to write in the spaces between these things, to sit down and be immediately productive, to immerse myself with a moment’s notice into whatever I am working on.

When cruising in remote areas with unpredictable weather, we find a bulletproof anchorage and sit for a week while I do all my writing for a month.

On the other hand, writing from a boat means having an endless supply of material to shape and share with readers. It means capturing the voyage in a permanent and lasting way, and processing it as you go along so that you appreciate it as it unfolds instead of only really valuing it after the fact.

It allows you to share with friends, family or a wider audience experiences they will never directly be able to enjoy. It provides a window onto your life and keeps you connected in ways that photographs and phone calls simply cannot do. I have shared my journal with my father throughout the last five years of our voyaging, and in that way I have been able to bring him along with me on the voyage of a lifetime.

To Mar del Plata And, for me, being at sea opens up wellsprings of creativity and makes them accessible to me in a way they never are ashore.

After we’ve been on passage for four or five days, the voice in my head that is going constantly nagging at me on shore, reminding me not to forget this or to do that, finally stutters to a halt. I become porous. The world beyond me seems to enter my very soul, and the voice at the heart of me becomes audible.

My best, most creative writing has always been done on or just after a passage. Taking my writing cruising has made me a far better writer than I ever could have been otherwise.


Breaking in to the sailing magazines today is both easier and harder than when I first started writing more than 15 years ago. The internet and onboard communications have made the logistics much easier. But most of the sailing magazines increasingly rely on a small stable of “professional” writers and take fewer and fewer manuscripts over the transom. Some of the magazines receive more than 1,500 unsolicited articles each month, articles competing for a diminishing number of pages in most magazines.

There are many ways to share your experiences through your writing with others including blogs, email updates, websites, newsletters and family letters. But if you really want to write for publication, there are four ways to increase the odds of getting an article accepted by one of the magazines.

  1. Beth's article on Desolation Sound in Pacific Yachting 2008 Know your magazine. The different magazines all have different niches and cater to different audiences. Read the magazines to learn what they are most likely to be interested in, and then tailor your idea to fit the magazine.A story about heavy weather during a passage across the North Atlantic is more likely to be of interest to Cruising World or Bluewater Sailing than to Good Old Boat or SAIL.For the best chance of getting a manuscript accepted, download the writer’s guidelines from any magazine you’re interested in writing for, and do what they say!
  2. Write about how, not why. Most people who read these magazines want to go cruising and don’t need to be convinced, but most writers want to write about the magical moments of cruising and why they’re out there.The magazines get dozens of stories about beautiful sunsets and catching fish on passages, but not enough stories about provisioning in foreign ports or relationships on board. If you write about what you most wanted to know, what most concerned you, in the months before you left, you’re far more likely to have an article published.
  3. Mountains of SG behind massive iceberg and HAWK off the beach at Husvik - If you hope to sell articles, you will need to build your skills as a photographer and be able to take photos of the quality of this one, taken as we were sailing away from South Georgia Island in November of 2008. Take good photos. Today magazines cannot get away with publishing words only on a page, no matter how beautifully written. Images are just as important, and you have to be able to provide them.Invest in a good digital camera and practice taking pictures of both how-to subjects and of the places you visit.You need to be able to submit between one and two dozen good pictures for a how-to article and between 40 and 60 images for an article about a destination.
  4. Query first. Especially with how-to articles, it pays to query first, before you actually sit down and write. The editors may love the idea but want to shape it in one direction or another. Or they may have just run an article on that topic or be about to run one, but still be interested in a related topic. Queries save you and them time. Make the query focused, short (no more than four paragraphs) and be sure to specify the length of the proposed article (words), your qualifications for writing it and what kind of artwork you can provide.
About Beth Leonard

Evans and Beth Beth Leonard and her husband, Evans Starzinger, have completed two circumnavigations and logged more than 110,000 nautical miles. Between 1992 and 1995, they sailed westabout by way of the Panama Canal, Torres Straits and the Cape of Good Hope aboard their Shannon 37, Silk.

They spent four years ashore building their 47-foot aluminum Van de Stadt Samoa sloop, Hawk, before leaving again in 1999. They have just completed a ten-year, eastabout circumnavigation by way of all of the Great Capes that took them as far north as the Arctic Circle and as far south as Cape Horn.

Beth has written more than 200 articles that have appeared in the pages of the US and UK sailing magazines, including most recently Cruising World, Sailing, Good Old Boat, Yachting World and Practical Sailor.  Beth has had columns in Blue Water Sailing and Yachting World, and Evans has had a column in Yachting Monthly.

Beth has written three books: The Voyager’s Handbook, Following Seas, and Blue Horizons. Her how-to book, The Voyager’s Handbook, is widely accepted as the definitive treatise on bluewater cruising.  Her most recent book, Blue Horizons, won a 2007 National Outdoor Book Award in the outdoor literature category.

The Voyager's Handbook: The Essential Guide to Blue Water Cruising Following Seas, Sailing the Globe, Sounding a Life Blue Horizons: Dispatches from Distant Seas
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1 comment to Beth Leonard becomes a writer at sea

  • Beth is being modest. She has encouraged thousands of people to follow their dreams, step by step. Her books are honest and practical, with help on every subject from boat selection to birth control to nurturing relationships at sea. We have never met, yet she encouraged my own writing by including my sidebar on kids in her latest edition of The Voyager’s Handbook. When I faced captaining alone for the first time, from New Zealand to the Pacific Northwest, she even found me the best crew member I have ever worked with. Thanks, Beth, and congratulations on the well-deserved Seven Seas award from SSCA.

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