How We Learn

How answering a personal ad led me to become a skilled cruiser

D & Don Wogaman in the cockpit of SOUTHERN CROSS Riding around on top of the old walled city of Cartegena Colombia

In December 1992 I answered one more personal ad in the “Columbus Monthly” magazine, a glossy trendy publication in Columbus, Ohio. I responded by writing a note, as it was before Internet dating and instant gratification. Don called me after receiving that note.

What I did not understand at first was that he was actually looking for a cruising partner.

While on my first phone call with Don, I learned that people actually lived on boats. What a novel idea! It had never occurred to me.

I got to meet the pets of some Kuna kids in the San Blas Islands of Panama!

I got to meet the pets of some Kuna kids in the San Blas Islands of Panama!

Don’s life goal was to go cruising. He tried to explain that concept to me, how two alone could sail to wonderful exotic places together.

Since I am a social sort of person, I was immediately concerned about being separated from [other people and] my friends. However, Don’s inspired answer, “We will be in Paradise, with an extra bedroom…” settled me down so that I could listen to the remainder of the sales pitch from him.

Don was convinced that I would make a good cruiser.

Riding in Bonaire

I really enjoyed swimming the paso fino stallion Indy while in Bonaire

I was a certified scuba diver, an avid horseback rider, a sky diver, a water skier, a snow skier, and a lover of traveling.

He also quickly learned that I am frugal, and I love to try new things. Cruising is an excellent venue for both, as I have learned.

Right off the bat, Don lent to me the book Blown Away by Herb Payson. He writes with great humor about his family’s hard lessons and misadventures as new cruisers. It is a fun read that leads you to believe that anyone can indeed cruise.

He also had me read Lynn and Larry Pardey’s books for a more serious look at the good and bad possibilities. I was hooked, but being a newbie to sailing I needed to get on track to cram sailing knowledge in my head.

Don suggested that I take the beginning boating courses offered by the United States Sail and Power Squadron in Columbus Ohio.

As a self-taught boater who was already distance sailing on the Great Lakes, Don did not feel it necessary to take these courses. However, realizing that he would become my hands on teacher, he decided to take the courses with me to avoid confusing me later with contradictory practices and jargon. United States Power Squadron logo

Believe it or not, at the time we joined the Columbus Squadron they were the largest Sail and Power Squadron in the USA, vying for that distinction with the Fort Lauderdale, Florida Squadron. That is pretty amazing since Columbus is land locked, with the nearest big water being Lake Erie almost three hours north of the city. But, lucky for us, our Squadron was blessed with many excellent experienced blue water boaters as instructors.

We ended up taking almost all of their courses together. Basic boating, Seamanship, Piloting, Advanced Piloting, Sailing, Weather (very hard but excellent), Engine Maintenance, Marine Electronics, and began but did not finish, Junior Navigation (offshore and celestial).

I highly recommend those courses, as they can be done in the winter when you can’t sail in many parts of the U.S. and they are very reasonably priced. You may not meet a lot of cruising sailors in the Sail and Power Squadron, but you can make lots of friends who will encourage you.

For Christmas 1993, Don gave me training with a female captain, on “our” boat.

SOUTHERN CROSS sailing in the British Virgin Islands

SOUTHERN CROSS sailing in the British Virgin Islands

Patty Moore from Sea Sense, the sailing school for women, came and stayed with us on SOUTHERN CROSS for two days to train me “hands on” on our boat.

Many times, learning from your significant other can be difficult; think back to trying to learn how to parallel park from your parents, not a pretty sight that is for sure.

Learning to sail from your significant other can be the same, but worse, because the experienced partner may not have the patience to share the tasks that the learner needs to practice.

Take my advice and try to learn basic boat handling one on one from someone who is trained to teach, and preferably on your own boat. This I highly recommend.

Don was allowed on the boat for half of one day while we practiced a man-over-board drill. Once he was off the boat, Patty showed me how to pivot the boat and how to dock, among other things.

Leaving our home marina in Port Clinton Ohio Leaving our home marina in Port Clinton Ohio for the last time; setting out to go cruising. I am behind the wheel.
Prior to Patty I had NEVER docked, ever. Now I am the primary pilot and Don is the line handler.

Docking is still a bit of a nervous time for me, but I continue to practice so much that Don complains that he will forget if I do not let him dock once in awhile. Actually, neither one of us get to dock much as we anchor out most of the time.

While we were both still working hard to accumulate a cruising kitty we tried to take three-week vacations.
We are out exploring in the Bahamas. We are out exploring in the Bahamas.
The first seahorse I found. I was snorkeling in the Bahamas. The first seahorse I found. I was snorkeling in the Bahamas.

Since the boat was located in Lake Erie we would head north to Lake Huron, the North Channel, North Georgian Bay or perhaps Lake Michigan, usually covering about a thousand miles.

We sailed one week to get there, a week to have fun and then a week to get back. This helped to give me an idea of what the cruising life might be like. No, it is really not live aboard cruising, but it was the best facsimile we could do.

Those trips and a few bare boat charters in the Caribbean or the Bahamas in the winter really kept us focused on our goal.

There needs to be Joy in your work and plans.

For me, not being afraid to get my hands dirty and a willingness to learn new and different things was a great asset to learning to cruise.

I will admit I feel I am lucky in the partner I have.

Don is an excellent teacher, as he taught coal miners about electricity, and he has a wonderfully calm and cool personality. He rarely gets upset and does not yell. So I am indeed blessed.

About Dierdre Atkinson Wogaman
D Wogaman Dierdre Wogaman

Dierdre  sails with her husband Don Wogaman aboard SOUTHERN CROSS, their 1974 Dickerson 41 ketch. Designed by Ernie Tucker of Oxford, MD near the Dickerson plant this is the very first Dickerson 41 and was the last wooden boat Dickerson built.

Don bought the boat from her original owners, Neville and Louise Lewis who sailed her around the world with their son Chris aboard from 1975 to 1979. They sold SOUTHERN CROSS in 1984 to Don and then he moved her from the Chesapeake Bay to the Great Lakes.

Retiring and selling out of house and horse, Dierdre and Don moved to northern Ohio, Port Clinton to be exact, to be near the boat to finish prepping for cruising. In July 2002 they moved aboard and actually dropped the dock lines on October 17, 2002 to head east and then south.  It was not quite quick enough as they ran into some very cold temperatures along the way going through the Erie Canal.

D & Don are passing by the Statue of Liberty. Dierdre & Don are passing by the Statue of Liberty after having transited the Erie canal.

Not straying too far from Ohio, due to Don’s elderly parents’ failing health, kept them in the Chesapeake Bay that first winter. Subsequent years they sailed the East Coast from as far north as Cutler Maine and as far south as the Dry Tortugas and around Florida’s west coast up to Clearwater, following the seasons.

By 2006 it was time to venture further a field to the Bahamas, and then later to the Caribbean. One winter in the Bahamas and over two years in the eastern and western Caribbean finally made them feel like they were really cruising.

It has been a glorious time and thoroughly enjoyed, and after 7 years, 22,000 miles and countless new friendships they still feel like they are just getting started.

Now they are tied to a dock in Oriental, North Carolina’s sailing capitol, while remodeling the interior of the boat to prepare for future adventures. If you are in the area be sure and give them a shout.

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