20/02/2024

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Solo Female Travel Stories: Nicole the Solo Sailor

6 min read
Solo Female Travel Stories: Nicole the Solo Sailor

It’s been a while, but we are finally back on sharing incredible stories of solo female travelers from various backgrounds to inspire you to take that plunge to start traveling alone! Say hi to Nicole, our in-house writer, and a courageous solo sailer:

Tell us about yourself!

solo sailing
When Nicole lived on the S/V Green Dolphin.

I was born in Naples, Florida. When I was four years old, I hopped onto a sailboat with my family and started “cruising.” Until I was eight, we sailed to Maine and in the Bahamas. Because I was so young, sailing and cruising seemed like the normal thing to do. When we moved to North Carolina, I had a really hard time transitioning to land life. Eight-hour days inside a classroom was a stark contrast to spearfishing off the reefs and reading the weather off the water. But, I continued to sail small boats like optis, sunfish, lasers, FJ’s, 420s, and PHRF keelboats like a Moore, a Merit, and an Etchel. I raced up through college with an empty heart because racing is very different from cruising. You only go around the buoys.

I wanted to go to new lands. In high school, I started traveling on my own and went to Costa Rica. In college I visited Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and Poland. After college I dabbled with homesteading on several farms, but eventually found my way back to the sea. It took me several tries, but finally I bought my third boat (the S/V Arta, a 1968 Columbia 26) and kept it, embarking on a journey of my own. I worked on the boat in Fort Pierce, FL for ten months and then sailed to Key West and over to the Bahamas. I hit the Jumentos and Ragged Islands before crossing over to Turks and Caicos and then holed up in the Dominican Republic for Hurricane Season. I’ve now bought a 1981 Bristol Channel Cutter and am picking away at boat projects, hoping to set sail next fall.

What motivated you to solo sail for the first time?

solo sailing
Sailing aboard the Cara Mia, a Cheoy Lee Bermuda Ketch 30.

Before I bought Arta, I was living on a boat in my parents’ backyard. A young man sailed into my town on his Cheoy Lee 30, and the same day he asked me to crew, I bought a Cape Dory 25. A few months later I’d sold it and set sail with him. Throughout our 10-month adventure, I learned a lot about my own capabilities and judgments. When it became apparent that we were beginning to hold each other back, I knew in my heart that I had to and could set sail alone.

Though I’ve raced solo many times, I consider my recent journey on Arta to be my first solo sailing experience. This might come across as dark and depressing, but I had a tremendously difficult life after my upbringing on the boat. I knew that if I wanted to keep living, I needed to set sail and I needed to go alone. The only thing holding me back was my belief in myself, and my level of confidence. Once I had earned that, there was nothing keeping me from the sea.

What are your most memorable solo sailing memories?

solo sailing
Island-hopping in the Bahamas with the rare occurrence of a working autopilot!

This question has me teary-eyed. When you’re sailing alone, there’s really nobody to share the experiences with, so the memories just settled in my heart. I have to break the memories up into categories:

Scary memory: getting stuck in the Gulf Stream with an impending North wind and my motor wouldn’t turn on

Proud memory: hand-steering from Turks and Caicos to the Dominican Republic

Happy memory: seeing the Bahamas almost two decades later

Sad memory: none actually, though my saddest thoughts were that one day I’d no longer be a solo sailor

Annoying memory: having to hand-steer when my autopilot quit working and the boat wouldn’t balance, and all I wanted to do was relax on deck while the boat sailed herself

Exciting memory: successfully riding out two category one hurricanes

Peaceful memory: sitting back on long day and night sails and watching the endless water splash by

Which misconceptions did you have about solo sailing that you now realize were untrue?

solo sailing
Pulling into the Dominican Republic on S/V Arta (1968 Columbia 26) after 18 hours at the helm.

Misconception: there are lots of bad storms and bad weather, and I would surely die.
Truth: the ocean is a living being with moods, and all I had to do was learn how to read it.

Misconception: sailing is hard and you have to know what you’re doing before you go
Truth: so much of sailing is not about the sailing. It’s about the ability to think on your feet and come up with creative solutions. Sailing is not hard. It’s just unpredictable. Even if you haven’t exercised the “critical thinking” muscle in a while, a few days on the water will have you back in shape. You just need to have a deep respect for and trust in Mother Nature.

Misconception: something would break and I wouldn’t have enough arms to control the boat and make repairs.
Truth: the universe has never thrown me something I couldn’t handle. As my skills and capabilities grew, I came to face more challenges. I soon saw that my skills and capabilities continued to grow. I had begun doing the things I thought I could never do.

Misconception: I had to be able to do everything myself because there would be nobody to help me.
Truth: though I’m a solo sailor, I was almost always with another boat. I would help them and they would help me. I found a family and community that began to fill big holes in my heart.

Misconception: it’s safer to sail with somebody
Truth: there is a false sense of security in sailing with somebody else, and that can cost you your life. For example, if you fall overboard, your chances of being rescued are very slim, even if your mate has had eyes on you the entire time. Besides, every boat needs to be set up for solo sailing. You have to be able to handle the boat by yourself in case something happens to your mate. You will be responsible not only for yourself and the boat, but also an injured person.

What are your biggest advice for women who are interested in solo sailing?

solo sailing

Decide if you want to do it. Once you decide, you’ll make it happen. The path you take to get there might not be what you expect, but remember to let go of your expectations and reach for your goals. There is nothing you can’t do, and so many inspiring women have done things that even men have not (for example: Lisa Blair, Jessica Watson, Kirsten Neuschafer). There are plenty of resources out there (including my blog and YouTube channel) where you can find information and inspiration. And once you decide that you want to do it, you just have to go with the flow. You have nothing to fear.

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