If you ever wondered whether a long-term commitment to a small fiberglass home is for you, you’ll want to pick up Cruising 101: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Paradise by Amy Sullivan and Kevin Donnelly.

As first-time boatowners and cruisers, but not novice sailors, Amy and Kevin ventured from Southern California to Mexico, sampled the cruising lifestyle for 15 months, and returned home inspired to build their cruising account for further adventures. Many people do this, but Amy and Kevin chose to tell about it while the first-time experiences were still fresh in their minds.

Their tales are of “learning experiences” which nearly caused them to turn back, such as the financial blow when they lost their dinghy and outboard. They review the necessary lifestyle adjustments and intimate living arrangements which often bring cruising dreams to a premature end, and they take a look at the cruising etiquette practiced where liveaboards gather.

The authors talk of a three-month transition period when the adjustments are made. Once past this turning point, sailors will be more likely to follow through with their cruising dreams.

They discuss how to cruise for an extended period on a limited budget and refer to a noteworthy concept: “the disposable sailboat,” the boat you buy inexpensively, fix up, and could afford to lose if it came to that. And they break down the items you need aboard into three groups: safety equipment, required support systems, and comfort amenities. Safety equipment includes such items as man-overboard gear, fire extinguishers, harnesses, jacklines, and PFDs. Support systems include extra fuel and water containers, non-electrical cabin lighting, and so on. Their list of amenities is short and reflects their personal needs: GPS, stereo CD player, and a laptop computer.

If you’re planning a trip to Mexico, the book offers good advice on what foods and other necessities are available south of the border and what articles you might want to stock up on before leaving.

Sometimes the prose itself sails, as in this passage:

“Where we have been cruising, dolphins dance upon our wake, and manta rays glide above the surface of this prehistoric wonderland. Once settled into the lifestyle, sharing the magic with each other enhanced the quality of our experience.

“Under a brilliant canopy of stars, we found ourselves discussing joint experiences and planning new ones. The environment of communication, while nestled in a remote anchorage or running under light wind, has a magic that rekindles the excitement felt in many a newfound romance.

“Just as true is the intensity of emotion that can cause tempers to flare over seemingly minor disputes. Intense quarrels emanating from a neighboring vessel have disrupted the tranquillity of more than one evening. Some of those disruptions were our own.”

The value of this book isn’t in its prose, but rather in its perspective: two sets of fresh eyes tell what it was like to go cruising for the first time. This makes it a book worth reading.

Cruising 101: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Paradise  by Amy Sullivan and Kevin Donnelly (Free Fall Press, 1998)