There are certain pleasures in life that evolve into much more than mere pastimes or hobbies; they evolve into a lifestyle. Some would argue baseball is a pastime, or that golf is a lifestyle, and they just may be. However, I am here to tell you that, without a doubt, cruise yachting is a lifestyle. Just ask anyone who owns a yacht and they will gladly fill you in. Steeped in history and lore, yachting is able to take us to a place most people have never been. It's a place you simply can't define unless you have felt the wind in your face, the sea air permeating through your nostrils, and the sound of the water rushing under you. Yachting is a worldwide lifestyle enjoyed by people of all nationalities and backgrounds. It is a world all its own, with its own language, and perhaps most importantly, its own camaraderie. If you're looking to venture into the world of yachting, you will not be disappointed, but there are a few things you should know.

History 101

The storied history of yachting extends back to 17th-century England. During this time there was some chaos and the British parliament asked Charles II to return as Regent to Britain. Now mind you, Charles was in the Netherlands at the time and needed to get back fast. Luckily for him, the Dutch had a ship that they called a Jachtship. The sleek ship was able to quickly transport him across the channel, so quickly in fact that the British Royal Family has had an official "yacht" ever since. This gave rise to the sport of yachting. At first it was just for the wealthy and the nobles, but it grew immensely, and is now known as cruise yachting, a pastime enjoyed by millions of people around the world. 

Things To Consider

First of all, what is a yacht? According to SallyAnne Santos of The Yachting Museum in Newport, Rhode Island, a yacht is any vessel designed purely for pleasure. It can be any length or size, so long as it is designed purely for pleasure. The simplest yacht is commonly referred to as a dinghy -- typically 20 feet long or less, without a cabin. The larger yachts with cabins vary in size and are typically designed for day trips, weekend trips or, in the case of larger yachts, extended stays out at sea. 

The first thing to realize is that tying your boat to a dock is not as simple as tying your shoes, and turning right is not as simple as just, well, turning right: On a yacht, that would be "starboard." Marlieke Eaton, the associate director of communications for U.S. Sailing, recommends that everyone considering yachting take a certified boating safety class. You will learn a lot of basic techniques and more detailed information, allowing you to enjoy yachting safely (For a complete list of certified schools, visit http://www.ussailing.org).  

Your Crew: I Love You, Man

Camaraderie is one of the most important things to consider when you want to go on a yachting excursion. According to fellow yachter, Captain Brian Wenngatz, it is essential that the group of people accompanying you on your trip are friendly with each other and the water, and that they take their assigned roles seriously. This is especially important on a sailing yacht, where each person has a job that they must understand clearly. An example of this is a "jib man," or the person who controls the smaller, front sail when "tacking," or turning, the boat.

In time, your group of friends may even think of starting a club -- which happens a lot. There is probably at least one yachting club in your area. This is a great way to meet people who enjoy the sport as much as you do.

The Growing Trend of Inland Yachting

Now that we have studied the history of Charles II of England, enrolled you in a certified boating course, and assembled your crew, it is time to chart your trip. Rule number one: Make sure you know where you're going. Don't just hop onboard and head out to sea without a particular agenda in mind. According to Santos, the United States is rich with yachting history. She says that when people think of traditional yachting, they generally think of the Eastern Seaboard, but the West Coast also offers plenty of beautiful yachting, most notably in Southern California.  

According to Eaton, there are a growing number of land-locked states gaining a reputation for their breathtaking yachting opportunities. Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa, and Idaho are a few with scenic backdrops that are not typically thought of when people consider where to go for their next yachting trip. I can testify to this growing phenom-enon; I perpetually cross over the river separating Minnesota and Wisconsin, the St. Croix, and everyday several yachts are surging through its waters. 

Outside of the U.S. you can choose from a seemingly endless list of destinations. The Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and the Mediterranean are a few of the more classic destinations. Europe also has plenty of truly beautiful spots, including Greece and Turkey. Here, the biggest advice I can offer is to plan. Plan, plan, and plan some more. Make sure you know where you are starting your journey, where you are to port, and what you want to do when you are on land. By planning ahead, rather than winging it, you'll find yourself enjoying a much more relaxed vacation.

While yachting is a centuries-old tradition, the spirit of exploration that lies in each of us is much older -- as old as human beings themselves. Yachting is one of those rare activities that allows us to bridge the past with the present. Santos left me with a lasting thought: Once you take up the lifestyle that cruise yachting offers, you are joining a select group of individuals. Some are self-reliant, adventurous people who share an affinity for the sea; some are just looking for an outlet that isn't defined by a roadway or a series of landmarks. There's something about the water, even if it's a small, narrow body of water, which defies direction.

And certainly, when you discover that part of you ready to chart your own path, on the water and in life, you will have found the yachter in you.