We often see posts complaining about how hard this game is, and how difficult it is to play - on analysis, each time it seems to come down to people sailing solo, not joining up with someone, and not coordinating with faction or clan.
And so, as someone who does sail solo routinely, I thought I might do a quick guide. And so, I present:
The Free Tribes Guide to Solo Sailing
The first thing I can suggest is simply this: Don't.
You might think that's me being cheeky. It's not. Sailing solo is its own play style and its own reward. However, maybe you want some insight into it. Maybe you want to learn my tricks so you can counter them.
So, if you suck at following directions, and insist on reading on, I continue:
1. Be patient. Most players tend to clump up into groups. That might be around Capital Zones, it might be around major trade hubs, but other players tend to clump up. Clumps of players make for fast action, but they also make for a press of numbers and a variety of ships that you cannot counter. You can try sailing fast, and this often works, but the more people there are, the more likely there are those laying in wait for you afterwards. Remember, the more often you get away, the more badly people want you. In other words: The faster you are to meet combat, the faster combat is going to meet you.
2. Plan your trips ahead of time. The goal of a solo player is to catch someone else alone and unaware. Alone is good. Unaware is better. The way to get someone alone is to get someone who has "a quiet spot." Someone who just so happens to be doing some PvE or some trading out in the middle of the Gulf, or down by South America, or someone similarly out in the middle of nowhere. The more people there are online, the further out you need to get to find someone alone. Unaware is good too. If you know that a certain spot is frequented, just like one would a deer, you can stake out their position from the lee of an island. Most players think they are safe once they hit their "main tack" and focus on other things. That is, of course, the perfect time to strike. Unaware players mean you get to choose the engagement, and you already have half the fight won.
The way you do this is you examine trade patterns. You can see a lot of it in taxes earned in various ports. You can try to determine what ports are main "crafting hubs" for nations with tools like the online Naval Action map. Where are clans investing? Those are probably important trade hubs, which probably means players to and from. The map of the Caribbean is big. You should know it well. If a patrol turns up empty - that's not a waste - it was merely a reconnaissance that tells you where (and when) people are not.
3. You are going to be poor. Get used to it. You are not going to run around with millions of reals playing solo. For a long time, I kept only about 100K on hand - before the currency deflation. AI captures are your friend. You can throw it away and not feel the loss. You can earn money selling cannons and rum if you wish to do econ. I cannot speak to selling trade goods en masse, as I just hock whatever I take off of other merchants. The reward is intrinsic to hunting other players. Again - you will have to be patient.
4. You are not going to have a lot of fair fights. You will lose those. You are going to get called a ganker. That's OK. You are working hard for those ganks.
5. Have an escape plan. People are going to want to sink you. You will need to refit your vessel with repairs. Be well aware of shallows - they can stop you, or stop a chaser if well used. Be prepared to jettison cargo, or any prizes taken along the way. Always be ready to lose your ship. In a fight, be ready to break off the engagement if they start getting the upper hand. Typically, advantages in this game compound over the course of a battle, which should drive your in-battle actions.
That really sums it up. Be patient. Think out your sails - why you are sailing somewhere, what you expect to find when you get there. Have an egress plan in mind. Don't be afraid to lose, but always be ready to hop in an AI vessel to keep going. Lower your expectations. The path of a solo sailor, especially one of middling skill such as myself (and probably yourself too, if you're reading this) is a quiet one. But the quiet allows for deeper reflection in and on action.