I decided to finally buckle down and get my nautical level up a few points last night, so I went out to fight some ship combat. I had both the worst time with it and the best time. Since I was trying to quickly rack up nautical xp as well as complete a few quests, I was looking to down as many ships as I could as fast as I could. I was fighting ships that were lvl 10 or 11 and was constantly getting boarded (i.e. getting knocked below 50% ship health and then taking out of ship combat for hand-to-hand, which is still fine, but takes a lot longer for what I think amounts to the same nautical xp).
Then, all of a sudden, there were a few other players in the same area as me attacking the same ships, so I followed them around. This was much better. It was exhilarating swooping down on the enemy ships in a fleet and destroying them in a fraction of the time. I think I prefer this way of doing things!
After a while, I was high enough to go out on my own again and have some success. The ship battles aren't terribly complex inasmuch as you only have 4 buttons to push that, for the most part, you'll just spam as soon as the cool down has expired. Like many MMO's, most of the strategy is how you have set yourself up, what gear you have equipped, and ultimately how well you are prepared. Ship battles here are no different.
Temporary conclusion: I look forward to fighting on the open seas (airs?) more down the line. It is an excellent break from the normal combat and it's nice to have the extra complexity of managing your ship.