Cruising Bit by Bit
08 June 2012
Cruising Bit by Bit
By Jim Hawkins and Ellie Adams
A version of this document was published in Good Old Boat, Nov./Dec., 2004.
So you cannot take off for a year, or three, or ten. Most of us can't. But you would still like to go cruising, somehow. Of course you can charter someone else's fancy big boat in any number of exotic places for a week or two and if that works for you, great. But most of us would like to spend the chartering bucks on fixing up our own good old boat so we can go cruising on her.
That is exactly how we felt. Here's what worked for us.
For reasons that have long ago faded from memory, we concocted a dream to cruise Nova Scotia. No matter how you cut it, the trip from our home port in Bayfield, Wisconsin, in Lake Superior would cover a couple thousand nautical miles give or take. Can't do that in a month we said in frustration as we turned pages in the Rand McNally. Then Ellie said, "Why not do it in three months?" And I said, "Right, and why didn't you tell me you won the lottery?" "No you ninny," she said, "I mean what if we took a month each for the next three seasons?"
That conversation started us thinking and scheming. Could we really take that much time out of our professional lives? Well, we did, actually five weeks each season, and so far it has turned out OK. But there were a zillion more questions focused on care of the boat, navigation and trip planning, travel to and from, and a whole lot more. What would it really be like? What would we do without the weekender fun on our boat when it is hundreds of miles away for most of the season? Here's what we have learned, last question first.
As it turned out, having more time at home meant that a lot of the work that just never got done on the house and yard now got done. We bought bicycles and started riding a lot. We now have something of a weekend routine ride to a favorite breakfast place. We borrowed a tent from a daughter and re-discovered that we still like car-camping. And the grandchildren got additional attention. We still attend some social events of the yacht club, but our visits to the marina have dwindled. We feel somehow out of place now with no boat to putter about on. So things change. You will find new experiences for your expanded "other" life while pursuing your cruising life bit by bit.
Every article ever written on how to GO starts by recommending that you get the boat READY before you leave. That advice is even more important for bit-by-bit cruising as you will be separated from your boat most of the year. She had better be as ready as you can make her before departure. The first season you probably will not end up so far away that you can't visit her once or twice after haul out or before launch the next spring. That will let you catch those things that fell through the cracks and turned up on the first leg of the cruise as necessary "to do's". But you may only get this opportunity once. After that you have to take any significant work time out of your cruise time.
Also the first season you will be able to provision from well known sources at familiar prices. After that it gets more difficult. Our haul out after our first season was several hundred miles away from home. We could get there and back over a long weekend. So we took a lot of provisions with us in the pre-trip commissioning run and bought the rest locally. Doing as much of the Spring work as we could, while continuing the provisioning made for one very busy weekend. With the boat in Canada, French speaking Quebec, almost nothing was familiar. For example, a cursory search found no California or Australian wines, only French. So over the winter we tried a lot of less expensive French wines to get a list of those we liked in hopes we could find them when we got back. Fortunately, we met a bilingual cabbie who helped us out a lot. We'd call him on his cell phone; he'd cart us around and translate when necessary. No extra charge!
As you can see, at some point in the trip you won't be able to just run up to the boat to work on her; the boat is just too far away. So we build in 3-4 days for commissioning and provisioning hoping that everything goes smoothly. We hire the yard to paint the bottom, wash and wax the hull, work we have done ourselves up to now. Then we also plan for 3-4 days at the end to get the boat ready for haul out and winter storage. And we have readjusted our maintenance expectations somewhat. Some of the bright work really can be left to look more natural.
It is useful to identify a full service boatyard near the season's goal and talk to them before arrival. Then, since you may not get that far for one reason or another, you need to identify a back up boatyard a day or two of sailing short of the goal. On the other hand, you may get farther than planned, so you need another one a couple of days past the target. But frankly, despite diligent planning, the boatyards we have targeted have never worked out. In one case the marina burned down before we got there. In another, a language barrier coupled with a new marina manager mooted the promise of an easy haul out. The more remote the sailing, the more some sort of investigation of boatyard options is needed. For example, as you go farther east in Canada, full service boatyards get mighty scarce, hundreds of miles apart.
Possibly, as in our case, you may not expect to pass the same way again. So you try to borrow as many charts and navigation aids as possible. You are only going to use them once. But--boring advice--don't scrimp on charts, aids, and guides. And try to talk to anyone and everyone you know or meet along the way to learn about where you are heading from those who have gone before you. We had access to several written-for-friends stories about sailing the St. Lawrence River. Far from the polished stories you see in the magazines, they nevertheless gave us the first authentic feel of where we would be sailing months before we actually did it.
No matter what else we did, we did not want any of our bits of cruising to become mere deliveries. We wanted them to truly be cruising. This means you have to give in to the possibility that you may not make your goal for the season. The wind may go against you. Or you may have mechanical trouble that bounces you off schedule. Or you may find an area you just don't want to leave. That's what cruising is: waiting for weather, flexing with the diversions, enjoying the unexpected. We have found we can make 800 or so nautical miles in five weeks, mostly day-sailing, without succumbing to get-there-fast fever.
The major problem with changes of plans is how to get home. You may have plane reservations from a specific airport at a specific time predicated on getting to your planned goal on schedule. We have found one-way car rentals useful and cheaper than airfares. If there are no cars, rent a truck. Or pay someone fifty bucks and gas to get you to the plane on time. We also have used frequent flyer miles securing seats 10 months ahead. And we have used conventional plane reservations. But you need to do some pre-trip brainstorming about the "what ifs".
Carting animals across national borders on airplanes is a feat. A vet has to certify the animal is disease free within ten days of an international flight. If you think that is easy when the vet speaks no English take another think. Thank goodness for our attentive Quebec cabbie! So, yes, we drug our little boat cat going and coming to keep her quiet. She's a little weird for a couple of days, but otherwise no worse for wear.
You may be able to carve out only three weeks. Then the experience will differ to some degree from ours. For example, fewer weeks may make you more dependent on boatyard labor to maximize your cruising time. However, Great Lakes travel can probably be done bit by bit with less than five weeks. East and west coasting also seems feasible with shortened cruise times.
Doing it bit by bit may leave something to be desired compared to all out cruising. The time on the boat is great, but may never be enough. Leaving your floating home behind is always bittersweet, more so than any end of season haul out ever was. But we have found this cruising life style workable and more than rewarding.