Kirsten, my Mystic 20 catboat, draws just about two feet of water with the centerboard up. However, the charts for Long Island's Peconic bays are peppered with 1s indicating where to find just one foot of water at mean low tide. Finding these low spots without a chart is easier than I imagined.
One afternoon at low tide I sailed slowly north out of Reeves Bay and into Flanders Bay with a light southwesterly wind. Soon I was well out from shore, moving along at a stately pace under the full 282 square feet of gaff-rigged sail carried by the boat. I set a northeast course for the green can buoy on the far side of the bay.
This green can marks one leg of a channel hugging the western and northern shorelines of the bay. Powerboaters steer careful courses from buoy to buoy here to stay in the channel. I, however, continued smugly straight across the bay, rounded the green can, and gybed to return to the marina.
Steering a southeasterly course, close-hauled with the centerboard down, I was pleased to discover Kirsten was perfectly balanced on this point of sail, and needed no hand on the tiller. The centerboard increases Kirsten's draft to four feet, but I planned to tack well before reaching the shoal on the south side of the bay. Meanwhile, I sat back and enjoyed the hands-free sailing.