So far itís been a very long, hard winter. A broken gaff ended my sailing season early, in October, but the cold set in almost immediately afterward anyway. And then, just as I began getting hooked up for iceboating, a thaw melted all the ice. Even the snowbirds have had a tough winter. A drought in Florida has lowered the levels of the inland lakes so much that it's not even possible to launch a daysailer in many places. But now that April is just two months away, the time has come to get serious about planning the big cruise for the next season.
Last summer I jumped across my first patch of open ocean, the 17 nautical miles between Montauk and Block Island. Technically, those waters are called Block Island Sound, but for someone whose sailing had been confined to bays, it was a great ocean passage.
Block Island could again make a great destination for my annual summer cruise. But Iím not ready to settle into a habitual cruising pattern yet. There are too many irresistible routes and locales still to explore. Small groups of islands are scattered all along the northern shore of Long Island Sound, and at the westernmost end of the sound there is the ultimate island, Manhattan. In the opposite direction, there is the legendary Buzzards Bay, with nearby Cape Cod, the Elizabeth Islands, and Newport. All places where a lifetime of sailing couldnít exhaust the possibilities.
- Plan the return route as carefully as the outbound route
- Get a small-scale chart that shows everything in the area
- Round up crew members, especially for the longer passages
Last year, Iíd planned to simply backtrack for the return trip, but made a last-minute decision to take a different, longer route. I didnít have a small-scale chart to show everything in that area and wound up confused about the identity of several islands. The chart I did have didnít show the first of a string of islands, and since I had never cruised there before, the landmarks were unfamiliar. The result: I was nearly swept into the Race, at the eastern end of Long Island Sound, a channel with very swift currents that would have led me far off course.
It was at that point that I realized I needed to carefully plan all possible routes and make sure I had the charts for all the surrounding areas. It also convinced me I needed a better pair of binoculars than the inexpensive, folding pair of 8x21 that I had. A crew member to help sort out the confusion and provide some period of rest would also have been welcome during the long slog to windward.
This year I plan on towing the dinghy. Last year, I hadnít wanted the bother of it. But once I was anchored in Block Islandís New Harbor and realized that a dink would have made the ocean beach and the village accessible within minutes and would have eliminated the dependency upon water and land taxis, I regretted not having it.
Equipment upgrades this year will be minimal. Last year, provisioning had been a matter of stepping up from daysails in the bays to extended cruising. This yearís shopping list so far includes the following:
- A GPS data power cable
- A decent pair of 7x50 binoculars
- Local charts, guidebooks, and the 2001 Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book
The major purchases last year were a base-station VHF with DSC (digital selective calling) capability, and a GPS. (For more on DSC and the advantages it offers mariners, check out the sidebar.)
In the bays, just picking out the buoy itself, let alone its color or number, is usually all thatís needed. Cruising in new watersócongested with other boat traffic, islands, channels, and unfamiliar landmarksóis another matter. A good pair of binoculars is vital. Image stabilizers, digital compasses, and nitrogen-purged waterproof cases would be nice, but tend to bump the price into the $1,000 regions. Good light-gathering glass, found with either BAK-4 Porro prism lenses or roof prisms, and with coatings to cut down glare, are available at prices in the $200-600 range. Given my record with expensive handheld items, and my limited budget, I chose the Fujinon 7x50 Mariner XL binoculars.
The real goody, though, is the Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book. This little yellow paperback volume, with the handy nautical miles scale along the spine and the hole drilled into the top left corner for tying the book to a fixed position on the boat, is packed with the weather and current and tide information necessary for timing a cruise. It also contains just about every kind of reference data that a cruiser needs, such as distance and speed tables, emergency first aid, and lights and fog signals.
Finally, cruise planning involves some wining and dining. Skippers with local knowledge from years of cruising need to be loosened up for all the tidbits of experience that can make the difference between a pleasure cruise and a nightmare of unexpected difficulties and disappointing destinations. Crew members need to be courted as well, won over, and coordinated with the overall cruise planóas if you needed a mid-winter excuse to get together with a sailing buddy in a nice restaurant to swap lies and enjoy a good meal while the snow flies and the boat awaits under a tarp.
The coming season is here as soon as you begin planning for it. Iím already remembering the sensations of a warm sun on bare skin and the delight of the occasional spray over the coaming.
Last edited by administrator; 02-05-2008 at 09:21 AM.
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