I've recently read and reviewed a couple books that may be of interest to you if you're considering living aboard a boat and/or going cruising long-term. Both target readers who have not yet firmly made that decision, and both are very good at exploring the many variables involved to help you reach a decision and then start firming up your plan. They don't, however, offer a lot of practical advice for those who are already living aboard or cruising. "Gently with the Tides" by Michael L Frankel is a collection of articles from Living Aboard magazine on all dimensions of life on a boat. "The Cruising Life" by Jim Trefethen analyzes his own family's 4-year experience cruising full-time and offers solid advice on how to make the decision and how to afford it.
Cruising just about anywhere on your sailboat is great fun, of course, but for us northern types who suffer a wintry off-season, the lower Florida Keys and Key West are great fun if you can get here. I'm writing this now from the 75 degrees and clear water of Bahia Honda, where I trailered our smaller sailboat, a West Wight Potter 19, down from New England. In the boat basin nearby are a MacGregor 26 down from Montana, an older O'Day 19 down from New Hampshire, and a 28-footer with an onboard diesel just arrived (2000 miles by trailer) from Colorado! Just call us the cult of trailer-sailors in the know. I hesitate even to write this, worrying the crowds may discover our little piece of paradise and fill the place up. In a day or two I'll sail down to Key West for grins and fruit punch drinks. The couple in the larger cruiser is headed for the Dry Tortugas. Ah, it's a tough life!
It's 20 degrees here in New England with a foot of snow on the ground, and I'm ready to head south for sailing. Our cruising boat will be under shrink wrap for another 3 months, but we picked up a trailerable West Wight Potter 19 a couple years ago for just this purpose, and very soon I'm headed for the Keys and one of the best small-boat sailing areas around: Bahia Honda. I've just dug the trailer out of the snow and can only hope now the roads stay ice-free long enough to get way south where there is no ice!
This is a time of year when lots of sailors from colder climates are heading out for bareboat charters in the Caribbean or other warm waters. (If you're thinking about it and aren't sure where to start, here's an overview of possibilities in the Caribbean and Bahamas.) Most sailing charters are great fun and easy to handle, since the charter companies know the area so well and can give solid advice for anchorages and destinations. One issue that can disrupt the fun, however, is getting seasick. Some sailors (or more usually, their family or friends with them) report seasickness happens more often on charters - possibly because they've been off the water a long time and need to get their sea-legs back, and partly because of more obvious factors like more drinking, spicy or different foods, and other abrupt climate and lifestyle changes. In any case, don't forget to have some seasickness prevention or remedy at hand if you're heading to a charter, and just as important, don't forget that with many of these meds, you need to take them before any symptoms first arise!
I just finished reading Michael Tougias's latest nautical thriller, "A Storm Too Soon." I really liked a couple of his earlier books. I really didn't end up liking this one - but I expect more than a few folks will disagree with me about this. It's a dramatic true story of sailboats going down in a hurricane-like storm, crew barely surviving in a life raft, and then being heroically rescued by the Coast Guard. So what's not to like? I was disappointed, first, as a sailor, to learn almost nothing at all new about the experience of such a storm or how to cope with it using gear, techniques, or anything else. Tougias admits he's writing for a general public and doesn't want to go much into sailing stuff, so I guess it's fair not to expect to actually learn anything here. But I'm disappointed also by the storytelling itself: after striking terror in our hearts early in the book, he is constantly struggling to make it ever more terrifying, ever more suspenseful - a huge battle between good and evil at times, the terrible sea wanting to squash us poor humans, and if injuries, drowning, and hypothermia can't kill us, then maybe sharks will! Maybe I've simply read too many hundreds of true narratives by sailors to be able to suspend my disbelief when the story is told by a nonsailor, professional writer. Here's my review - and feel free to disagree!
Small Craft Advisor magazine is much beloved among its readers - who may be virtually anyone who loves small sailboats and craft that are rowed or paddled. It's full of all kinds of useful stuff for boaters, including do-it-yourself projects and boat reviews and articles about great places for boating, but in the winter its reader-contributed adventure narratives simply make great armchair reading. This is a "real" side of boating you seldom see in those newsstand glossies that so often seem written by marketing departments. This morning I was reading a piece by a 70-year-old woman with a pacemaker and two hip implants who sails her tiny craft alone and loves every minute of it - what a reminder of things that matter and an inspiration! She shares how she's improved her boat to make her soloing safer. Then I read a story about a Scotsman who sailed his little boat 51 days straight and has much to share about his perceptions of time and history gained on his voyaging. Don't know Small Craft Advisor? Check it out!
This week's newsletter from ActiveCaptain (which will shortly be archived here) contains an interesting story about how NOAA has consulted the ActiveCaptain Interactive Cruising Guidebook database in its effort to gather information about problems with the "magenta line" that marks the channel on the U.S. East Coast's Intracoastal Waterway. Apparently it's been 70 years since the channel was carefully surveyed and the chart path line updated, and since then the channel has shifted among new shoals such that boaters following the line frequently go aground. What's cool about this is that ActiveCaptain is a boater-crowdsourced database of information, so this becomes an implicit validation by NOAA of the value of information originating in individual boaters. While NOAA says it would take into 2015 to make this massive fix, boaters on the ICW can gain immediately from the ActiveCaptain Guidebook's information about shoal areas - just as cruisers everywhere can learn more about anchorages, marinas, hazards, and more. If you cruise into new waters but don't know about the ActiveCaptain Interactive Cruising Guidebook, you really need to learn more about its advantages.
When NOAA announced in October that they would soon stop printing paper charts, many traditional sailors were shocked - despite the fact that most boaters these days rely on electronic chartplotters and GPS navigation devices like tablets or smartphones. A plethora of inexpensive GPS navigation apps are available for Apple and Android devices and seem almost ubiquitous on the water, and there are many arguments for and against dependence on electronic charts, which I won't go into here. The most compelling argument for still having paper charts onboard is that electronics can go down, and in an extreme circumstance like a lightning strike, even backup handheld devices not connected to the boat's electrical system can fail. In any case, regardless of the NOAA action, paper charts will still be available from third-party producers (as they always have been: those chart kits and waterproof chart booklets), and many boaters will still carry them. More important than the charts themselves, however, are the basic navigational skills for using them to determine where you are on the chart. While many do not practice dead reckoning any more, all sailors should at least be able to determine their location when in sight of coastal landmarks. Taking two or preferably three bearings to known landmarks and then drawing the bearing lines on the chart to locate yourself where the lines intersect is a simple skill not to be forgotten. Still, many boaters do not carry a hand bearing compass anymore, and it can be difficult to use the boat's fixed compass. One solution, at least as long as your smartphone is still working, is the new Magnetic Bearing app that makes it easy to take bearings. Why not practice this basic navigational skill from time to time on your boat? Bearings are also the best way to determine whether you are on a collision course with another vessel.
Apparently in part as a response to the number of sailboats requiring rescue or assistance in the Salty Dawg Rally to the Caribbean a couple months ago, the Coast Guard yesterday issued a Marine Safety Alert for offshore sailing. The alert emphasizes preparation: the boat, the gear, yourself. Included is a list of specific preparations and guidelines to reduce the risk of disaster once underway, including which parts of the boat should be inspected, what damage control kits to have onboard, and other steps offshore sailors should take. All offshore sailors should check this alert to ensure they haven't overlooked anything. Given that inshore and coastal sailors actually experience more emergencies - and, sadly, fatalities - than offshore sailors, it behooves all of us on the water to ensure we have the right gear and know how to prevent emergencies and what to do if one occurs. Here's another place to get started with boating safety information.
Here's an app not for privacy buffs - but which parents or spouses might find useful for boating. The GPS Tracking Pro (Life 360) app for Android and iOS, when installed on two or more smartphones, lets the other(s) see where you are on Google Maps if you or they sail (or hike, or drive, whatever) out of sight. It also makes it easy to check in or contact others in your circle. While your kids might not like you knowing where they are at all times that their phone is on, in some situations this could be an important safety consideration. Read a review here of how it works.