Q&A – #76

I get emails. I figure that if one person is looking for some perspective on a particular subject then maybe there are other readers looking for the same.

Ahoy Woody,
While I am new to cruising, I feel I have a pretty good handle on sailing, seamanship, etc. My philosophy is think it out, do it slow and don’t get flustered when you hit something. Anyway, while I am confident enough in my sailing ability to not to look like a schmuck on the water, I don’t have enough experience pulling into a new marina to feel confident once I get on the dock. How do you handle yourself when you enter a new marina? Until I have done it a dozen times, can you give me an idea how to seem like I have pulled into more ports than Marina del Rey? And, just how much do you tip the hands at the fuel dock? – Insecure in Ensenada.

Something we had students do in ASA was to get them to first practice on buoys in the harbor. We would pull up to the buoy pretending it was a slip, wharf, fuel dock or another boat for a raft up. Sometimes we would even back down on it like it was a Med tie quay. As with all docking maneuvers, consider your wind and especially your current. Look at the buoy and you will see the little wavelets coming off of it if there is current. Remember to keep clear of traffic and be aware of any lines coming from the buoy including its rode. I still use this practice technique when first taking out a big boat that I haven’t been on before. I want to know how the boat will respond (or not) in close quartered situations.

Tipping line handlers? I’ve never done it, or heard of it. The problem I see with tipping is that you may end up getting just what you don’t want, a dock full of locals fighting over who is going to tie up your boat the wrong way. With most marinas and fuel docks you will be calling them first on the vhf. That is a good time to ask for someone to take your lines, that is if you are looking for qualified help. Remember the golden rule: discourage your crew from throwing your lines ashore before you give the signal to do so. Often not knowing any better, the person ashore will tie the line off before you have stopped the boat making for entertaining viewing for spectators.

But of course only professional boat handlers are expected to dock without a hitch. The rest of us are expected to miss it from time to time. Make a plan and a back up plan and share them with your crew. Eventually you’ll look at docking as the fun part of an otherwise less than challenging day.

Dear Woody: I have enjoyed your writing in Lats & Atts and thought of you for some advice. It looks like my business is going to sell this summer. This is good news as it will give me the means to take a year off. There is the slightest possibility that I might be able to con my wife and three kids into going cruising for the next year. My wife and I are 45 and the kids are 8, 12 and 14. I am a very amateur sailor, growing up on a lake with a sunfish and taking a half dozen bare boat vacations to different places around the globe in my late twenties and early thirties. I am also confident, competent and handy but haven’t been sailing other than in my dreams for 10 years. My wife has said that if we spend a year sailing that she doesn’t want to anything “SCARY!” I like the idea of warm water better than cold. We hail from a little town outside of Seattle and we’ve done cold water sailing, I want to see coral reefs. Where should we go? My thoughts are as follows in order. The Great Barrier Reef, The Bahamas, The Bay of Islands(NZ), South Pacific(where?). Are these the right areas to consider and would you add any others to the list? Any special ways in which we should research them?
Sincerely, Dreamin of Sailin

The Bahamas are real nice. They have the most beautiful sand and water there. They have great cruising grounds and are only a 60 mile sail from FL. The only problem is that they are not so close to the rest of the good Caribbean cruising.

The Bay of Islands is a small area though you could spend a year cruising all of New Zealand. NZ’s weather and challenging anchoring puts it into the realm of advanced cruising. I don’t remember a lot of coral there. You can’t beat New Zealand, though, for raw beauty.

The South Pacific has lots of great cruising. It’s my favorite area. You have the islands around Tahiti which have great water and coral etc. You have the low islands of the Tuomotus which are all coral and palm trees. Fiji has tons of area for cruising coral islands in calm seas, though you have to keep your eye out for random reefs – easy in a place where underwater visibility can be 100′.

The Barrier Reef is great but I didn’t always find truly clear water. The locals told me that the clearer water was found at the outer reefs. You wouldn’t generally overnight out there so that kind of thing would have been limited to day trips. Like NZ, the people are great.

Your plan sounds like fun. If I were you … I wouldn’t buy a boat. If you’re only going for a year you should look into extended charters. I think that, down the road, charter companies are going to get into this big time. It’s smarter for most people who want to cruise only part of the year or for anyone not wanting to take off forever. You will be investing less money and you’ll have the support of the charter bases. Check with the bigger charter companies. Sunsail is the world’s largest. You may be able to make a deal if you charter all of your “legs” from one source. Another option is to buy from a big company. They have programs that let you use their boats at other bases on the planet while they charter out yours.

The way the seasons work you would want to spend half the year in the southern hemisphere and half in the north. To reduce the scary factor, fly from place to place and charter. On the first “leg” of your adventure you could hire a skipper for a week. I’m thinking a few months in Tahiti and a few in Fiji or the Barrier Reef. Then you’re off to the Caribbean. Consider the BVI. It’s got the world’s easiest sailing and is perched at the top of an interesting mix of islands that lead all the way down to South America.

For research you should get cruising guides for the places you want to see. It’s a cheap way to get a feel for a place.


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