The engine and water systems have been winterized, the boat’s been covered and you are already looking forward to the beginning of next year’s season, right? Remember the old saying “the best defense is a good offense”? If you don’t actively plan your off-season activities, that honey-do list will grow to mammoth proportions. Well, here are some things to keep you occupied this winter and your mind off of not being on the water. This assumes you have already completed at least some of that honey-do list that you ignored all summer.
Attend a Boating Course
Most of you have already taken some kind of safe boating course or are grandfathered out of needing one. If you didn’t, consider joining one of the organizations giving the courses, the United States Power Squadron and the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary. They both offer a wide variety of follow on courses. Seamanship, piloting, advanced navigation as well as weather, electronics, engine, sailing and cruise planning are a few of the options usually taught in the fall and spring.
Many of the maritime museums also conduct a variety of classes. For example, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum holds an “Apprentice for a Day” class every Saturday. Join up and help build a wooden boat during the winter. Many marine dealers and boating stores also hold short classes. If you have a diesel engine in your boat, look for a weekend course on maintaining your engine.
Don’t limit yourself to strictly boating subjects, either. Check out the courses at your local community college. Take a course in photography, for example. Looking to cruise south? Take conversational Spanish. On a more serious side, look at taking a first aid course or learn CPR, you never know when they might come in handy.
Teach a boating course
If you have a particular skill, hobby or other expertise, consider volunteering to teach a course. I’ve given seminars and taught parts of the safe boating classes and can tell you it’s a rewarding experience. You get to transfer some of your enthusiasm for your interest to others. I have also found that I have learned as much from the attendees as I have taught them.
Go to a boat show
Nothing gives a boater a fix like going to a boat show. Luckily there are several during the winter. The Atlantic City Power Boat Show is a good example. Couple a visit to the boat show with some serious hotel and casino visits and you have the makings of a great get-away weekend.
Attend a Lecture
Sounds dull, but look at some of the offerings available and you will be surprised. Most museums and similar organizations offer a wide range of topics. Again, don’t limit yourself to strictly boating topics. The Smithsonian and the Air and Space Museum both hold regular lectures, Check their web sites for times and dates. We Bay folk are fortunate to be close to many such events.
Visit a Museum
While you are thinking about attending a lecture at a museum consider visiting the museum for its own sake. I know from experience that I could spend several weekends at the Maritime Museum in Norfolk without seeing everything there is to see. Each time I go back, I find something I didn’t see before. The exhibits themselves also change, so don’t hesitate to revisit a museum you haven’t been to for awhile.
Remember the cruisers answer to “what do you do about winter clothes”? Answer: go south until you don’t need winter clothes. Most of us don’t have that luxury, but it is entirely practical to get away for a week or so during the coldest part of the winter. Look at any boating magazine and you’ll find hundreds of charter possibilities, from the Caribbean to the South Pacific. Remember, it’s summer in Australia when it’s winter here. Book early, though, lots of others will have the same idea.
Marlinspike is the art of nautical rope work. Buy a book, video or take a course and learn how to do fancy rope work. Make a Monkey’s Fist for your heaving line. Do a Turk’s head on your tiller or wheel. Whip the ends of those dock lines like an old salt. Good marlinspike isn’t rocket science, but it does take a little practice. A word of warning – don’t let it be known that you can do an eye splice. If you do, everyone on the dock will be after you to make up their new dock lines.
Read a good book
A list of all the good nautical books would take up far more space than this article will allow. There are a host of categories to consider: cruising stories, cruising guides, maintenance and how-to books in the non-fiction categories. A few of my favorites are “Voyage of the Northern Magic” by Diane Stuemer, “All in the Same Boat” by Tom Neale and “Blown Away” by Herb Payson. Many of the more popular nonfiction books are available from the Nor’easter Bookstore page in each issue.
The fiction arena covers a wide time frame. From Napoleonic era British sea captains to Revolutionary War American sailing heroes. Stories about the naval migration from sail to steam and then on to World War One naval engagements and World War Two battles. If you keep at it, you should be able to complete Samuel Elliott Morrison’s 15 volume series on the United States Navy’s role in WW II.
A few of my favorites are Erskine Childer’s “Riddle of the Sands”, any of C. S Forester’s “Horatio Hornblower” series and any of the Patrick O’Brien series (Master and Commander, etc.). Sue Lawson has written a couple of modern sailing novels, “Green Flash” and “Easing Sheets”. For stories about the change from sail to steam in the British Navy, read any of Philip McCutchan’s “Halfhyde” series.
For fast paced and fast reading try any of Clive Cussler’s novels. For long, long reads, try any Tom Clancy novel.
Here is a little secret – you don’t have to buy all these books. Go to your local library and, if they don’t have the book in their collection, ask for an interlibrary loan. They usually are either free or cost only a nominal sum, try it!
See a Movie
Okay, so you don’t like to read, go watch a movie. Our all-time favorite is “Captain Ron” with Kurt Russell and Martin Short. We watch this one a couple of times a year when our egos need deflating. Other nautically inclined movies: “Dead Calm”, “Wind”, “Moby Dick”, “White Squall”, “Titanic”, “Message in a Bottle”, “Waterworld” and “Riddle of the Sands”.
There are also a host of non-fiction movies out but you’ll probably have to buy them to see them, not many video rental stores carry them and the boating stores have stopped renting them.
If the going gets tough, the tough go south, right? If you have planned your life right, you have a winter place in Florida and a summer place on the Bay. If you are like the rest of us, a week or two in Florida is more likely. Everyone seems to have a favorite place. Ours are St. Augustine and Clearwater Beach. Closely allied with Clearwater Beach is Tarpon Springs. If you have the least little bit of liking for Greek food, Tarpon Springs is heaven.
Going south works really well, especially if you have a relative in the area to mooch off of. I wonder how many people who moved to Florida move back because of the increased visitor traffic to their new location.
One of the problems about visiting Florida during the holiday season is getting used to Christmas lights on palm trees. When my folks lived in Ft. Myers, an entrepreneur brought a semi load of real Christmas trees in each year. The entire load sold in less than a day.
Do a boat project in your basement
If you have space, consider bringing something home from the boat for refinishing. Re-varnishing, repainting or other maintenance jobs can be accomplished in the off-season, making fewer things to do in the spring. Just make sure you keep at it, otherwise, the off-season will disappear before your eyes. Get a projects book from your local boat store and try making a new project or accessory for the boat. Shelves, tables, a new hatch or locker cover are all possibilities. If you have access to a sewing machine, consider a soft project, such as a hatch cover, teak handrail covers, covers for your compass or electronics or storage pockets for the back of a locker door.
Organize your log/pictures/make a scrapbook
The off-season is the ideal time to put all your on-season pictures and souvenirs in a form that can be easily viewed. The current scrapbook craze will give you plenty of ideas and accessories for organizing those items. If you have the equipment and software, consider scanning all these items into your computer and saving it on a CD-ROM.
The only thing more fun than putting together a log or a scrapbook is reading them in the dead of winter. Getting them organized while you can still remember all the details will provide years of enjoyment in the future.
I hope that this article will give you some more ideas for off-season activities. I know I’ve missed some so feel free to add your own favorites to the list. Let’s see now, where is that list of charter brokers?