A cruising vacation to fun destinations does not have to mean boarding a big ship with 3500 of your new best friends that feel they have to dress for dinner. If your boat is in good working order, has a comfortable cabin, a small galley and a head consider taking it on vacation this season. Destination cruising is one of the joys my wife and I get out from our boat. The northeast offers lots of overnights, weekend, week-long or more places to visit. There is no better way to get around than to use your boat and not have to pack and unpack your luggage at every stop. This story will help prepare you for getting ready for a vacation on board. After reading this, follow the next few issues of Boating World which will have destination cruising stories you can easily follow.
We started cruising by picking a cove or town a couple of hours from our dock. We eventually gained experience and cruised to every harbor on the north shore of Long Island and many places on the Connecticut coast (last year we took our boat to a Santana concert up the Thames River). Eventually, we made our way east to islands of Block, Bristol, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. We cruised as far north as the 1000 Islands and Montreal via the locks and as far south as the Chesapeake Bay. (Previous cruise stories are available by emailing email@example.com)
The first step in planning a cruise is to talk to your fellow shipmates. Everyone’s interest should be taken into consideration. This can include strolling through quaint towns or visiting historical places. Are nightlife and entertainment important? Do you like walking, biking or even Segway tours? Maybe a visit to a brewery, distillery or a summer stock theater will be of interest. For couples, a romantic cove on the hook for a night or two may be just what is needed. For families, ending your day at a marina with a pool for the kids to splash around in may be your ticket.
What to take or not take on board is important for a good time. For kids, it may be Xboxes for the long hauls, large inflatable air mattresses to bounce in a bay on or bicycles for shore leave rides. For couples, it may be a couple of special bottles of wine and a promise to leave the computer at home. For evening or rainy day entertainment bring along some nautical based movies. For movies and TV, we use a Slingbox at home connected to our cable box. This allows us to watch our recorded shows or live television directly from our home to our laptop using Wi-Fi or 4G signals. We also use Netflix and Amazon Prime. If the family dog is cruising, consider how trained it is. Most marinas will allow Fido if it is leashed and quiet. During your vacation on board remember you will be in close quarters compared to home so a little extra patience is important (especially on any rainy days).
Once your destinations have been determined your next step in preparation should be to purchase the Dozier’s Waterway Guides and Richardson’s Chartbooks and Cruising Guides to the area you plan to cruise. Dozier’s Waterway Guides list towns with their anchorages, marina’s and brief information about the place including provisioning. The Richardson’s Chartbooks are important to have on board for two reasons. By looking at a chart page you can see the overall region at one glance and measure distances easier. By doing this you can see where you may need to duck for cover between two destinations in the event of an unseen storm or a problem. The second reason for the chartbook is that electronics can and do malfunction and this book with a good pair of binoculars will give you safe passage. Whether using a chartbook or chart plotter, it is important on planning on the distances needed to refuel. Always use the “one third” rule. This means arriving at your next fuel stop with at least a third of a tank of fuel. I have experienced dry gas docks or ones that had been closed due to environmental issues. If you pull up to the pump with a tank too low to make it to the next marina you are going to be in trouble. Planning ahead like this solves a potential problem before it starts
Other useful tips would be to go to www.tripadvisor.com and type in the places you wish to visit. Here you can drill down on top attractions, dining and recreation ideas. Lastly, I would visit the town’s website. We have found this useful in finding farmer’s markets, festivals, walking tours and local summer theater.
The next step in the cruise planning is to make reservations in advance for a slip or mooring ball. Popular towns on summer weekends may need reservations a couple of months in advance. If you are cruising to a hot spot on a holiday weekend you should allow more time. Over the past few years, we have never had a problem for dockage mid-week with more than a day to a few days’ notice. For Block Island, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard make a reservation as soon as you can. Some marinas have 24 to 72-hour cancellation policy. I have seen unreasonable fees for not showing up due to bad weather. Some marinas may give you credit for a future night while the better marinas do not charge for not making it in bad weather. During your planning, I would mix up stays at marinas with nights on the hook in a protected bay. The navigation books give details on depth, wind protection and holding ground. When on the hook, set your anchor alarm in case you drift. There is an app for smartphones called Drag Queen or Anchor Watch that monitors drift if you do not have an anchor alarm.
Planning a cruise requires a safety check of your electronics, radar, radio, flares, personal flotation devices and fire extinguishers. For our open water cruising, we purchased an ACR EPIRB. We bought this because on one of our cruises we were 20 miles offshore and potentially out of radio assistance. We also purchased a small battery operated marine GPS in case we lost our electronics on board. Keep in mind that smartphone GPS can work if you are in the range of a cell tower.
Have a Plan B when cruising. Do not push yourself if conditions don’t warrant it. Your original itinerary should be for a good week of weather. Plan B is in the event you lose a few days due to storms. Think about how you and your family will entertain yourselves if you are stuck somewhere. When we were in Burlington on Lake Champlain during a rainy day we rented a car for $40 and drove to the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream factory for a perfect road trip away from the water. While in Clinton Connecticut on a miserable day we asked the marina to give us a lift to a huge outlet mall nearby.
When departing in the morning, we always look at the MyRadar app on my smartphone. This has been very helpful in seeing where any storms are going. I always follow this up by listening to the NOAA radio station and then viewing it online.
Lastly, take it slow, safe and have fun. Enjoy your cruise minus the formal nights!
(Tab Hauser is a regular contributor to Boating World. For copies of previous cruise stories or questions email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)