If you own a boat, you no doubt think about the adventures a new season will bring. The arrival of spring and early summer is all it takes for me to start day dreaming of a cruise. What better way to spend an early season night than with friends or family talking through an itinerary for a summer trip.
Where might we go that we’ve never been? Where have we been that we’d like to experience again?
One of the wonderful parts of cruising the northeast is the abundance of destination choices.
It’s hard to predict summer weather too far in advance but we’ve found that plans can be made without overdue concern for the weather. Part of the fun we have cruising is in dealing with the unexpected and rarely has the weather been so bad that we’ve had to cancel our plans. The worst case has been that we stay in a port an extra day while the weather front moves on or the fog lifts. Those of you who traverse the Sound know that a lobster pot buoys can show up suddenly if you’re not paying close attention and those buoys can be a tough read on even the best of radar, so although I’ll go in rain, I really don’t like to press my luck in fog.
I have friends who consistently set aside two weeks for their cruise vacations and you can tell their departure is near when the carts of provisions start rolling down the dock. As we all know, cruising boats come in all sizes. Some of us travel in flybridge yachts, some in aft cabin “houseboats,” and some in their “day boat”. I have a friend whose family never misses the chance for an annual excursion on their 26’ Wellcraft express cruiser. What all of these boats have in common is a captain and crew with a sense of adventure and a desire to get away from their land-based existence for a week or two.
My Wellcraft friend has come to the conclusion that no real planning other than a serious period of maintenance work and the provisioning of food are required for a summer cruise to be successful. He meticulously goes over his engines, water, septic system and spare parts inventory before leaving the dock but he rarely makes a reservation at a marina. However, while he’s steadfastly avoiding building a plan, his wife is busily loading the boat with enough food and drink to support a family of four during a month in a bomb shelter. She’s told me that when the weight of provisions is such that the boat’s water line is no longer visible, she’s packed a sufficient store of supplies. Imagine being at a destination and every time someone says “do you have a ….” you get an “Oh…I have that” from the most nimble boat in the fleet. Though my friend is prone to traveling without reservations, he’s not prone to traveling without tools and maintenance supplies. There are certainly competent mechanics in the northeast, but there are also times when you just have to do it yourself. Ethanol fuel is one of the challenges that has ruined many a day on the Sound. Most boaters know that the ethanol attracts water to your fuel tank and many of us spend a lot of time at the dock with partially full tanks when we’re not cruising. The result is water in your fuel that probably won’t clog your filter until you’re rocking, rolling and running hard. I’d call you reckless if you left the dock without spare fuel filters and a wrench within easy reach.
It’s happened to me, you’re running along fine and then one or more engines start to “bog down”. It’s hard to diagnose all of the possibilities, but one of the likely culprits is often that filter.
If this is going to be your first trip you might want to start by using a “cruising guide” as a reference and source of ideas for stopovers on the trip. As an example, Maptech Embassy Guides are available at most local boat supply stores. These guides, of which there are a number covering different areas, provide detailed descriptions of ports of call including contact information, waypoints, descriptions of the available amenities and local points of interest. The guide covering New Jersey north to the Connecticut River covers all of the Sound, Long Island’s South Shore, the Connecticut River and the Hudson River. If you can’t find some places that look interesting among the 1350 marinas listed, maybe you really should just head to Disneyworld instead of planning a cruise.
If you’ve never had your boat out on the water for at least one night you might not be clear on what makes an acceptable “cruiser”. Those of you who have been to Block Island in the heart of summer knows that almost anything that can get there will work for somebody as a “cruiser”. Having spent many a night at Champlin’s in the Great Salt Pond, I might not have seen it all but I’ve seen a lot. People cruise in whatever boat they can. For some, the goal is a comfortable high seas adventure. For others, it’s all about the destination and the party! Granted, most people who have cruised for a night or longer, have surely thought about the cost of upgrades to the boat they own or the one they wish they had. Of my friends, all of them want overnight accommodations that provide some basic amenities. It’s nice to have air conditioning, a place to stretch out and a head. But no boat is too small to hold an ice chest with your choice of drinks and I’ve seen people in sleeping bags under a makeshift canopy (picture a blue tarp) sleeping on the floor of their center console. You can make anything work if you have to, given that many, if not all, of the docking facilities on Long Island Sound have bathrooms and showers available to transients and there’s hardly a stop that doesn’t offer a casual place for a meal. Just remember that the sun doesn’t always shine and it really is nice to have access to some comforts of home while waiting for the showers to pass.
Having cruised just once in a 29’ sportfish that lacked air conditioning, I found that everyone (and by “everyone” I mean my wife) has different expectations and requirements for their stay. Maybe a small boat for transportation and then a bed and breakfast at your destination will make you happy. A larger boat can offer all the convenience you can afford. Think of it as the difference between going tent camping or staying in your bus sized recreational vehicle. Fact is that there’s no one way to get out and see the sights from a waterfront perspective. You can make it work if you’re willing to be adventurous and flexible. After our first cruise, we realized how much fun it was and we decided to upgrade the fishing boat to a larger more “comforts of home” boat. But, what was right for us may not be right for you.
For those times when you want someone else to prepare the meal we’ve found that just about every destination has an eatery of some sort that adds to the “flavor” of our trip. There are fine restaurants and fishy shacks with a water view at most large cruising destinations. In any case, if you have some money, you’ll rarely be forced to go hungry while cruising.
If you have the urge to cruise, don’t let the size of your boat, the weather or provisions get in the way of your great time. Keep an eye on the sky, a flexible schedule and look for my friends in that 26’ Wellcraft.
I think they’re cooking tonight and they always have room for guests.