Underway

By Tom Neale, 4/7/2005

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There’s nothing like being underway----seeing the creeks and rivers and bays and ocean coasts slide by day after day after day. But when you’re cruising, being underway also includes stopping in special harbors. In mid April we’ll stop for the Jacksonville Boat Show to give some talks about the Bahamas. We’ll also be stopping at many other places, ranging from towns to remote anchorages, as we head north. You get underway to go to somewhere else. You enjoy that place. Then you move to another. And you always have trouble deciding which you enjoy the most—the harbors or the getting there. It’s part of what it’s all about.

There are problems with being underway. You can’t go get groceries. You can’t go get the mail. You can’t receive a fax. You can’t run down to the parts store to pick up a new V belt for your engine or diaphragm kit for your water pump. (Well, you can do some of these things if you’re rich, but I’m afraid I’m not overly familiar with cruising from that perspective.) But being underway solves a lot of other problems. It solves the problem of feeling like you’re trapped by stop lights and traffic snarls. It solves the problem of feeling like you’ve been there--done that over and over again, every minute of your day. It solves the problem of feeling like you’re not in control. It solves the problem of not being able to breathe fresh air and not being able to really see the stars at night.

But there are also problems with being in a harbor. You’ve got to decide whether you can anchor or will have to spend the big bucks to tie up. You’ve got to figure out where the things are that you need. There’s always a part or two that broke and that you didn’t bring a spare for. There’s always groceries that you need. Maybe that rough day broke all the eggs. There’s sometimes even a need for a dentist or maybe a doctor. Then you’ve got to figure how to get transportation to them. You’ve got to find out where you can tie up your dinghy and the likelihood of someone ripping it off. But being in a good harbor can solve many problems. If it’s a harbor in civilization, you can take care of all that business so that you can get underway again. If bad weather’s coming you can watch the clouds roll in from a marina and worry much less about how bad it’ll be. If you need a restaurant fix or an ice cream fix, it’s probably there.

Dinghy Rip Off

We had owned the brand new 12 foot inflatable and 15 hp outboard for about a week. We anchored next to a bridge, which had a bridge keeper on duty all night long. Other boats were anchored around us. We tied the dinghy bow and stern, alongside and just aft of midships, and went to bed. I sleep very lightly but never heard a thing. The next morning the dinghy and outboard were gone. We were in a new town with no “Car.” We had to pay for a marina for several days to talk to the police, file insurance claims, and get another tender. Dinghy theft is epidemic in some areas, occasional in others. Here are a few things to do to keep it from happening to you.

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A lot of harbors don’t have any big problems. They only have trees and marsh on the shore and quiet protected waters with good holding mud or sand underneath. The only other people around are on boats and you all feel like part of a family—the cruising family. In places like this there are still plenty of things to do. You might take the dinghy or kayak and explore that creek peeking out from the marshy shore. You might explore up around the bend of the creek you’re anchored in. There’s always one that’s off your chart, leaving you curious about whether you can go that far with your draft. In your dinghy, you discover that you can. Or you might just sit and watch the sun set over the trees and decide that it’s so nice here you’re going to stay tomorrow. You can do that sort of thing when you’re underway, knowing that this harbor, like the next, has a unique ambiance that should be savored.

Being underway has an aspect of loneliness. Mel and I almost always feel a bit of sadness when we leave a good harbor, because we know we’ll miss our friends there. Getting underway means that. It also means that you’re going to be on your own much more so than you would be during every day life in a town or city. The more you venture into the far away places that make cruising so great, the more likely you are to be on your own. Your boat is its own little world. You and those with you are stuck with each other, for better or worse. You’re the ones making things happen. You’re responsible for keeping your world safe and working. But then a friend calls on the VHF. Or you hear that boat which passed you an hour ago calling another boat, asking about an anchorage. You see a boat like yours and you call and switch to a talking channel and briefly compare notes. Cruising people, of all types, have much in common. Being underway isn’t totally lonely.

And then there are the boat shows. To a cruiser who’s been underway, it’s pure sensory overload. And it’s the boat shows that give you an ultimate friend fix. We’ve been to many harbors to give talks for boat shows: Newport, Annapolis, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, St. Petersburg, and even LA, Seattle and Chicago by plane. They’re all full of people who are thinking about getting underway to go cruising. Some are buying boats, some are thinking about it, some are outfitting boats they have. This will be our first time at the Jacksonville show and we’re looking forward to it as an early stop on our spring trip northward.

So we’re getting underway again, headed north this time. We’re already missing the port we’re leaving, but looking forward to the next ones on up the coast, and all the small harbors in between. We’re a slow boat and there’s a strong front predicted to be moving in, between us and north Florida, as we pass up the coast. But that’s a part of being underway. You’re not controlled by all the stop lights and snarls, yet you are controlled by weather and unbridled nature. But the experience is worth it. Without question, we prefer it that way. If you haven’t tried it, come on out here. It’s always great to have new friends underway.

Copyright 2004-2008 Tom Neale