Getting There

By Tom Neale, 2/3/2011


This morning at 5:30 AM a large sport fish boat left a marina near us. Soon after taking aboard his lines he had cleared the inlet and was heading to the Bahamas. His destination was Cat Island and he planned a leisurely trip, taking two days to get there. If I were going there on my boat it would take a week to 10 days if the weather held that long—which it seldom does this time of year. It would have quite likely taken me two weeks, instead of two days.

My Motorsailer Underway
My boat is a motorsailer. It averages around 9 knots cruising when under power, although it’ll go faster. My last boat, designed as a sailboat, averaged around 7 knots under power. But it didn’t take much sea or wind to knock that back considerably. I say “under power” because if I really want to be reasonably sure of getting from point A to point B in a certain amount of time, I normally have to power. The winds never care much about where I want to go. That sport boat could probably lope along at 20 knots easily, but probably ran much faster. And she traveled on top of the water—on a plane. I travel down in the water. This makes a huge difference when going to the Bahamas, or anywhere else.

Displacement hulled boats traveling to the Bahamas have to reckon with the Gulf Stream flowing usually from 3 to sometimes 4 knots between the US East Coast and the western boundaries of the Bahamas Banks. If you buck the Stream, the trip can take much longer. If you just plan to travel across it, you’ve got to compensate, essentially crabbing across the stream, so that you can make your planned point of arrival in Bahamas waters, rather than some point far to the north. A planing boat is far less affected by the Stream unless, of course, it’s a matter of roughness rather than just current. Then everybody is affected in a big way.

But always, as I mentioned earlier, there’s the weather. Some say (and sometimes they’re right) that a tough well found sailboat or trawler with a tough crew can handle bad weather much better than a planing boat. They go on to add that the displacement hull doesn’t have to worry as much about good weather windows. But those are some very significant qualifiers—particularly as to the “tough crew” part, and I’ve never chosen to follow that philosophy in my travels. And I’ve seen many a tough planing boat, particularly of the sport fish variety, which has proven to be very durable in very rough weather, assuming the person at the helm knows what he or she is doing.

Getting There Fast
Regardless of your preference for type of boat, weather windows are important to everyone. When I cross to the Bahamas I want a good window of at least two days to get to a place where I can anchor comfortably and safely without having to pay a fortune for a marina. Then I need additional weather windows of at least two days at a time to get to where I ultimately want to hang out. But asking for a two day weather window, particularly in the winter, can be asking for a lot. Asking for more is really pushing your luck. And I’ve had enough things to go wrong on my passages over the years to expect things to go wrong, almost as a given. Therefore I don’t want to take off on a trip that requires a two day window when the window is supposed to slam shut the third day. I want a longer window, so that I have a buffer zone to handle unexpected delays. Therefore the length of my travel time is affected by much more than slower speed. At a faster speed I would have more opportunities to go because I wouldn’t need such long weather windows. It’s much easier to come up with a two or three day period of good weather than a four or five day window.

Does this mean that I want to trade in “Chez Nous” for a sport fishing boat? No. I couldn’t begin to afford the boat or the fuel or most of the rest of it. And I love “Chez Nous” and the type of boat she is. But I’ve made crossings on planing hull boats and I’ve thought it was great. To me, for example, it’s absolutely amazing to be able to leave Ft. Lauderdale at first light and easily reach Chub Cay well before dark. In a sailboat that would take two days which would normally include some night traveling and anchoring out on the vast, wide open Bahamas Banks. (We don’t just keep going at night in those waters because we don’t want to go in darkness through the treacherous cut through the reef at Northwest Channel Light.)

Would I like a faster boat? Yes, because I know that faster boats have their benefits, just as do slower boats. And Mel and I are getting to the point in life where we figure it would be nice to get to places faster and to not have to worry quite so much about being “tough” when the weather closes in on slower boats. Lots of people make decisions like this. Reasons include things like age, business commitments, kids, grand kids and the list goes on. Some of those reasons, as well as the good points we’ve seen about faster passage making, are why we’re thinking about selling our present “Chez Nous” to down size and up speed.

We’ve learned over the years that it’s being on the water that’s the ultimate high—not necessarily the type of boat you’re in. We all have our preferences. That’s as it should be. And it’s great if many of us can satisfy our preferences. One type of boat or one way of running isn’t necessarily better than the other. It depends on who you are, what you do and how you do it. Whatever---there’s a good boat that should work well for you.

Once I crossed an angry Gulf Stream, on a small cruise liner running from Freeport to Fort Lauderdale. The monster waves crashed against each other in a watery fury from hell. Any pleasure boat, power or sail, would have been in big trouble making that crossing that day. I ate a nice relaxed dinner looking out over the treacherous seas through a large window. The glass of water on the table not only didn’t crash to the floor, its water barely rippled. “Hey,” I thought to myself, “this is pretty cool.” That’s one of the great things about boating.

It’s all good.


Tom’s Tips About Finding Your Boat

1. Try out as many types as you can.

2. If you plan to cruise, figure a way to try out boats on extended trips. An hour’s cruise with a broker probably isn’t going to tell you what works best for you.

Click Here for More Tips

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