The Log of Moira
The Best Cruising Advice I’ve Ever Gotten…
We belong to the Seven Seas
Cruising Association (SSCA), a mostly-unstructured group of those who have
chosen to live on, and travel by, water. The Association publishes a Bulletin
once a month, made up mostly of letters from members about their experiences in
various destinations. In February, 2008 the Bulletin began a column
called “Dreamer’s Prism” for those who are dreaming, or hoping, or planning, to
move out among us. The February, 2009 edition of the column issued a challenge
to existing members: “What is the best cruising advice you’ve ever gotten?”
What follows is a revised version of my response:
The best cruising advice
I’ve ever gotten, hands down, was in the first chapter of W. S. Kals’ book, Practical
Boating (Doubleday, 1969). He recounts it as the best advice he’d
ever gotten, from an old freighter captain. As Kals puts it (I’m quoting from
an alternate plan. In plain speech: leave yourself an out.
Figure out what you’re going
to do when your plan goes wrong, because some day it will. Examples:
- Getting ready to tack?
Should you think about what you will do if a jibsheet tangles up, or that
motorboat on your quarter suddently decides to overtake on that side?
- Planning a passage? Do you have the charts for
alternative destinations in case the weather turns against you, or you
need to make repairs?
- Are you installing a new whatzit that will make
your life tremendously easier? Putting in a new part to replace a worn
one? Don’t pitch whatever it’s replacing—it will come in handy when the
new gizmo packs it in.
- Some folks say that everything on a boat should
have two jobs, which is another way of saying that if that thing breaks,
you now have two things that you can’t do. Better to say that you should
have at least two ways to do any critical job.
- Got a watermaker? Great! So do we. Love it. But
don’t cut down on your tankage.
- And Kals says that a skipper that finds himself
with a plan that can’t be backstopped, for which no alternate plan is
possible, does something else entirely.
Always have a “Plan B.” And
another one, and one after that. You’ll never get in serious trouble if you can
always pull another rabbit out of the hat. So on long night watches, or while
sitting before the fireplace in the winter months, “breed rabbits.”
“Having a plan,” of course,
is more than having in mind the steps one would take. As in the examples above,
it requires that one have the resources needed to carry out the plan. Hope is
not a “Plan B.”
- Need a bit of line? If there’s none in the
locker, could you use the tail of a jibsheet?
- Need a long lever? If there are no trees to
hand, could you unship the boom and use it?
- The most expensive resource is time, and shops
where it can be purchased are scarce. All the more reason to be ahead of
the game by having a stream of plans lined up and ready to go. To quote Admiral Nimitz: “The
time for taking all measures for a ship's safety is while still able to do
so,” and, depending on the resource, that time may be months before the
- Going somewhere with crew? Have you trained
them well enough that if you get cronked by the boom (or as Kals
suggests, you get “the vapors”), they can get you home?
- If you’re running close alongshore under power,
do you have the sail covers off, the halyards attached, and the anchor
ready to run?
- If transiting a channel, running along the windward
rather than the leeward side of the channel may give you a few extra
precious seconds for action if things go wrong.
Kals’ book is long since out
of print, but is available through used sellers such as Amazon.
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The Log of Moira by Laurence & Susan Shick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.