PATIENCE AND PRUDENCE
-----Two of the first wooden vessels to land on the shores of North America were crammed full of frightened, seasick, homesick - and just plain sick - people. They had given up all and risked what was left to come to these shores and try again. Their ships were named for the two qualities that would determine who would survive and who would die - Patience and Prudence.
-----Life is often unfair or unjust, when seen from a human perspective. Young children die, the good and kind suffer, evil and malice often triumph. The kind and honest gentleman who outfitted and sold us Halcyon retired last year. We recently heard he died last April.
-----Honesty, integrity and kindness sometimes prevail and we treasure those memories. They are our defense to cover the evil of the Holocaust, or September 11th, or the death of a dear child. Those who first trod our continent, native and emigrant alike, wrestled with the timeless struggle between good and evil. Through adversity and adaptation, our species evolved survival traits - and surely patience and prudence are paramount among those qualities.
-----On the water, we believe the highest compliment is when an experienced skipper calls us either "patient" or "prudent." Land folks might call us cowards, and they're right. We don't like to have our lives and home tossed about by crashing seas. We don't want to run our home up onto rocks and sink it, while we attempt to save each other, by encouraging words, on the long cold swim to shore. We don't even like to have our propellers knocked off on a rock - especially one that's well-charted and easily avoidable if we had read the charts and waypointed a route.
-----Prudent - an interesting word and concept. What doo we think it takes to "be prudent" on the water?
Day-tripping (or Fishing) in Familiar Water
Know the weather prediction - Always - ALWAYS - especially the predicted wind direction and speed.
Do you Know What These Clouds (and Long Contrail) Mean?
(How about rain, snow or wind in the next twenty-four hours?)
File a float plan - Know your intended route for the day and tell someone trustworthy ashore (or write out) your plan and anticipated return time. We use a cell phone call or, if out of cellular range, send a SPOT message showing our GPS-determined location to a family member. Tell them in before your cruise what you want them to do if you don't return or call on time. ("Call my cell phone," or "Three hours overdue, call the Coast Guard," or "My will is in the top drawer of the file cabinet, get out a bottle of Scotch, and enjoy a good read," or whatever.
Maintain your boat - Keep your boat in good operating order. When traveling, burn off the top half of your fuel tanks.
Never drink and drive - Save the sundowner 'till the anchor's down.
All the above, plus:
Chart your route - Don't cruise unknown waters without a waypointed route. This forces you to study the charts before you head into new water. You become familiar with depths, hazards, and navigation marks in a quiet relaxed atmosphere - not when the weather is fussing, the fog rolls in, you find yourself suddenly in the middle of a cigarette boat race, the depth sounder is screaming, rocks appear from nowhere, or when there's a green can ahead to port.
-----A pilot friend flies nowhere new without highlighting every possible landing place along his route - not just airports, but anywhere he could perhaps land his plane and walk away. A prudent cruiser plots anchorages and hurricane holes along the intended route. If the weather suddenly turns foul, you know where to head and how long it will take to get there.
-----There are two ways to chart your route: paper charts or electronic charts. The advantage of an electronic chart is that chartplotters are equipped with GPS, so your location is indicated directly on the chart.
-----A backup is prudent. Power failures occur most often under weather duress just when you most need to know where you are and where you're going. Paper charts are a good backup since they also give you the advantage of seeing the "big picture" that might be hard to see on the small screen of an electronic chartplotter. If your backup navigation system is a GPS, we would suggest, it should be a handheld GPS. It can be carried with you if you must abandon your ship, and also it can be carried along when cruising with others so you have a personal backup navigation system at all times. We even carry ours when using the Alaska ferry, to follow our route and anticipate the course ahead.
Radar - If you can afford it, and you cruise at night or have frequent fogs, have radar. These 'eyes' can save you or your vessel when visibility drops to zero. But don't count on radar - vessels can be lost in sea clutter, especially when our small boats are rearing like bucking broncos in a heavy sea, and some objects (logs, small fiber glass boats, ice) don't reflect well or at all.
Know how to use your equipment - If you use electronics, and most do today, know how to use the instruments. The time to read the User Manual is not in the midst of an unexpected gale. There are three ways to learn electronic instrumentation: practice, practice, and practice! It can be helpful to have another cruiser help you get started, but cruising is ultimately a "do it yourself" world. We first learned to apply our chartplotter and radar while cruising a canal! We have only used our radar, in many years of cruising, only three times when we absolutely required it - but every week we turn it on, play with all the controls, and practice with it. We plot waypoints in our GPS unit (and that electronically links from our chartplotter to our radar) every evening for the next day's cruise - and still do it even in a canal.
Keep your radio on - tuned to VHF 9 and 16. These are the hailing and distress frequencies. Coast Guard announcements that might affect your security are heard on these channels (weather changes, ship movement or military exercises, vessels in distress that might require your help, etc.). Other boats can hail you about hazards or just to chat. If you are in an area of heavy commercial traffic, or locks and bridges, monitor their channels (often 12 or 13).
"Little boat dead ahead! - What are your intentions? - Or ... who are your next of kin?" -- heard on Channel 13
Have a depth sounder - and keep it on. We keep an alarm set - always - usually at ten-foot depth in coastal areas and seven feet on rivers or the Gulf. We use the 'keel offset' so zero depth on our sounder is the depth of our engines when they are trimmed full down - two feet.
Have all the Coast Guard safety equipment - and keep it up to date. There are good rreasons why the Coast Guard requires life preservers (p.f.d. - personal flotation devices), flares, whistles, mirrors, etc. Hopefully, you'll never need them, but if you do, your life will depend on them.
Patiently Waiting Out the Predicted Bad Weather
-----Oh, yes - El would like to add that there are several other considerations, as illustrated above: warm clothes aboard, and a drink of your choice (for the sundowner after the hook is down).
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