Many people dream about taking a boat to a far-away place. Like any adventure it is not without risk and maybe that is part of the appeal. Perhaps your boating dreams picture a fishing trip with friends or visiting a tropical island; mine are more solitary and green. I often imagine myself as the first explorer on wooded shores—the Christopher Columbus of my generation—sans the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria. So the reality of my boating experiences often follows the same theme. I enjoy gliding into a quiet anchorage and exploring.
I have a friend who bought a new 25-foot SeaSwirl powerboat this past summer and we’ve spent much of the fall and early winter discussing out-of-the-way places to explore along the coast. Our talks have progressed from day-trips and single destinations to long weekends where one can spend each night in a new place, just a bit further down the coast.
So here’s the thing about boating and exploring that will make your adventures turn out right. You need a plan, specifically a voyage plan, to navigate there and back. Don’t take the approach like you are hopping in your car and expect to see road signs and follow the GPS. Professional mariners know that NOT having a plan leads to more accidents so they not only study charts for dangers and lay out courses, but communicate the plan to others onboard. A voyage plan is in addition to a float plan that tells people where you are going and how long you might be gone. A voyage plan studies the route and the expected sights along the way. After all, not every trip is completed in flat calm water or excellent visibility, not to mention free of medical emergencies. I’m not trying to scare you, just trying to get you to be a little more boy scout like in being prepared.
There is a professional mariner course called Bridge Resource Management that teaches you to put a voyage plan in place, communicate it, and manage through disruptions to the plan to stay on track and or get back on track. I’m encouraging you to have fun exploring new places in your boat, not guess how to get there. Even if you’ve been there before, you should have a plan. You’ve likely spent lots of time, energy and expense equipping your boat for most of the challenges you might encounter on the water, so equipping yourself with information only stands to reason.
So, get out the chartbook and companion cruising guide and make some plans for exploring afloat during the coming boating season. Lay down courses, know how long each leg of the journey should take, input marks along your route into your GPS, check the tides, lights, etc and give yourself some alternatives if something goes awry… so that when you actually do find yourself looking around the next curve of the shore you’ll do so with anticipation and confidence. Columbus’ crew was up against the unknown and almost mutinied because they thought they would fall off the end of the earth. Being lost in the fog or unsure where you are is simply nerve wracking and unnecessary. Navigation, voyage planning and exploring are fun if you are prepared—have fun exploring.