Thursday, February 26, 2015


0600 Red sky in the morning...uh oh.
Plan in detail
Leave expectations behind
Adapt to changes easily
Need to be nowhere
Support your decisions

The wind is howling 25 knots with occasional gusts to 30 knots. The rig is whining, the wavelets being whipped into a frenzy by the wind are slapping against the hull at such a rate that I keep thinking it's raining buckets. We're “safe at the dock” which, while it might be safer, turns out to be much more work for Tim and much harder on Kintala. Since Kintala is pointing 210° and the wind is out of 200°, she's being pushed hard against the dock. Hard. Fenders are grinding, lines are creaking, and with the three foot tidal range here the lines must be adjusted every half hour or so. Of the few things I miss about our time at Boulder Yacht Club, floating concrete docks are very, very high on the list.

We waited weeks for a weather window to cross from Miami to Bimini. We passed on one two weeks ago because it was only one day long and would have left us stuck at Bimini for 4 days after that. When this window showed its face, it was 4 days long. Four days. In February. We were psyched.

We prepped the boat and ourselves and staged outside No Name Harbor for a crossing. Our Plan was originally for an early morning 1:00am departure on Monday, arriving at high tide around 11:30am. Looking at the grib files just before going to sleep, we discovered that the wind and waves hadn't settled down as much as we thought, and we decided instead to cross later that morning, giving the seas time to settle, in spite of the fact that we would arrive at dead low tide. Tuesday looked like a better day to cross, but we needed a few days' worth of weather window to get to West End after we checked in to Bimini. Cross we did. It was a bit lumpy early in the morning but as the morning progressed it tamped down even more and offered us as good a motor sail as we usually have. Deciding not to risk the low-tide channel, we spent the night in the bight to the South and came in to claim our dock the following afternoon on high tide.

As we spent yesterday sourcing propane and checking out the few protected anchorages Bimini has to offer, we stopped periodically to check the grib forecast. It became more and more apparent that our Plans to sail to West End on Thursday in the forecast South winds was rapidly fading as an option. This was only reinforced by our friends on Savvy Sea Horse as they returned from their morning departure for places East to tie back up to the dock, and that only with the help of a lot of extra hands manning the lines. They had been pounded with unforecast winds and waves and decided to turn back.

The reality of life is that any plans we of Human Kind like to make are wispy shadows at best. Certainly those who live on land, for the most part free of all but the most extreme influence of weather, have a fairly successful plan to completion ratio. Those of us who live in direct relationships to Mother Nature fair less well. In fact, as Tim and I have discussed a lot recently, we can't think of a single plan that we've made since we left to go cruising that has come to pass as written. So why make them at all?

Humans need some sort of structure. We have a need to feel we have some control over our existence, even if it turns out to be an illusion. Of all the lessons I've taken away from cruising so far, the realization that I have virtually no control over the daily course of my time on this planet has been the most shocking, especially for an organizational nutcase like myself. I should have realized this after the sudden termination of both of our jobs before we left, but honestly we'd done pretty well at bringing ideas for our future from semination to fruition over the years we'd been together. It was a lot of years and I'd become complacent, even arrogant. Mother Nature put me in my place.

In the 16 months since we pulled out of Oak Harbor to go cruising I've had the opportunity to meet a lot of cruisers. Most are new or short-timers like us, but we've met quite a few who are long-term cruisers. There is one defining characteristic of the long-term cruisers: they are “settled”. They have a relaxed approach to all things cruising. New cruisers can be spotted a mile away by the tension in their gestures, the speed and intensity of their speech, or by their false bravado. Long-term cruisers can be recognized by their quiet confidence, their easy-going demeanor, and their settled nature. They're comfortable in their skins. When you ask them what their Plans are, where they're headed next, most will answer “We're not sure” or “We'll see where the wind takes us”. It's not that they don't have a plan at all, it's just that they've come to terms with the fact that any plans they make are fragile. The old cliché that cruising plans are written in sand at low tide got its infamy from hard-learned lessons.

We're not exactly newbies anymore. At 16 months we've outlasted a huge percentage of the cruisers that depart Mile Zero on the ICW each Fall, but we're a far cry from that “settled” point yet. I'm learning to deal with fragile plans that evaporate and starting to be more comfortable with my lack of control, but I have a long way to go. For those of you still dreaming, just starting out, or fellow organizational nut cases like myself, I offer up my method of dealing.

  • Plan in detail
    • You have to plan. Weather demands it, tides demand it, on-board stores demand it, maintenance issues demand it. Make your plans in detail as if they were going to come to pass.
  • Leave expectations behind
    • Expectations are probably the biggest killer of cruising dreams. People dream, and they expect their dreams to happen exactly like that. A lot of dreams are constructed around advertising mediums like cruising magazines. Telling their readers that they might have to sit somewhere on anchor for a week without their favorite rum, a full holding tank and very little sleep doesn't sell magazines.
  • Adapt to changes easily
    • When you make your plans, have alternates in mind. Rather than being married to one plan, make many and choose the best for the moment but always have the alternates in mind.
  • Need to be nowhere
    • Never, never, never have a schedule. Schedules to meet someone, schedules for a marina, schedules for maintenance all are recipes for disaster. You will make bad decisions based on schedules, ones that will endanger you. Of course you need to have schedules sometimes. Just realize that whoever is on the other end of that schedule will rarely see you when planned. (See "alternates" above.)
  • Support your decisions
    • Gather all of the information at hand, make your decisions, then don't second guess them. Second guessing wastes precious time and robs you of your enjoyment of the present. I know this because it's a particular weakness of mine. When gathering information, be as thorough as possible. Surround yourself with every means of weather information gathering that you can afford. The money will not be wasted. Resources like an iPad with Pocket Grib and Marine Weather by Accuweather apps, and bookmarks for and Weather Underground or Passage Weather are invaluable. An SSB or inexpensive portable shortwave radio paired with HF Weather Fax on the iPad can give you weather when out of range of internet or NOAA VHF reports. Tide charts, sun and moon rising and setting tables, and the slack water schedule of your intended location(s) are imperative.

I recently spent some time with a life-long cruiser while we were on the mooring ball at Dinner Key. We don't meet very many of them out here, in fact I can only think of two at the moment. In speaking with her on her boat I was impressed with the calm and peace she displayed. My goal is to be more like her. Will I still have lists and spreadsheets and piles of cruising guides on the nav station? Absolutely. But at least I hope to be able to laugh and smile and roll on to the next Plan. And if, like today, that plan means being tied to the dock in Bimini for 6 days instead of one, then hey – it's a far cry from a grey carpeted cubicle and I am the most fortunate human on the planet.

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