We flew to the San Francisco area this week. The trip is epic because it reflects some of the decisions we made before buying Red Ranger. It illuminated some of our previously dim understanding.
Some years ago — never mind how long precisely…
The full quote: "Some years ago--never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world."
Some years ago, the Commodore and I were discussing what to do with a big, empty house, two kids who lived on the West Coast, and parents who were reasonably well set up with our various sisters.
My sister had given me a cruising guide to the Northeast. We bought cruising guides to California. We read.
We'd been to Annapolis many times. I'd chartered boats in SF Bay, San Diego Bay, and Long Beach. The Commodore had sailed in San Diego and Long Beach, but not SF. (My "Sailing Resume"; some old Sail Travel notes.)
And this is a big "however" — perhaps deserving a different font.
A cruising guide in the hands of a n00b could be as much harm as good. If you're at all interested, you read with "happy glasses" and see only the good bits. If you're worried or concerned, you put on your "bitter shades" and see all of your worries and concerns maginified and reinforced.
There's little "objectivity". Indeed, there's no real need for objectivity. This is a lifestyle choice. It's not climate science or public policy. It's a pair of personal decisions that we hope will coincide and properly enmesh.
The point is not that cruising guides are useless or even questionable. We've met Mark and Diana Doyle, we've seen a little bit of what goes into the OTW Chart Guides. These books are essential; they're thorough and objective. But. Each reader has happy glasses or bitter shades planted firmly across their nose. As Nilsson said "You see what you want to see, you hear what you want to hear."
The Big Choices
Once we made the essential gateway decision, this let us into a place with a million more decisions. The gateway decision was this: Do we want to "sail about a little and see the watery part of the world"? Once past the threshold of who and what, we have to decide where, when, how. There's no good answer to why, so we won't go there.
"When" was easy. See Preparation: while we're still young and good-looking.
"How" was not as easy. It was plenty scary to consider quitting our jobs, selling a perfectly good house, buying a boat, and sailing until we're broke. Or family obligations catch up with us. But it looked like a good idea at the time. We read Beth Leonard's Cost of Cruising on the three classes of cruising budgets: Simplicity, Moderation and High Life. Like a lot of people, we hoped we could live on the budget of Simplicity.
Which leaves us with "where". Where exactly do we want to buy this mysterious boat and sail around?
Gulf of Mexico
East could mean anything from Maine to Florida. Since we're talking about living aboard, we know that south is better than north. Since we're also talking about hurricanes, there's a limit on how far south. We were vague on the details, but the Chesapeake Bay seemed reasonable.
[Insurance companies tend to provide the final words on this decision. N of Cumberland Island Georgia from June 1 to November 1 is typical.]
West Coast meant choosing between SF, LA and SD. There are waiting lists for slips at many of the west coast marinas. Waiting lists. Strike 1: lots of boats, too few marinas.
The California cruising guide was thin. Strike 2: remarkably thin crusing guide. Compare California with Northeast Atlantic, Southeast Atlantic and Chesapeake guides. Not to mention the ICW guide which is it's own two-volume set. Two volumes! (Norfolk to Florida and Florida are separate books!) Strike 3: California's coast is challenging for n00bz.
The East Coast isn't perfect. The hurricane, snow, and Cape Hatteras issues are profound.
The Lens of Experience
In the ensuing years, we refit Red Ranger and cruised 3,000 or so miles (and counting) on the US East Coast.
Going to San Francisco this week made us very happy with our decision to start out in the Chesapeake. This trip brought the advantages into sharper focus. Starting with marinas that don't have waiting lists and destinations without number.
The main part of SF bay is about 12 miles wide by perhaps 60 miles long. Since not all of it is navigable by deep-draft sailboats, it's more like 50 miles long.
Compare this with Chesapeake Bay which is as much as 30 miles wide and 200 miles long. The widest part navigable by Red Ranger is closer to 20 miles across. This is at about 37°43′ N, between Dividing Creek and Onancock on the Eastern Shore; just south of Tangier Island.
When we Circumnavigated the DelMarVa Peninsula in 2011 we were very much anticipating the 400 mile journey spread over two weeks. It was an important shakedown for us (and Red Ranger.)
One of the high points of summering in Annapolis is the first four days of the annual southward migration. Here are the stops we made this season:
That's four full days sailing (and motoring and motor-sailing) from anchorage to anchorage. No docks. No moorings. Free anchorages each night.
As the crow flies, we only covered about 120 nm. But our distances run each day (including up and down various creeks and rivers) totalled 181 nm.
Beyond our limited experience, we've met other cruisers who keep their boats on the East Coast because it's so much fun to cruise the Chesapeake in the summer. We've also met folks who keep their boats further south so that they can cruise Florida and the Bahamas in the winter. In the Chesapeake, folks will put the boats on the hard for the winter, launch them in the spring, and spend parts of the summer cruising.
We can see that we did The Right Thing™ learning to be liveaboard cruisers on the US East Coast. The sailing here looks to be actually ideal.