“Having Fun Since 1988,” proclaimed the large blue banner. It was grandly draped over the side of YaBut’s cabin. She was part of a small flotilla of Grady-Whites from about 25 to 36 feet tied up at Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor in St. Augustine, Fla.
I’d noticed these fleets in past years while cruising in Florida and noted a singular commonality: They were, as the banner said, having fun — a lot of it. They call themselves “The Grady Bunch,” and it was easy to pick out the boats in the fleet, not just because of their make but also because of the bouquet of roses on each.
Their thing is to go on cruises — long and short — be safe and have a great time. They frequently stop in marinas where there are shoreside lodgings, as is the case at Camachee Cove. This provides an option for those who prefer not to sleep aboard. The group now has about 200 boats. They’re based in Vero Beach, Fla., 175 miles south of St. Augustine on the ICW, but they come from as far away as Jacksonville, more than 200 miles north of Vero.
There are cruises to the Bahamas, mostly to the Abacos, all the way out to Man-O-War Cay. But the cruises don’t necessarily involve long leaps. Sometimes they have “Secret Lunch” cruises. The cruise will be announced but not the location. This is to make it impossible for anybody to cop out and come by car. They’ve also cruised about 250 miles south of Vero to the Florida Keys and to Charleston, S.C., about 500 miles north. Although these trips are generally in the relatively protected waters of the ICW, the Bahamas trips involve ocean crossings, including the Gulf Stream, which can be dangerous in the wrong kind of weather — the kind of weather they don’t go in.
The Abacos trips also involve running a long distance across the Bahamas Banks after you leave the ocean. The Banks are wide open and quite desolate, and that passage is about 100 miles. But the Banks are unbelievably beautiful in good weather.
The Abacos trips illustrate how, with good planning, you can go far and be safe. The boats can travel in the ICW to a jumping-off point at Lake Worth Inlet (Palm Beach). At this point there are plenty of marinas and shoreside lodgings if the weather goes bad. The trip from Lake Worth Inlet to the western rim of the Bahamas is about 60 miles, not a bad run for boats such as these in calm conditions. That brings you to Grand Bahama Island’s “West End” where, again, there’s a protected marina and shoreside facilities. If needed, the trip can be delayed here to wait for weather.
They occasionally anchor out as a group, for example on a trip to the Dry Tortugas and for the Christmas Boat Parade in Fort Lauderdale. But usually they choose good marina stops so they can stretch their legs, stay in hotel rooms if they want and go to good restaurants. The captain of YaBut and the ringleader of the group is Bruce MacIntyre, who owns Vero Marine Center (www.veromarine.com) at Vero Beach. I am told the name of his boat reflects an oft-recurring comment of his wife in response to most of his ideas, which he apparently carries through nonetheless. When we met the group, they were at the end destination of a cruise. They’d been at the marina for three nights, enjoying St. Augustine. Sunday morning they headed out, most headed back to Vero. And they planned to do it in two days. Why rush?
I’m telling you about this group for several reasons. Almost every day I hear people complaining about boating. It’s too expensive. It’s too much work. You must have a huge yacht to have fun. There’s no place new to go that’s not too far. The truth is that it doesn’t have to be that way, and these folks, along with many others like them, prove it. The bottom line is that with well-planned boating you don’t need a huge yacht burning refinery loads of fuel every hour to have some serious fun, so let’s explore some of the things you can do to continue boating, have fun and not break the bank.
Boat out of your box
Try expanding your boating to add less expensive fun. For example, it costs very little to find a quiet, isolated cove and anchor out for the weekend. You could even spend your next vacation gunkholing away from civilization, finding a different beautiful anchorage every night. This may be much less expensive than what you did last year and much more enjoyable. And though your boat may not be tricked out for this type of boating, there are things you can do to it, temporarily or permanently, that will make it better suited for different and less expensive options.
Make anchoring fun
Many of us share the dream of anchoring under beautiful sunsets off white Caribbean beaches, enjoying tropical breezes. It’s what the songs are about. But going there in your boat, with your finances, may be not feasible. You can, however, do the same sort of thing with your boat in your locale relatively inexpensively. It takes a few improvements and changes in what you do, but it adds to your fun and investment. Many of these changes you can do yourself during winter months.
Good anchoring equipment is crucial. Unless you are reasonably confident that the anchor will hold in a blow, your night on the hook won’t be much fun. Chain rode is the key to successful anchoring — the more, the better. But it’s heavy. And if your boat is designed to quickly get up on plane and go fast, it may not do well with a lot of weight in the bow. But you can store extra anchor chain in an area where it won’t impair the boat’s stability or ride. Usually this is down low, aft or amidships.
The extra chain can be moved to the bow when needed by pulling it along in sections at a time. Mark the ends with bright tape to save time sorting it out. It’s easy to connect the chain between the anchor (or its short length of existing chain) and nylon rode using shackles and pliers. For fast-moving marina hopping, you may wish to keep it ashore.
Check your anchor shackle to be sure it’s not corroded tight, and bring stainless wire to seize the shackle pin after you attach the extra chain. And you don’t necessarily need a heavy anchor to be secure. As I mentioned earlier, Fortress anchors are not only light in weight (high-tensile aluminum magnesium alloy), but they also can be stored disassembled in small spaces and quickly assembled (www.fortressanchors.com). Of course, you’ll need to learn good anchoring techniques, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.
In some of the best anchorages, your chain will be covered with mud when you pull it in. This can make a mess, particularly if you have to store it somewhere other than in an anchor locker. You could install a 12-volt washdown pump, which draws water from a through-hull, but this is more money and more complication. You can wash the chain as it comes up by grabbing it with your hands and pulling it up a few feet through the water, then letting it go to fall back again. If you’re only pulling a short section at a time, it shouldn’t be too heavy. Repeat as necessary for each section of chain. This up-down motion usually removes most mud from the links.
Inexpensive creature comforts
Unless you’re younger and tougher than I am, you like some creature comforts. You can get them easily by stopping at marinas, as the Grady Bunch does. But you can also get a reasonable amount of creature comforts on the hook without a huge yacht. You may need to invest in some different equipment, but it’s a good investment if it keeps you on the water having fun within your budget.
Many boats with accommodations are built with the assumption that air conditioning will be used continuously. They have inadequate ventilation for the times when you’re sitting at anchor with no genset. Here’s how to handle that. Get one or more wind scoops. These come in various configurations, but basically they’re cloth scoops that catch the wind and funnel it down a hatch. A single wind scoop on the forward hatch can push cooling air through most of the boat. You may need a bit of ingenuity to rig them, but you can do it inexpensively. If you’re at a dock you can align the scoops to catch air coming across the beam, from astern or wherever.
Also, small 12-volt fans use little power, and you’ll be amazed at the difference they make. Caframo markets a variety of efficient fans (www.caframo.com/marine). Plan to reach your anchorage early to let the boat cool down for the evening while you’re enjoying a nearby beach or perhaps paddling around in a kayak or tube. If it’s practical and safe, open a hatch to the engine space to facilitate cooling. Much of the heat on boats comes from the engine space.
If you don’t have opening portholes, you may be able to install a few. Some install portholes in the flat surface of their large non-opening windows. This can be relatively simple if the “window” is thick enough. The biggest issue may simply be cutting the Plexiglas or whatever material is used in the windows.
If your opening ports and hatches don’t have screens, buy screen cloth (usually available in outdoors stores) that you can drape over those openings so you don’t have to close up for bugs. A permanent or temporary cockpit cover or extended Bimini top with screen sides will add cooler extra living space.
Carrying enough water can be a major concern. Many express cruisers have enough room for good tankage but have small tanks because the weight of the water slows them down and makes it harder to get on plane and because their intended use is marina hopping. Depending on your boat and its weight and space capacity, you may be able to carry extra water in 5-gallon jugs. Avoid bigger jugs because you’ll need to be able to distribute the weight, not to mention avoiding a hernia. Store them where their weight won’t adversely affect the boat’s safety or ride — for example, strapped to the swim platform.
On a small boat there may not be a shower. Sun showers will store extra water and give you a warm shower in the cockpit. These are essentially water-holding bags or other containers (dark-colored to soak up the heat) with a hose and sprinkler. Leave them in the sun to warm, place or hang them high and let gravity provide the water flow. You can buy them or make your own. I’ve used 5-gallon jugs and rigged a hose and sprinkler to the opening. You may prefer to install a shower at the swim platform if you don’t have one.
If you have an electric stove and a generator you may be able to prepare meals much as you do at home. If you don’t, a marine gas grill hanging overboard astern will be handy. Mount it downwind of the boat and far from combustibles, such as gasoline. Plan meals that don’t require long cooking times, such as kabobs, which can be easily prepared ahead of time at home.
Origo makes a non-pressurized alcohol stove that is great for simple cooking without electricity. If you have an inverter, it’s possible to use a small electric crockpot under way on longer trips. It draws very little current and is easily powered with the alternator charging the battery that feeds the inverter. A small microwave also can easily be powered by a good inverter.
Things to do
When you get the anchor set, you may want to just kick back and read. However, there are plenty of other options, even with a small boat. Here are a few examples. A dinghy is always fun, but if your boat isn’t large enough to carry a dinghy you can probably tie a kayak aboard or use an inflatable kayak. They’re easy to launch, and you can explore with them, exercise, fish and get ashore to a beach. Some people even sail kayaks.
Sailboards and stand-up paddleboards are also an option. Blow-up water toys take almost no space while stored deflated and can be fun at anchor. The Nettle Net Boat Pool (www.nojellyfish.com) is deflated when stored, but it gives you a “swimming pool” off your stern while keeping nettles away.
Surprisingly there’s more and more footprint for wireless access, so you can go online with a laptop or whatever-pod and do whatever turns you on there. This option will depend on where you are, your carrier and your devices. Be careful about some of the inexpensive plans that seem to offer great services but are limited to a small footprint in the city where you live. Outside this footprint, where you’ll probably want to be in your boat, you may not have the service, or the cost may be higher. Over the years, we’ve found Verizon to generally have the best coverage along the East Coast.
If your boat has a generator, this isn’t much of an issue, although few boats are designed, built and maintained so that it’s safe to run a generator while you’re sleeping. This means no air conditioning at anchor, but we already discussed solutions for that. If you have adequate batteries, a good marine-grade “smart” inverter/charger, a smart regulator controlling a heavy-duty alternator, such as those by Balmar (www.balmar.net), and proper wiring and monitoring equipment, you’ll have enough juice for many creature comforts. (Longer runs may be needed to allow your alternator to fully charge your batteries.)
We use modular deep-cycle batteries by Surrette/Rolls (www.surrette.com). You can install them one cell at a time. Other useful deep-cycle batteries are available, such as those that use AGM technology. We also have a Xantrex ProSine 2.0 inverter/charger. It can be configured to charge different sizes and types of batteries, and it will put out as much as 105 amps DC when enough AC power is available. A little generator time goes a long way toward bringing up our banks.
Many good smaller units are also available. Always leave the dock with the bank fully charged from shore power, using a smart marine battery charger. This sounds like a lot, but the results should be worth it. But it still helps to learn to curtail some electricity consumption when you’re unplugged. There are many ways to do this, some of which I’ve already mentioned.
Keeping food and beverages cold is important to comfort. Your refrigerator may be a big electricity consumer, particularly if it’s a household type. But it may be a good and relatively inexpensive DIY project to convert small lockers or iceboxes into efficient low-draw refrigerators that even include small freezers (check out www.frigoboat.com).
If you don’t have refrigeration or sufficient battery power for it at anchor, improve your icebox so you can keep foods cold for at least a long weekend. Most iceboxes lack adequate insulation, but adding this may be another good DIY job on your boat. The type and amount you add will depend on access around the box and what’s already there.
Even if you can only add a small amount, it should help, but the more, the better. A detailed discussion of this subject could take a book, but there is plenty of information on the Web. Enter “icebox insulation” in the search box in the upper-right-hand corner of www.boatus.com, and you’ll get many results. Use block ice rather than cubes. It lasts much longer. If you can’t find it, use shaved ice, which will meld together and also last longer than cubes. Sometimes fish houses sell it.
The sky’s the limit; your boat’s the trip
Your options depend on your boat and goals. And your boat may already have some of the features mentioned here. I can only scratch the surface as to what you can do. I haven’t gone into technical discussions of installations and equipment because this will vary with the equipment you get, how you plan to use it and your boat.
For example, too much weight, especially in the wrong place, can make an otherwise safe boat dangerous. Also it’s important to follow manufacturers’ instructions and to install and use products properly. Many items, such as those involving electricity, may require installation by a qualified professional to American Boat and Yacht Council standards. Many others make good wintertime projects.
Utilizing your assets for fun
You’re probably thinking, Hey, you’re talking about spending a lot of money to make these changes. But look at the whole picture. First, you can do many yourself, perhaps some this winter. And the dollars will get you more options for more fun at less expense. You’re enhancing the investment you’ve already made.
While you’re thinking about projects to make your boat more economical and usable, don’t forget the other side of the equation. Spend some time going over local cruising guides and charts and talking to others who are already doing this sort of boating. You’ll probably be amazed at all the new experiences waiting within your near horizons and how much less expensive it can be. And you won’t have to just listen to boating-in-paradise songs. You can make your own.
See related article:
December 2012 issue