One of the main concerns for first-time charterers or lake/inland sailors is, “Will I be able to handle navigation ‘on the open ocean?’ ” Charter companies picture heavenly settings in the areas they cover, and they try to set up their bases where sailing is easy to moderately difficult.
But the reality is that although some charter areas are suitable for sailors with only basic navigational skills, different or unexpected conditions may make some cruising grounds more difficult. Never underestimate the elements, especially when navigating unfamiliar areas.
So the key word is “preparation,” bearing in mind that a charter is different in many ways from other cruising you may have done.
If you are a first-time charterer or if you are chartering in a specific area for the first time, here are some things to consider before booking a charter.
• Honestly assess your sailing ability and that of your crew, especially if the crew is composed of non-sailors or novices. You’re going sailing for fun, not to put yourself in frightening situations.
• Once you have located an area that suits you, call the charter company representative. Tell him or her about your skill level and heed the advice given.
• Use the Internet. Go to a sailing forum — like www.traveltalkonline.com, for example — and browse the archives. Ask questions. Don’t be embarrassed. Many charterers will make a point to guide you. Also, my Web site, www.sailonline.com, has a chart that rates charter areas by skill levels. (Click on “1st-Time Charterers,” then look under “Helpful Files & Resources.”)
Minimum navigation skills
At the very least, you should be able to:
• understand and use a nautical chart — longitude and latitude, distances, markers, depths, danger zones, etc.
• plot a course and understand true and magnetic courses
• estimate a collision course with another vessel
• keep track of a route by dead reckoning or GPS (Even in the easiest cruising grounds, you will need these skills if you get caught in a squall that can quickly push you into a danger zone. Also, in some areas there are so many little islands you can quickly become disoriented.)
What you should bring
• The latest edition of a guidebook or cruising guide for the charter area. Many later editions will include GPS waypoints. Some charter companies will send you material in advance of your cruise.
• A recent nautical chart of the area. You will find one on board the charter boat, but it is a good idea to get your own in advance so you can get acquainted with the area.
• There should be a basic charting kit with parallel rulers, dividers, etc., in the boat’s navigation area, but inquire in advance. Be sure to bring your own if there’s any doubt, or if you prefer your own set.