As you read this, you’ll realize that when I’m boating I typically prefer quiet and solitude. I like being on the water to get far from the madding crowd. I don’t like rafting up, and while a get-together and barbecue at the dock is fun, I tend to party hardy away from boats. Here’s a look at the destinations I enjoy most, after more than 40 years on the water in sail- and powerboats.
1. My all-time favorite destination is — or was, since I haven’t been there in years — the Madeline Island Yacht Club in Wisconsin. Madeline Island is part of the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior, maybe a mile off Bayfield, Wis. There are very few cars or trucks on the island, it’s very laid-back, and the club marina is sheltered from Lake Superior. Superior, of all the Great Lakes, is most like the Atlantic except that your boat sits lower in the water because fresh water is less buoyant than the ocean. The storms can be ferocious; some are legendary. We were sailing in mid-October with the temperature hovering around freezing, no wind (OK, we were motoring), and the precipitation trying to make up its mind whether to be rain or snow. A breeze from the north developed, and, remembering the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, we turned tail for the shelter of Madeline Island. The so-called “witch of November” did come early. By the time we rounded the southern end of the island, the wind was blowing more than 25 knots. Ninety minutes later, after we berthed, it was blowing a full gale and became a blizzard. Fortunately, we had sufficient makings for a chili con carne, which fed all the boaters stranded at the docks. Our boat had a fireplace, and guests brought beer, wine and spirits. It was good.
2. There are 20 other islands in the Apostles, with anchorage opportunities around several of them. I never saw bears on Bear Island, but Devils Island — honeycombed with caves — roars when there is wave action. The area’s topography is rugged, varied and beautiful. Days are warm-to-hot in the summer, and nights can drop to 40 degrees, so sweaters, shorts, T-shirts and swimming and foul weather gear are all in order. The only downside is the state “bird” of all states on Lake Superior is the mosquito.
3. On the East Coast, I like Beaufort, N.C. However, I don’t like it during the snowbird migrations — south or north — when it’s crowded. There are a lot of very nice marinas along the Intracoastal Waterway, and I never encountered anything but good ones. Beaufort offers good moorings, anchorages and docking. If you’re heading south on the ICW, be sure to go past Radio Island, round it and approach from the south, rather than attempt the two channels shown on the charts. There is a navigable creek flowing into Beaufort Marina harbor that offers a quiet, relaxing place to drop the hook, so long as you allow clearance for traffic. There are a couple of good marinas upstream, and the area is a good hurricane hole.
4. Of course, there are the old standbys. Block Island, R.I., is nice during the week, but crowded on weekends and holidays. There are some moorings available, and if you get one, don’t leave it. There is an anchorage in Great Salt Pond, but the northwest portion has very poor holding ground. In fact, the biggest problems with the Great Salt Pond are crowding and people with inadequate ground tackle and ignorance regarding anchoring techniques. The island has some fun watering holes and a lot of space for biking, strolling and picnicking. Then there are the tourist traps (but worth the trapping) of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, Mass. It’s good to be equipped with radar out there, and be sure your skills for boating in fog are sharp.
5. On the West Coast, I really like Cat Harbor on the west side of Catalina Island. It’s quiet, restful and offers shelter from the Santa Ana winds, which can make for great sailing but lousy anchoring. Go ashore by dinghy, and you’ll find homes, unpaved streets and roaming bison.
6. Another favorite on the West Coast is Morro Bay, Calif. It can be kind of a scary place, since it’s subject to enormous waves when there’s a stiff wind from the west or northwest. There was an article in the March issue of Soundings about a Coast Guard Motor Lifeboat that was knocked down by a 20-plus-foot breaker. (The crew had been practicing in 14- to 16-footers.) The currents can be tricky, but if you use common sense and exercise situational awareness regarding the weather — both locally and well offshore — it is worth the visit. I would raise Coast Guard Station Morro Bay for a take on the feasibility of attempting to enter the harbor. Once inside, the marina and yacht club offer cozy berths and a chance to visit a lovely, laid-back town. Rent a car and go sightseeing.