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Summer cruising guide

Advice from sailors who have logged 50,000 sea miles spanning 30 years of cruising the East Coast from Maine to Florida

Prior to our departure on any passage aboard our Grand Banks 36, Sea Story II, my husband, Warren, and I follow certain procedures. Our routine has been honed from 50,000 sea miles spanning 30 years of cruising the East Coast, from New Brunswick to Florida, including 16 trips to Maine.

The night before leaving I make lunches so I won’t have to fuss with them under way. And I brew coffee in the morning and fill a Thermos for midmorning breaks.

We apply our sunscreen and don our life jackets, even in the most perfect weather (having been struck by a whale once). We take the necessary charts and cruising guides (which list facilities and the radio channels they monitor), a copy of “Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book,” and binoculars up to the flybridge — the platform from which we operate 90 percent of the time. We permanently store our anemometer in a locker on the flybridge for times when wind velocity needs to be tracked, along with a roll of paper towels for drying condensation and wiping off eyeglasses. Being a photographer, I also bring up my camera, film, a second lens and a notebook.

The skipper raises the Bimini for protection from sun and light rain. If we’re planning to stay at a marina,

we affix dock lines both port and starboard, since you’re never sure until you arrive which way you’ll have to berth. With the engines warmed, on go our steaming hats and we’re ready to embark.

Some cruisers rise late, eat late, depart late and arrive late. Our preference is to depart early, usually no later than 7 a.m. We’ve often had the best of the day by noon, though that’s obviously not always the case. And we’ve discovered that many of the more popular ports are full by 2 p.m., some even earlier.

Once under way we are vigilant, constantly raking the sea ahead and close aboard for lobster pots, logs and other debris that might foul our props or damage our hull. We try never to relax this careful watch, mindful of the caution in a poem we often repeat:

“Though pleased to watch the dolphins play/I mind my compass and my way.”

We try to keep our steaming to about six hours a day. Too long under way and the mind gets dull. Composure frays, and you have to rouse yourself to pay attention, lapsing into a sort of blankness in which things don’t register as sharply or quickly. We learned long ago not to put to sea if you’re tired and have a choice, since exhaustion magnifies and complicates everything.

We drive Sea Story II defensively against the occasional ignorant operation of other vessels, and slow down while passing any boat that might be affected by our wake. We record the waypoint of any aids to navigation not previously entered in our log.

When either of us goes below to use the head, check the engine, or bring something up to the flybridge, we toot the cabin horn upon entering and again upon leaving to return to the bridge. We do this because the person at the helm can’t see the person who has gone below, and anything can happen in between. We remind each other of the nearest Coast Guard station as we make our way along a coast, in the event that we might need help quickly.

We put the radio on scan, enjoying the often entertaining chatter of other pleasure boaters and commercial mariners.

Another of our practices is to make miles when we comfortably can. Sometimes we go farther than intended because the elements are so idyllic. We often seem to have the sea to ourselves. How empty some of the most popular cruising grounds in the world can be, even in the middle of summer. However, to put your stern to Maine’s Mount Desert Island and beyond requires some firming of purpose. Only a relative handful of other boaters chooses to cruise the waters east of Southwest and Northeast harbors, and those who do may harbor just a hint of apprehension about being “outward bound.”

That the sea has moods but no feelings was discerned very early. Any passage is a roll of the dice. Even the most uneventful cruise contains some measure of stress. That continual scanning of the surface can be tiring, as can a sun that’s too hot for hours on end. It’s wearisome to have the wind constantly roaring in your ears and a strain to steer straight into the brilliant sun just after sunrise. But even arduous passages can be beautiful.

Like most mariners, we carve our own little niche and settle ourselves into what we hope is not a rut but a cozy groove — the orderly framework in which we are most comfortable functioning, whether passagemaking or in port.