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Slow it down and other cruising tips

Slow it down and other cruising tips

Welcome to our summer getaway issue. We’ve assembled a collection of cruising stories this month that span the coast, literally, from Maine to Alaska, as well as a big chunk of the Heartland in the form of the Great Loop. In addition, Diana L. Brown provides a close-up look at Nantucket, Mass., and Steve Blakely takes you on a little loop cruise of his own making, through Virginia and North Carolina.

I spoke with several of the writers who contributed to this issue and picked their brains for information that might be useful no matter where you do your boating.

George Sass, whose piece on exploring Maine begins on Page 36, says that when he’s cruising new waters he studies his charts in advance and enters waypoints and routes in his GPS/plotter before getting under way each day. “Then you’re dealing with one less variable,” says Sass, who three years ago completed a yearlong 8,000-mile cruise of the Great Loop and the Bahamas on his Thomas Point 43, Sawdust. “All of a sudden the fog rolls in, and there’s a freighter nearby. You’re not wondering where you’re going.”

Sass also suggests becoming proficient at using your plotter, radar and sonar in good weather and non-stressful situations so that their operation is second-nature when conditions go downhill. That’s good advice, especially for those of us whose boats are on the hard for several months each year.

To help remember seldom-used plotter functions, I write the steps down in a small waterproof notebook I carry on board for recording waypoints and other navigation notes. It makes finding the correct keystrokes a lot faster and easier than thumbing through the manual.

Sass makes one additional point that couldn’t be more on the money. “When in doubt,” he says, “slow down or stop.” As someone who has spent a good deal of time on the water at night, I can attest to the value of that simple piece of advice. Don’t make a decision based on an assumption or a hope — “I think that’s the entrance” — especially in limited visibility or at night.

Contributing writer John Love earlier this year spent several days on the Grand Tour 2006, an 850-mile cruise of the Inside Passage through Canadian and Alaskan waters (Page 18). The owner of a Grand Banks 42, Love returned to Long Island Sound with an even greater appreciation for the importance of good ground tackle. “Any boat I build will have the biggest anchor and longest chain I can handle,” says Love, who carries the largest aluminum spade that will fit on his trawler as his primary anchor, along with 200 feet of 3/8-inch high-tensile chain. (For a secondary anchor, he uses a large Fortress with chain-and-nylon rode.)

“Once I had real confidence in my ground tackle on Maramor,” he says, “I could sleep at night.”

While stressing the importance of traditional plotting skills, both Sass and Love also sing the praises of electronic charts used in conjunction with radar for navigating foggy, rocky coasts and other challenging situations. “Electronic charts and easy-to-operate radars make Maine much more reachable for the average boater,” says Love, who will be making his third cruise Down East this summer. “Even when conditions are bad, you know exactly where you are. It’s very easy to get confused. There are so many rocks and shoals and obstructions.”

Eva Stob has more good advice for would-be Great Loop cruisers than there is space here to print it. But this Loop veteran did leave me with an observation I think is applicable to us all. “Boaters always seem to be in such a hurry,” says Stob, who with her husband, Ron, is founder and director of America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association (Page 30). “It’s good not to hurry. Visit the little towns. Have time to meet up with other people. There’s no reason to rush. You get more of the essence if you’re not on plane all of the time.”

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I recently received sad news concerning a longtime yachtsman who played an important role in Soundings’ history. Donald C. McGraw, of the McGraw publishing family and a one-time co-owner of Soundings, died June 11. He was 81.

McGraw threw us a financial lifeline back in 1984 when the publication was struggling from the impact of a recession, oil shortages and other factors. McGraw and Soundings founding publisher and co-owner Jack Turner sold Soundings in 1997 to our current owner, Trader Publishing Company.

McGraw also was the founding publisher of Nautical Quarterly, the hardcover yachting periodical known for striking photography and in-depth articles on everything from marine art to nautical history to racing. An avid sailor, McGraw at the time of his death owned a 124-foot Delta, Defiant, and a Hinckley T29, Poppasquash.

We are grateful for the safe harbor Don provided Soundings when the weather turned rough way back when.