Saturday, June 14, 2014

Just Do It

Waterford, NY
42 47.286 N 73 40.813 N

During our annual northward migration Libby and I encountered a couple in Elizabeth City just starting their cruising life. They had a new boat, with all new equipment, and all of one overnight trip for shakedown and preparation, before they set out to do the great loop. They were eager for advice and we tried to be helpful. I heard the captain say they had no paper charts. I swallowed and kept my mouth shut. But a bit later he mentioned that he had not yet downloaded any charts for his new electronic chart plotter. Their next stop was Hampton Roads. Fortunately, I was able to persuade him to not go another mile before downloading those charts.

A week later we met another couple in Catskill, New York heading south to Norfolk. They had a very worthy looking Baba 35 from Taiwan. But this couple was so green that they had never used and anchor and never stepped in a dinghy before. The captain asked me to explain how his manual windlass worked. Gulp.

In private, Libby and I expressed our doubts to each other about the chances for these folks carrying out their plans. But then two things hit me.

First, we have been full-time cruising for nearly 10 years now, but in 2005, we too were very green. That first year we made lots of mistakes and we were ignorant of many important things, but that first virgin year was magic.

 In 2005, we thought it would be cool to start with a cruise from New York to Alaska (via Panama) to visit our son. We got as far as Mexico. Then, anchored off Yucatan, we realized that was not what we wanted to do. We turned around and sailed back to The Florida Keys without ever going ashore in Mexico. As blunders go, that was pretty big. 

Also in 2005, I saw a sign in the river that said “Dismal Swamp Route”, so I took it. We discovered the Dismal Swamp Canal (DSC), and Elizabeth City and the Rose Buddies and we were enchanted. Everything we did that virgin year (dumb or smart) is etched into our brains as meaningful life experiences.

Second, we were forgetting the one rule that all veteran cruisers eventually learn. Plans are pretty worthless. So what if they don’t complete the loop, or get to the intended destination? They’ll have a wonderful time and learn many new things nevertheless. The point of cruising is to have fun, not to execute plans.

We also met a third couple. The husband had extensive boating experience and a very level-headed attitude, but the wife had nearly zero experience. They have a very limited budget and a very little 26 foot sailboat. Nevertheless, they plan to cruise to Boot Key Harbor. I’m confident that they’ll make it, and that it will be the adventure of a lifetime.

The point is that these couples (green or not) were doing the right thing. Instead of sitting home year after year dreaming about cruising, they were out there doing it. I say bravo for them.

Flip the coin: We also met a man at the DSC Welcome Center. He had an extensive sailing resume from The South Pacific. He had sailed all the island groups from Hawaii to The Phillpines. But now he bought a motorboat in North Carolina and wanted to bring it to Fort Lauderdale. He was afraid to use the ICW because of all the problems he heard about shoaling, so he was going to ship his boat by truck.

I also think of all the intrepid veteran cruisers who are afraid to try the Dismal Swamp Canal route. Robert at Deep Creek Lock told me that about 9000 boats use the Virginia Cut route each year, and 1000 the DSC route. There are endless scary stories about DSC; shoaling, deadheads, snakes in the trees, duck weed. The vast majority of our veteran cruiser friends are afraid to try it.

Those who choose to not use the ICW or the DSC because of scary stories, are choosing wrong in my opinion. They are influenced by the stories, but they ignore the thousands of vessels (large and small) that successfully use these routes every year. Part of it, must be the psychology of scary stories and bad news. If you look at Claiborne Young’s cruisersnet.net you’ll find a section called “ICW trouble spots”.  Read the daily paper and you'll hear about crime.  Non-trouble and no-crime are not news. Boaters love to tell stories, and telling scary stories is often the most fun. But to judge the real risks of go no-go decisions we need to look at statistics (such as 10,000 ICW users and 1000 DSC users) rather than anecdotal stories.

This is more than a boating issue. It is a life style issue. You can sit at home watching TV magazine shows that inform you about 20 new scary risks every week. But the one warning those shows will never give you is that senior citizens staying home watching TV and dreaming rather than doing is like having one foot in the grave. Be active! Get out there and follow your dream. Do not let scary stories deter you.  You’ll not only be glad that you did, but you’ll live longer too.

1 comment:

  1. Could not agree more with your piece today! We did not cruise as long as you 2 have, but, some of our finest memories are of the Dismal Swamp Canal (not at all dismal) and the ICW. After all, that is where we met YOU!

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