We have an extraordinary crop of freshly retired new cruisers this year. They remind me of things that I (and they) would have liked to know about cruising before starting. That includes things that I may have heard about but never paid attention to because I didn't understand how important they are.
- Draft of your boat: In many parts of the world (including almost all of The Pacific), waters in the anchorages are deep. Therefore, your boat's draft doesn't matter much. Sailboats optimized for those regions have deep keels designed to maximize the righting moment per pound of ballast. Here on the East Coast, draft is a big deal. A shallow draft boat (say less than 3 feet draft), a medium draft boat (5 to 5.5 feet draft), and a deep draft boat (6 feet or more), all have very different restrictions about where they can go. We met one man with a 9 foot draft on the Indian River in Melbourne. He was afraid to ever leave the marina for fear of running aground.
- Beam of your boat. For most monohulls, beam doesn't matter much. Catamarans however, can have 20' to 25' or even wider beams. The boat salesman will not volunteer the information that most marinas have little or no capacity for boats so wide.
- Length of your boat. The bigger the boat the more difficult everything is to handle, and the more expensive everything is. The number one reason circumnavigation quit their voyage before completion is "Too big a boat." It seems like such a no brainer to beginning cruisers. The bigger the boat the more comfortable you will be and the more room you have for company. The disadvantages of bigger boats are less obvious. (By the way, displacement is a much better way to express "bigness" than length.)
- Height of the mast and rigging. Here is another thing that the boat salesman will never mention. The standard bridge clearance on the ICW is 65 feet. There are several 55 foot bridges along the way. The Okeechobee Waterway has a 49 foot RR bridge. The taller your rig, the fewer places you will be able to go. Even if your rig is less than 65 feet, if it is more than 60 feet, you will agonize about every bridge you come to. How high is the tide. Is the listed bridge clearance accurate? Many bridges have handy gauges in the water showing the current clearance, but how accurate are they. A famous incident a few year back was that the State of Florida changed the gauges on a whole bunch of the bridges to show 63' when the true clearance was 65'.
Yawls, ketches, and schooners have multiple masts for two primary reasons. They require less vertical height, and they make each sail smaller, lighter, and easier to handle.
Even motor vessels have vertical clearance problems in places like the Erie Canal. The canal lists 15' as the clearance of the lowest non-opening bridge, but in times of flood I've seen real life clearances as low as 9'.
- Towing a dinghy is bad. In Sweden almost nobody has a dinghy. They don't need them. OK, here in the USA, I'll presume that all would be cruisers know that a dinghy is required. But many of them, do not understand that you need to carry the dinghy, not tow it. Either davits, or some kind of on-deck stowage is required. Anybody who crosses The Gulf Stream towing a dinghy risks his life.
- Tankage. Besides displacement, the main difference between day-sail, or weekend-sail boats and cruising boats is the capacity of fuel and water tanks. People can and do cruise in otherwise excellent weekend-sail boats, but they soon find that their tankage is inadequate.
Cooking fuel is another tankage issue, both capacity and type. Not all fuels are easily available in all places.
- Refrigeration and battery charging. Once again there is a difference between weekend sailing (and returning to shore power at the end of the weekend) and extended cruising. The type of refrigeration (or ice box) and it's efficiency are critical to cruisers. The type and efficiency of the system for charging the house batteries are critical to cruisers.
- Towing insurance. It sounds like a lot of money ($169 per year) for something you may never need. Believe me, on the USA East Coast it is a bargain. Don't skip it. I'll write a post on towing insurance soon.
- Doing your own repairs and maintenance. Even if you are so rich that money doesn't matter, you need to learn to do most repairs and maintenance yourself. Not everything, but most things. If you don't you'll find yourself at the mercy of of trades people and suppliers living on "Island Time" You will also find that your confidence for going offshore is (deservedly) diminished if you can't do it on your own.
I do not mean you must be prepared to fix every possible fault. Stuck rudders, for example are a devastating fault, but very rare. I do say that you should expect for several more common things to break on every single passage, and that you need to be ready to handle that.
- Barnacles, slime, and zincs. People like me who come from colder climates have a hard time imagining how fast barnacles grown in tropical and sub-tropical waters. Here in Marathon, you need the bottom and the propeller to be cleaned once per months. Zincs, in my experience last from less than one month, to more than one year, all in salt water. Predicting the lifetime of zincs doesn't work well. Be sure you can inspect them often and replace them yourself if needed.
- The one thing that no salesman, no cruising magazine, and most books will never mention is dealing with black water. If you live on a boat long enough, you will eventually be forced to personally deal with black water.
- Currents. Lake sailors can have a lifetime experience, but have no idea about tidal currents. The biggest shock is when you first realize that the direction that your boat is moving and the direction that the bow is pointing are not the same.
- Using marinas for bad weather refuge. When the weather is really bad, you may not be able to safely enter the marina of your choice. When it is time to depart the marina, weather may be good enough to travel, but not good enough to exit the marina safely.