Off-season Cruising – Serenity and Solitude
The off-season cruising months offer a respite with deserted anchorages and unoccupied marine park docks. There’s no jockeying required at the fuel dock, and wildlife is unencumbered by the usual steady stream of boats. It’s their domain now.
The keys to making the most of off-season cruising are:
- Let the weather rule
- Staying Dry and dealing with moisture.
- Comfort Food
- Guard Against Cabin Fever
Peace and Quiet
After Labor Day, fewer boats are out on the water, and the trend accelerates as we move through the calendar. Most boats spend half the year idle at the dock, orphans from October through March and there is plenty of guest moorage available in the marinas.
If you decide to go off-season cruising it’s important to practice safety first and be properly prepared.
Let the Weather Rule and Safety First
Storm fronts occur in fall and winter with more regularity than in summer. For off-season cruising it’s important to be flexible, monitor the weather channel and review the detailed NOAA weather maps in advance. If you plan to cruise in a remote location, out of radio range, carrying a barometer is a good idea so you can monitor conditions. Whatever your itinerary, include extra time for weather changes so you don’t put your boat and crew at risk.
Even though drenching storms will arrive regularly throughout the cooler months, so will the crystal clear and crisp winter days; cherish them for their rarity.
Poor visibility due to rain or fog is more common this time of the year, and conditions can deteriorate quickly. Radar and GPS are invaluable. Check that navigation lights are in working order. Always be prepared for rough water. Secure any loose equipment on deck before getting underway. If conditions worsen, you don’t want to be on deck wrestling to tie something down. Securing everything inside the boat is also important. In rough water, loose items will shift.
Be vigilant when underway. Winter storms coupled with high than normal tides drag a massive amount of drift off beaches and into the water, and choppy winter water can make spotting logs difficult.
As temperatures drop during the off-season cruising months, pay attention to slippery boat decks and docks. Wearing a PDF during the cooler months of the year is a must anytime anyone is on the deck or dock, as well as, good deck shoes and boots with non-skid soles
A source of heat is number one necessity. They keep the cabin toasty and dry. Outdoor activities in particular, are more appealing if we can easily warm up inside afterward.
If your only means of heat overnight is via shore power, plan ahead. Unless you are near a major center, most marinas, fuel docks, stores and on-shore amenities will be closed or only open on an abbreviated schedule. Call ahead, so you don’t get caught without.
Before leaving the dock ensure all scheduled/required maintenance and inspections are completed. Breaking down is never any fun but during inclement winter weather it could be a dangerous situation. We carry spare filters, belts, pumps, hoses and hose clamps year-round which allow us to make minor repairs if required.
Staying Dry Dealing with Moisture
Layering is the way to go for staying warm and dry. Both fleece and wool retain their warmth in damp conditions. Toss in a couple of pairs of long underwear (polypro), all-weather nylon pants and lightweight waterproof pants, jackets that fit over the fleece and wool hats. For footwear, choose wool socks (warm, absorbent and fast drying SmartWool are a good choice), deck shoes, rubber boots, and for hiking lug sole boots work well. For the hands, Manzella Polartec gloves with their rubber grip palms and fingers work well.
During the off-season cruising months, adequate ventilation is necessary as humidity is higher, and you’ll bring moisture inside with wet clothing. Indoor cooking, particularly with propane and alcohol, also adds moisture to the cabin air. High humidity steams up the windows, encourages mold and impedes wet items from drying. We crack open a couple of hatches on opposite sides of Easy Goin’to facilitate ventilation, and with the furnace, we stay warm and dry.
Guard Against Cabin Fever
If you’re accustomed to living in a house with many rooms, don’t expect to be comfortable for a few days on a boat. Too much closeness can sour a trip. Have plenty of books, magazines, games, and puzzles so that everyone, kids especially, can entertain themselves during inclement weather. Within reason, insist that everyone get off the boat at least once a day, if only to take a short walk or a row around the harbor.
No matter the season, keep cruising menus simple. During cooler weather months, one-pot meals, hearty stews, soups, pasta, rice dishes and an endless supply of java and coco hit the spot. Root vegetables such as potatoes, and carrots, and fruit such as apples and citrus travel well in any season.
Final Word of Advice
Off-season cruising isn’t just good for the spirit it’s good for your boat. Unused engines and pumps forget how to work. Condensation collects in the tanks and fuel lines. Everything gets cold and vaguely damp. Keeping your boat running through the winter months and it’s more likely to be running smoothly right into spring.
8 Tips for Winter Cruising
Winter cruising means you can enjoy familiar anchorages and harbors without the crowds. It is not that unusual to be the only transient boat in the anchorage or harbor. The folks who go out cruising during the winter are hardy, relaxed and often very friendly. We have also found that the probability of a spontaneous party with new, “just met them on the dock” friends are very likely. In our experience, the worse the weather, the higher the likelihood of a little impromptu social gathering!
Here are eight tips for a great winter cruise:
- A winter trip is like any other trip. You will want to make sure that you and the boat are well prepared and that all of the vessel’s equipment is in working order.
- Boating in the winter requires a little more experience. If you are new to boating, make sure that you spend some time reviewing charts, potential challenges to navigation, harbor information and operation of the various electronics including proper use of your radio.
- We make sure the furnace is working perfectly. We assume that the weather will be wet and cold. Regardless of the type of heating you have aboard, make sure that it is working before you leave the dock. There is nothing as wonderful as a toasty boat on a cold day!
- When there is cold air outside of the boat and more humidity inside the boat, we make sure that the bunks don’t get wet. Humidity can condense and be absorbed into the bedding or mattress. We make sure that we have good air circulation and/or dry bunk material under each of the mattresses. For a few hours each day, we run a small air drying fan in the cabinet under each bunk. The cabinet space below the bunk has ventilating holes so that the air can circulate up to the mattress. It really helps keep the bunks dry. If this isn’t an option for your bunks, consider propping up the mattress each morning when you climb out of bed. Just adding a few inches of space under the mattress for air circulation will be a benefit.
- Take very good wet weather gear. In all the years we cruised our various sailboats, having multiple layers of dry clothes was critical to enjoying the cruise. Bring good gloves to work outside. Your dock lines might be wet or frozen. Purchase a plastic snow shovel at one of the commercial fishing stores. You can clear snow if need be and not mar the deck.
- Weather is a special consideration. Pay close attention to the weather forecasts on the VHF weather stations and be prepared to adapt your plans to conditions. In Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands and the Gulf Islands, the weather can occasionally have a very big impact on cruising plans. During our late December cruise, we got a very unusual weather pattern with bright, sunny, cold days and a lot of wind. In Roche Harbor, our anemometer measured wind speed in excess of 40 knots. Fog and heavy rain can also be significant considerations. When the weather gets bad you need to be able and willing to change your plans and find a good place to hunker down.
- Flexibility is key. Many of us cruise on a schedule. I consider schedules to be the worst gear that we have on Salish Lady. However, as long as we need to make a living, it is a necessary evil. We always have Plan A and Plan B when we winter cruise. Plan B includes several good spots to ride out a storm and our cruise will include extra lay days that we use to accommodate the unexpected weather. If we get great weather for the whole trip then we just stay a few extra days in places that we love. Last year, we spent our extra days riding out a storm in Roche Harbor and ended up having a New Years Eve Party on Salish Lady. In case the weather turns, we keep our water tanks full. Some marinas need to shut off water to the dock to avoid burst pipes if the temperature drops below freezing.
- Weather may also be disruptive near the end of your cruise and you should be prepared to head back home a day or two early to avoid bad weather if it is forecast for the latter days of your cruise. If you wish, pretend you’re still on a cruising holiday while living on your boat at your home marina for the last few days.
Be prepared to meet new friends. We always take some extra food to make appetizers for happy hour. With early sunsets, it is common to want to head inside in the late afternoon, but you might still want to spend another hour or so trading stories with other hardy boaters. You just never know when a spontaneous party will break out!
With a little planning, a well-found boat and flexibility, a winter cruise can be a wonderful way to get more use from your boat!