Take your boat out cruising enough times, and you’ll be smacked upside the head once or twice by the golden rule.
No, I’m not talking about the “doing unto others” thing. I’m instead referring to the golden rule that should be etched into the trim somewhere in every cockpit: “Never cruise on a hard schedule.”
Being the perpetual planner that I am, I’ve always had a penchant for making a float plan. I probably get too much satisfaction from surveying a chart and, along with a tide table and my favorite weather app, plugging in some waypoints on the eve of a long sail. Double points if it’s a paper chart and I get to bust out a set of parallel rules and a pencil.
Yet, as we voyagers know, that “three-hour tour” doesn’t always go according to plan.
I recall one particularly sporty passage from Martha’s Vineyard to Newport, Rhode Island, many years ago. It was the final leg of a summer getaway with my wife on a diversion from her parents’ Great Loop undertaking. We stole away for a few days, and I got to introduce that side of the family to my old, cherished southern New England cruising grounds.
Going against my golden rule, everything was contingent on a Sunday return to Newport. My wife and I both had to be back at work on Monday, so we were handcuffed to a late-afternoon flight out of Providence on Sunday. Well, Mother Nature is always subject to change. Right around sunrise on Sunday, a cacophony of metal shrouds and stays slapped the mast as an unwelcome wake-up alarm. If not for those flights, we certainly wouldn’t have left Vineyard Haven that morning into a sea of whitecaps—not insurmountable, but not exactly pleasurable conditions. A prevailing northeasterly breeze coming off the mainland allowed little protection, though it did give us a favorable wind angle for reaching. We pounded all the way down Buzzards Bay and into Rhode Island Sound, soaked to the bone, taking spray in the face like we were in a locker-room Champagne celebration after winning the Stanley Cup.
After one heck of a sleigh ride, we had a quick celebration of our own as we snugged the lines at Bannister’s Wharf and grabbed a cup of chowder at the Black Pearl before departing for the airport. The lesson: Even the best-laid waypoints can’t account for elements beyond our control, which is why you should never boat on a schedule. A hard schedule can pose a logistical nightmare, and it can suck a lot of the fun out of the broader cruising experience.
I was reminded about all this during Cruising World’s annual Boat of the Year contest in October at the Annapolis Sailboat Show. With anywhere between a handful and a herd of boats vying for the coveted award each year, regardless of how well-organized our team is, some logistical challenge usually rears its ugly head. The judging, done over the course of a few days, is always on a tight schedule. This year, there were 19 qualifying nominees that needed dockside inspections and on-water sea trials amid the usual boat-show melee.
The first domino fell early, when we had to replace one of our judges because of an illness just days before the show. Then, one boat missed the show altogether, courtesy of a shipping snafu. A nasty virus soon sidelined our veteran photographer, as well as a few key nominee-boat representatives.
Luckily, our Boat of the Year crew are a bunch of experienced sailors with a knack for assessing a situation, tacking out of bad air, and continuing toward the waypoint. And, oh, the sailing was sweet—as you’ll find here, and also in our January/February issue.
Whether navigating the unpredictable sea or the turbulent eddies of a Boat of the Year contest, remember this: Sometimes the true joy of our journeys is found in the exhilarating freedom to navigate the unexpected.
Follow Andrew Parkinson on Instagram @andrewtparkinson.