Ready, Set, Wow

A refreshing cruise to Catalina gives Cruising World editor John Burnham a new appreciation for preparedness-- and for knowing when to just cast off and go.

"It's a close reach on starboard tack to Catalina," said Gerry Douglas, Catalina Yachts VP and chief designer, as I prepared to take his own 42-footer, Marley's Ghost, from Marina del Rey on the 30-mile trip. "Just don't forget to close the through-hulls on port tack." Soon we're out of the harbor, the sails are set, and everyone's relaxed. The wind builds nicely, and the kids take turns steering. When they get bored, I take over, and as we pull away from a bigger cruiser down to leeward off King Harbor, I start feeling smug. Approaching the headland of Palos Verdes, the wind shifts and lightens, so we take a short tack to clear the point. Gradually, the breeze pipes back up to 15 knots. That's about the time my sister-in law, Kyle, comes on deck and asks if the sinks are supposed to be full of water.

Sheepishly, I roll up the jib, set the autopilot, and close the through-hulls. Which is a good thing, because our short tack lasts 25 miles when the wind backs into the east-southeast, and we end up fetching the west end of Catalina. Apparently, even in the largely predictable cruising grounds of Southern California, occasional weather patterns like this "Catalina Eddy"-a localized low-pressure system-can crop up and surprise you.

Not that I minded at all. The afternoons were clear and sunny, the water surprisingly warm. And I'd had enough for now of going to boat shows, visiting boatbuilders, and editing stories. It was time to put aside those other priorities and go sailing. Living aboard in a marina for several days before taking a long weekend's cruise was a fine change of pace for this desk jockey who hadn't been cruising since last year. Best of all, I returned to our offices to find that every story in Cruising World now has fresh meaning for me. I also have a renewed appreciation for two very different aspects of the cruising experience.

On one hand, there's the getting-ready part. I have a greater respect for the value of carefully preparing your boat or, as in my case, taking the time to get to know someone else's. And I'm more aware than ever of what I'd like to know about various systems on different boats. On the other hand, moving aboard and getting under way is where the adventure begins. Think of what I'd miss if I waited to be absolute master of all things nautical and have everything in perfect order before casting off.

To address both sides of cruising, we begin two new series of articles this month. Longtime CW contributor Steve D'Antonio begins a monthly maintenance piece in the Hands-On Sailor section, focusing initially on diesel
engines. As manager of Zimmerman Marine, in Cardinal, Virginia, Steve knows that most problems result from a lack of attention to fundamentals, so he starts at ground zero with changing your oil.

Taking off on the other tack from the deck of Short Story, her Columbia 28, Melanie Neale offers inspiration in a new column starting this month. While she's no stranger to maintenance (and is a licensed captain), she'll be sharing slices of her experience as a second-generation liveaboard-from getting to know your neighbors to taking that first offshore cruise as an adult. Melanie, whom long-standing readers will remember as one of the blonde girls in earlier columns by Tom Neale, recently earned a master's in creative writing. Her column will appear again next month, and then every other month.

Preparing to sail and then casting off the dock lines are equal parts of an absorbing, stimulating process through which both sides of the brain are nourished. We want to arrive safely and in good time, but if the only goal were simply to get there, we'd lose our masts and sails and invest in much bigger fuel tanks.