It is that time of year when boat owners, with planned summer cruises on the family cruiser, cast off their lines and head north to Alaska, New England, Canada, or points of interest in other directions. The weather, except for the pesky hurricane season on the U.S. East Coast, is perfect for extended travel to new places for the family to make new friends, explore new places, and make memories of a lifetime. Remember our cruise back in 2023? That will always be a special memory.
So, when Bob told me he roughed in the itinerary of a summer trip with his wife, Beth, on their Grand Banks Eastbay 43, I was all ears. The couple are experienced cruisers, having sailed their Bristol 51 sailboat for years on the East Coast. His travels on the Eastbay include the ICW down and back to Florida, and they want to use the boat to see and experience as much of the country as they can over the next few years.
“It is a cruising boat,” Bob said. ‘So, we need to be using it to go cruising.” It is that simple. If they wanted a boat to just explore around Annapolis and Chesapeake Bay, there are many other, less complicated boats that could serve their needs well. A cruising yacht like the Eastbay is wasted if one only goes out for cocktail cruises or daytime visits around home waters. A Nimbus or Ocean Sport might be a better choice, or a Boston Whaler.
What is particularly interesting about Bob’s plan is that he is an accomplished pilot. And his family has become rather spoiled by traveling by private plane around North America for vacations. No lines at crowded airports, endless security checks, and other travel restrictions. Sounds pretty nice.
In case you don’t see the connection here, let me explain. How an experienced pilot approaches trip planning is anything but spontaneous and carefree. Given the reality of flying, there is a critical need to make sure all major elements of planning are done thoroughly and accurately. As Bob once pointed out, the need to carefully map out fuel availability along a route is more than just a nicety. Running out of fuel on a boat is an inconvenient hassle. Running out of fuel in an airplane is another matter given the obvious consequences.
This thoroughness is extensive in all of Bob’s trip planning, which is why, of course, I was keen to hear more about the details. And I wanted to see how he approaches the process. This would be especially interesting this year, as the couple’s travels take them far north from Annapolis into Canada and include leaving the boat for a couple of weeks for other family commitments.
It is a summer cruise most of us can relate to, even if we boat in the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes, or some other cruising area in North America.
Bob’s Triangle Loop is about 1,700 statute miles long, involves five major canal systems of 103 locks, and travels through New York, Canada, and Vermont. The route is familiar to Loopers, as it encompasses popular sections of variations of the Great Loop.
(Below: Map of the Triangle Loop. Image Cred: MainelyBensley.com)
The basic plan is to leave Annapolis July 1st. First stop is Cape May, NJ. Then:
Great Kills Harbor, NY
Liberty Landing, NJ
Clayton, NY on the St Lawrence River
There are a couple of hard dates, such as being in NYC for July 4th. They also need to be in Ohio for family time the second two weeks of July. Montreal is on the schedule for August 17th, Burlington, Vermont a week later, and NYC again first of September. The couple will arrive back in Annapolis for Labor Day, September 4th.
Obviously the planned itinerary can change given any number of circumstances. No matter how it ultimately unfolds, however, it is all about having fun.
As Bob said, it is “all about the experience, not making miles.” If only all cruisers could hold to that simple truth and not fall victim to focusing on connecting the dots of a plotter’s route!
We are lucky to live in the time of the Internet, and the proliferation of hundreds of data sources that complement (and sometimes contradict) other cruising information.
Bob specifically mentioned the value of the Waterway Guide, Skipper Bob Cruising Guides, and Watson’s Guide to the Rideau Canal. Some material, such as Watson’s, is available for free download, and having a printed copy on hand is a big help during the planning phase, as well as on the cruise.
(Below: Image of Watson's Guide.)
He purchased all paper charts of the Canadian waterways to get familiar with any subtle differences in presentation from his U.S. charts, as well as inspect the route options while planning the trip. Despite the consensus of electronic charting, there is some comfort in having official paper charts of all areas one expects to transit. There is always some level of detail one can appreciate from the paper charts.
It is necessary to get permits to travel some areas, as well as crossing between the U.S. and Canada. All of Bob’s planning comes from his aviation orientation. His focus takes into account fuel stops, logging all data of the trip, and tracking usage of the engines and hours of operation. It is a valued habit of a pilot, and there is certainly no harm in accounting down to such a detailed level.
He commented that commercial locks on the St. Lawrence require advanced reservations, as pleasure boats are secondary to commercial use. By requiring reservations, the lock operation can stack the pleasure boats together to go through locks in times between commercial traffic.
I include some images of his log pages as examples, and each has its value. (Also read: Do You Keep A Log Book While Cruising?)
Bob called ahead to each of his expected fuel stops to get current fuel pricing. He uses this as a guide when he cruises as he also keep cruising notes on various alternative travel scenarios that might be considered if the original plan changes. Perfect weather conditions, for example, may urge him to keep going on any particular day, rather than stop prematurely at a planned stop, knowing that the great weather window may not be so ideal the following day. (I have found having predetermined alternatives along a route is a common thing for experienced cruisers. Why leave anything to chance when so many other factors are out of one’s control. It makes sense and offers piece of mind.)
(Below: An example of Bob's cruising notes.)
The smartphone app Nebo is quite popular with Great Loopers, and will be aboard for the trip. The boat’s electronics are all Garmin (no surprise, as his airplane has a full Garmin glass helm).
And the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s ROAM app will be helpful when necessary.
The Eastbay 43 is a Downeast classic, a twin-diesel motorboat that cruises at 20+ knots. The Ray Hunt hull form is efficient and slippery, and offers great performance when compared to a typical displacement trawler. But to keep its slippery shape at its best, Bob plans to have the boat hauled the day before he leaves to have the bottom thoroughly cleaned to maximize his speed and economy through the water.
This brought up the subject of fueling and how much fuel to have in the boat. Full fuel tanks on the Eastbay will add thousands of pounds, as much as 3,600 lbs when 450 gallons are aboard. That is not good for maximizing efficiency, so Bob’s flying experience dictates balancing required fuel and its weight against the fuel one truly needs to travel safely from one place to the next. It is simple math that anyone with a fast boat should practice.
Keeping the boat as light as possible is a good strategy for this hull shape, essentially having only enough fuel onboard needed for the next leg, with perhaps 50 gallons as a minimum reserve. It makes no sense to top off one’s fuel tanks when there is cheap fuel ahead, perhaps at the very next stop. When they reach Brewerton, where they will leave the boat and head off to family events in Ohio, Bob already knows he can expect cheaper fuel than elsewhere.
But it is not an absolute, and an example of the need for flexibility regarding the fuel equation is when they take off from Annapolis. The boat will have full fuel tanks. They plan to stop on the first day in Cape May, New Jersey. However, if the weather and conditions are really good, it may make more sense to keep going to Great Kills Harbor, to ensure being in NYC for July 4th.
(With this discussion of fuel and associated factors, it might seem a fixation of the trip is on fuel conservation and efficiency, but that is definitely not the case. The couple intend to enjoy this special adventure of history, culture, and natural beauty.)
All of us have different ideas about provisioning, especially when one will be in a town almost every night. So there is little need on this trip to eat canned food stored in the bilge. They will eat aboard less than 50 percent of the time, and will provision accordingly. Fresh and perishable food is more of a priority than emergency cans of Dinty Moore stew. Greek yogurt with fresh fruit is the breakfast staple, so no need to load the fridge with bacon, eggs, hash browns, and pastry. As things are consumed, they will reprovision along the way.
(Below: Bob's Grand Banks Yacht docked in front of the South Carolina Yacht Club in Windmill Harbor.)
I’m always curious about people’s style of cruising. What is their daily routine? Bob told me they like to get under way around 9am, and they do so without a lot of talking and interaction. He runs the boat away from the dock and she straightens up the interior for the day. They have their own routines which have been honed by years of cruising on their boats. They know things will be different when they have to deal with more than 100 locks this summer. And if there is something special that demands their attention, passing the Statue of Liberty comes to mind, no problem. It is all about the experience, after all, not making miles.
Ideally they like to “be there” no later than 2pm after a day’s run. Given the Eastbay’s cruising speed of 20+ knots, that is plenty of time to cover serious distance.
Bob ordered two new e-bikes for the trip, both from Jack Rabbit. The lightweight micro bikes each only weigh 24 lbs with batteries. The tradeoff for the small size and weight, which makes for easy handling, is that range is limited to only 10 miles or so. But that is more than enough for cruisers heading to the store from the marina for bananas and milk. The bikes cost about $1,000 each and will easily fit in the guest stateroom.
Bob suggests one makes sure everything works before leaving on such a long cruise that spans the summer. And knowing how to really use the chart plotter, beyond the basics needed for a local cocktail cruise around home, is important. There is so much value in modern electronics and their capabilities, yet many of us never take advantage of any of it.
During my recent time aboard Bob’s Eastbay 43, the boat was clearly ready to go. Sparking clean, nothing out of place, no clutter around the helm or on the decks. Not a book or sunglasses sitting around. It is the definition of being ready, prepared to get under way.
It reminds me of an article I wrote about Carlton Mitchell, the world-class sailor and yachtsman who defined yachting so well. In a marina among the fleet before the start of a Bermuda race, while the boats are torn apart and everyone is off scrambling to take care of last minute details and forgotten “need to have” gear before the start, his pretty yawl Finisterre sits quietly in her slip, fully prepared, nothing out of place, lines coiled just so, ready to get under way on a moment’s notice. And then she blows everyone else out of the water with another victory race out to the Rock.
When it is done right, it shows.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Bob. I hope you and Beth have a great summer!
Enjoy these other boating and cruising articles by Bill Parlatore:
- Taking Of The Great Loop
- Preparing For The Great Loop
- Let's Go On The Great Loop!
- Dawn Of The Paperless Helm
- Letting Go But Still In Control
- Learning To Handle A New Boat
- Improving The User Experience
- A Paradigm Shift In Cruising
- Consider Buddy Boating
- A Matter Of Staying Safe While Boating
- Should I Carry A Gun While Cruising?
- A Boater's 3-to-5 Year Plan
- Boat Tools: A 4-Part Series
- Provisioning Your Yacht For Extended Cruising - Bahamas
- Provisioning Your Yacht For Extended Cruising - Alaska
- The Evolution Of The Trawler Yacht