SailFar Films Presents...

If there's one thing that a snowy day in the deep of winter provides, it's time indoors to create things like the movie trailer below that we put together this morning while watching it snow.  Enjoy!

Need a ride on the Great Lakes? Check Out These Crew Opportunities

Wind Dancer reaching to the horizon (Photo by K. Walters)
I was recently contacted by a reader requesting recommendations for crewing opportunities on the Great Lakes for the upcoming season.  Since I'm sure she isn't the only one looking to catch a ride on OPB's (other people's boats) here in the Great Lakes, I thought I'd share my recommendations in this blog post.

My first recommendation for those with a hunger for adventure is to check the crew opportunities for the Chicago to Mackinac race.  You've probably heard of the race.  Maybe some of you have even sailed in a Mac race.  But for those who haven't, I know first hand that there are plenty of opportunities for both crew and media (writer/photographer) ride alongs.  Obviously your chances of scoring a crew position on one of the boats is greatly increased if you have race experience, but some captains/boats are willing to coach newbies and provide a thrilling learning experience.  Remember, this is a 333 mile open water race from Chicago's Navy Pier to Mackinac Island and will take at least 24 hours (usually much longer) and include night sailing, potential storms, very competitive sailors and some of the big time yachts from well known ocean races like the Trans Pac.  Perfect for adrenaline junkies!

Other opportunities for crewing include working for a charter cruise boat such as the schooner Wind Dancer out of Grand Haven or one of the Appledore Tall Ships out of Traverse City.  Again, opportunities vary with experience and need, but working on one of these classic sailing vessels would make for a memorable summer and a terrific introduciton to Great Lakes sailing.  If you're sailing as part of the crew, you'll likely have tasks including passenger safety, line handling, boat cleaning, and sailing.  If you're not sure you want to commit to a full season as crew, pay your fees and enjoy a sunset sail as a passenger.

You might also consider helping out on a Great Lakes school ship such as those sailed by the Inland Seas Education Association.  They currently own two ships, a 77-foot schooner and a 31-foot Friendship sloop, used to provide science experiences on the Great Lakes.  In addition to a wide variety of shipboard experiences, they also offer public, youth, and school programs at their shoreside Inland Seas Education Center.  From a birding cruise, to maritime history lessons, or learning about local environmental issues such as invasive species, ISEA builds brainpower.  Whether you're an educator, sailor or student, you might just find the perfect opportunity with ISEA.

Schooner Inland Seas and her beautiful tanbark sails
(Photo courtesy of Inland Seas Education Association)
If all of this is too organized or the boats are bigger than what you're looking for, I encourage you to just walk the docks at your local harbor and ask around.  Invariably someone is always looking for able crew.  The Wednesday night club races and weekend regattas both offer potentially shorter opportunities on smaller private vessels.  In fact, I crewed on a 37-foot boat for a season while I was learning to sail and can honestly say that you'll learn a ton that's applicable to cruising even if you don't have any real interest in racing.

The Great Lakes are great for a reason.  Even if you don't have a boat of your own, you owe it to yourself to get out there on the water and experience some of the best sweetwater sailing anywhere in the world! 

The Simple Power of Water

Afloat and waiting in Bonaire (Photo credit: K. Walters)

Do any of you feel a deep, tethered attachment to the water?  Does your spirit fly highest when your feet are wet?  I've been thinking since my last post about how to put to words what it is about water that seems to keep me driven and inspired.  But the answer is either so complex or so simple that it escapes me.  Suffice it to say, water has power in my life. 

Consider the following quote from Isak Dinesen (one of several pen names for Karen Blixen):

"The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea."

When has life ever thrown something at us that we can't handle with a good dose of hard work (salty sweat), a hard cry (salty tears), or a trip to open water (salty sea)?  Is it any coincidence that more than half our body weight is composed of water?  The Earth's surface is about 70% water.  We are literally surrounded by water.  I, for one, intend to explore as much of it as I can.

Tips for Sailboat Restoration

Ever restored an old sailboat?  If you have, you know how therapeutic in can be.  Have plans to do so?  What follows are my tips to make the project more enjoyable and successful.  (This blog post is adapted from an article of mine that appeared in the January/February 2012 issue of Good Old Boat magazine.)

I first got into sailing by restoring a 1972 Helms 25 swing keel.  I'm not particularly handy, nor did I have boat restoration experience at the time.  In fact, restoring a sailboat wasn't "Plan A" for getting into the sailing and cruising lifestyle.  However, sometimes the winds of life (and budgets!) don't blow from behind and we can't sail downwind to our future.  Instead, we've got to trim the sails and figure out how to make progress towards our windward goals.  And so, I picked up a $400 project boat and started to teach myself about restoration.  Hopefully you'll some of the tips below useful for your own project.

Document the process
Take pictures and videos and keep a restoration logbook.  A website or log is a great place to document the process.  You'll track and record your own progress and help countless other sailors learn from your successes and errors.  You'll be amazed at how much feedback you'll receive through the website and/or blog. You may even have blog readers offering unsolicited advice that helps you with your project.  Blogspot and Sailblogs both provide free blog space on the web.  My blog that you're reading right now is an example.  You can dig back to my posts from 2007 in the archives to see snip-its of my restoration.

Join an online sailing forum
I am active on several online sailing message boards (Sailnet and Cruiser's Forum) and get immeasurable advice and help from other members.  I'm also a member of a couple of online communities specific to my sailboat's manufacturer.  Online communities of enthusiastic owners support many makes of sailboats.  By joining one, you are likely to find expertise, new ideas, and hard-to-find parts from other members.

Get your hands dirty
You probably know this already if you're considering the restoration of a sailboat.  I am amazed at the projects that even a novice can accomplish.  All you need is the motivation to begin and the readiness to take your time.  Before I began restoring my first boat, I had never done any fiberglass repair work.  After doing a little research and giving it a try on my boat, I am now confident I can handle other such repairs in the future.  Do your research, grow, and learn new skills.

Visit your local library
Several very good books on sailboat restoration are available and your local library probably has many of them.  Start by checking out Don Casey's books.  They are easy to read, easy to follow, and are generally filled with sound adviceThis Old Boat is a great general reference, and many of his other books give more details.  Some of Don's most relevant books include Don Casey's Complete Illustrated Sailboat Maintenance Manual, Sailboat Refinishing, Sailboat Electrics Simplified, Sailboat Hull and Deck Repari, and Canvaswork and Sail Repair.

Become familiar with sources for parts
We all know a few major stores that carry parts and materials for boating.  However, the big superstores don't always have the best prices or the hard-to-find specialty items specific to your boat.  Look for online and alternative sources.  I've found good deals by posting want ads on Craigslist.  Most ads on Craigslist are for items people are trying to sell.  My approach has been to post ads for specific items I'm looking for.  I'm always surprised at the responses I get from people who have just what I need or something similar.  Many times they didn't think about selling or even know they could sell the item until they saw my want ad.  The online auction site eBay is another great source for deals on hard-to-find parts.  At the very least, try an Internet search to see if you can track down a hard-to-find part.  You might also find hidden gems at boating consignment stores

Be conservative when estimating costs
Despite readily available good deals and free stuff, sailboat restoration is an expensive endeavor.  I think I am being conservative when I plan the restoration of a boat prior to starting, but once I start taking things apart, I invariably find more things that need to be fixed or upgraded.  Also, the more I started to restore, the more I enjoyed the process.  I kept finding more parts to upgrade and more add-ons to improve the boat's utility, comfort, and sailing characteristics.  As the saying goes, "There's nothing more expensive than a cheap boat."  Take your best estimate for the cost of a restoration job and double it.  If you don't spend the full estimated amount, put the savings into your cruising kitty!

Walk the dock
I gleaned many great ideas by checking out other boats at nearby marinas and boatyards.  If you have a problem and need a unique solution or if you want creative ways to individualize your boat, there's a good chance someone on the dock has already applied the solution or added that unique feature to his/her boat.  You'll also run into a few sailors who are happy to show off their boats and share ideas that can help during your restoration.

Go sailing!
Sailboat restoration takes time, dedication, and motivation.  Anyone starting a restoration has a goal of one day sailing the boat that he/she has poured so much of himself/herself into.  So during the restoration process, make sure you sail OPB's (other people's boats).  Ride along with a dock neighbor or join a Wednesday evening race as a crewmember.  There is no better motivation for a sailboat restoration project than getting a taste of the joy the finished project will bring.

Have fun!
If you learn to enjoy the journey that a restoration project inevitably becomes, you will be rewarded with a most memorable destination.  There is real value to had in doing the work yourself.  You will swell with pride from knowing you gave her the care your good old boat deserves - and she will sail better with that knowledge!

What's your net worth?

Have you ever been told that you can accomplish anything you can dream up if you have a positive attitude?  I recently read an anonymous quote that restates the concept in mathematical terms...

"Your net worth equals your dreams minus your doubts." 

My simple resolution for 2012 is to keep my net worth out of the red and firmly in the black.  I'm resolved to having dreams that are heavier than doubts.

Hibernating mooring balls on Muskegon Lake, MI. (photo by K. Walters)

Review: Navionics HD Chartplotter for iPad and iOS

Can chart plotting and navigation on the iPad replace more traditional marine electronics?  I've been using a combination of electronic devices for navigation over the last couple of seasons and thought now would be a good time to review one of my favorites, Navionics HD for iOS on the iPad 2. For reviews of another great mobile chartplotter app, see my review of MotionX GPS.

I have traditionally used a Garmin GPSMap 76cs Plus handheld plotting GPS and more recently added a netbook computer running the free OpenCPN chartplotter software tethered to the Garmin.  You can see this system in action here.  More recently, I've put the Garmin in a back-up role and begun using the Navionics HD app for iOS on my iPad 2, along with a suite of other great navigation and sailing apps.
Chart screenshot from Navionics HD
Let's get some iPad basics out the way first.  The iPad's size, touchscreen and brilliant display are excellent for looking at charts.  However, the screen can be difficult to view in direct sunlight and obviously the device isn't suitable for a damp, wet environment.  Having said that, you can purchase all-weather protection for your iPad such as dry bags and there are also temporary mounts available.  The bottom line is that if your cockpit isn't dry and shaded, you may be better off keeping the iPad down below at the nav station.

Now on to the review of Navionics for iOS.  The first thing you'll notice about Navionics is the beautiful hi-definition charts.  If you're someone who prefers the look of raster charts (basically a full-color digital image of NOAA's paper charts), then you'll immediately notice the different look of Navionics' custom chart renderings.  Water and hydrographic features display in bright white and several shades of blue, complete with depth contour lines.  You have four choices for land display: "No overlay", "Google", "Bing", or "Terrain".  The "No overlay" choice displays land in a raster-like yellow, while Google and Bing both use highly detailed aerial photography.  Terrain gives a topographical look with greens, browns and yellows.  The only other display choice you have is toggling the "Community Layer" on and off.  The community layer allows users to edit map objects, including adding photos of particular features and waypoints right from the camera on your iOS device.  This is very handy if you want to capture the look of a harbor entrance or an important landmark.

From the main charting screen you have the option of tracking your course, measuring the distance between two points, or creating a route.  The tracking feature basically just lays down a yellow line where you've been and records your average speed.  Distance measuring is useful for route planning.  Route creation consists of marking waypoints along your route.  You won't have any real route guidance once you begin cruising on a route like you would with other more traditional chart plotters.  This may or may not be an issue, depending on whether you simply like to follow the route line on the chart or if you prefer directional cues and steering/heading information from your plotter.  While underway, your boat speed is displayed onscreen.

The remaining onscreen functions include zoom in and out, taking a photo for the community layer, a search function, and a centering button which when touched puts your current position in the center of the screen.  From the search screen you can search latitude/longitude, marinas, repair facilities, tides, currents, lakes, waterfront restaurants, boat dealers, and marine stores.  
You'll need to download charts for the areas you plan to visit, but downloaded data stays local on your device memory so you do not need a connection to view charts you've previously downloaded.  Keep in mind that while Navionics is compatible with many iOS devices (iPhone 3G, 3GS, 4G, 4GS, iPad, iPad 2), performance varies.  For example, iPads with WiFi only will require a WiFi signal/hotspot to determine your location.  iPads with WiFi + 3G have a built-in GPS receiver which Navionics uses in addition to cellular towers and WiFi signals, if available.  If you don't have an iPad with 3G and the internal GPS, Navionics may only be practical for planning while in port when you have a WiFi signal.  
Depending on which area of chart coverage you need, the Navionics apps start at about $34.95 and go up from there.  iPhone versions are considerably cheaper, but you lose a lot of screen real estate for plotting.  While these are expensive prices for apps, they are still a bargain compared to the cost of traditional plotters and electronic charts.
- Relatively affordable
- Beautiful hi-definition charts
- Easy to use
- Requires 3G model iPad for best performance
- Limited route guidance features
- Still can't fully replace traditional plotter in the cockpit

Bottom line: Navionics HD makes a very nice second chart plotter for your boat if you already have an iPad or iPhone.  You'll need to weatherproof your iPad and come up with a secure mounting solution if this will be your primary navigation tool.  Keeping a handheld GPS or other back-up  and paper charts is always a good idea.

Ready to convert your nav system with an iPad? You can grab a good deal on iPads and weatherproof cases from Amazon.

>> Don't forget to visit SFLF's Gear Review page for more sailing gear reviews/tests. <<

Trying to Reason with Blizzard Season

Snow blob

We finally got some accumulating snow here in the Great Lakes, which has got me looking at pictures and videos from sailing seasons gone by. Multimedia has a remarkable way of changing my mental climate like a fast approaching low pressure system out on the water.  So to contrast the first picture and give myself and excuse to try out iMovie for iOS on the iPad, I whipped up the following video.  Take a quick one minute sail aboard Island Bound...

Grounded! 5 Tips to Help When You Run Aground

I was once told by an old salt that you can't really claim to have any gunkhole experience until you've run your sailboat aground.  I'm not sure I agree with his statement, but it did force me to think about my course of action if I ever do run aground.

Photo Credit: Jeff Chew / AP
Depending on where you sail, running aground can be the result of several mostly avoidable circumstances.  First and foremost, it is imperative to know the accurate draft of your vessel, even under different crew and cargo situations.  Secondly, you need to know as much as you can about the water you're sailing in.  That means having some combination of a reliable depth sounder, quality charts, local knowledge (tides, currents, etc.), and experience.   However, even the best and most prepared captains can make mistakes.  Running aground can be embarrassing at the least and downright dangerous to boat and crew at the worst.  If you do run aground, remain calm.  Your first priority is to ensure that the crew and vessel are unharmed.  After youre sure the crew is safe, check the bilge to make sure the grounding didnt cause a leak or other damage that may make ungrounding become unsafe.  What follows are 5 methods you can try if you ever find yourself stuck. 

1)  Halyard Heeling: If your keel is stuck in the mud and you need to lessen your draft to get free, using a halyard to heel the boat may help.  Youll need to have the assistance of a second boat for this method.  Have the assisting boat take the shackle end of the halyard and slowly run it out abeam of the stuck sailboat, causing the sailboat to heel over.  Dont forget to cleat off the bitter end of the halyard so it doesnt get run up the mast.  With the sailboat heeled, you then may be able to carefully motor out of trouble.  Be careful to heel the boat slowly, as youll be pulling on the halyard from the top of the mast.  I assisted freeing a boat with this method this past summer and was surprised at how much leverage is gained by pulling with the halyard from the top of the mast. 

2)  Motoring Off: Using the iron sail seems almost instinctive when running aground.  However, its not necessarily always the most effective.  Maybe this is obvious, but try reversing out first before attempting to power through.  But be careful if youve got a wing keel as motoring may actually get you more stuck because the wings act like flukes on an anchor.  Youll also need to be mindful of what youre stuck in or on.  Powering out of sand or mud is one thing, but rocks and reefs can cause serious damage. 
3)  Sailing Off: If you sailed aground, sailing off may not be an option.  However, if you motored aground, consider raising the sails as you may get the boat to heel and reduce draft or free the keel from the bottom.  Be patient with this technique!  You may not get freed as soon as the sails are up, but the variable heeling and small movements from the wind may loosen things over a period time. 

4)  Towing Assistance: Heres another obvious potential solution, but dont try it without forethought.  Both the towboat and the stuck sailboat will need very strong attachment points for towlines.  Youll also need to determine the direction in which to try towing.  Dont forget that if you decide to tow from the stern of the stuck sailboat the rudder may be exposed to damage if theres more shallow water behind the boat.  I highly recommend Boat U.S. towing insurance.  Not only will they assist with soft ungroundings, but theyll also provide jump starts and fuel delivery.  The cost for the service is very minimal but delivers great peace of mind.  

5)  Kedging Off: This method will likely require the use of a dinghy or assist boat.  The principle is very simple: take an anchor out from the stuck vessel, set it, and attempt to pull the stuck vessel towards the anchor.  Remember good anchoring techniques such as deploying plenty of scope (>5:1 if you have room) and using the best anchor type for the situation (e.g., spade for mud, fluke for sand, etc.).  Even if you cant free the grounded vessel by kedging, you may be able to turn or rotate it to a more favorable heading to try another method.

Lastly, if you want to avoid groundings remember what the old salt told me, If you see gulls standing on the water, dont sail there!

Top Ten Most Inspirational Sailors

I originally planned to make a blog post about the 10 Best Sailors, but I quickly realized Im in no way qualified to assemble such a list.  However, I can confidently say which famous sailors have most influenced and inspired my own life.  My list focuses on famous sailors known to many.  Truth be told, there are many more ordinary everyday Joe/Jane type sailors who have inspired me every bit as much as those in my list below, but theyll be the topic of a future blog post.  And so, I present to you my personal list of the Worlds Top Ten Most Inspirational Sailors.   

10) Francis Chichester: The favored route around the world by cruisers today is by far the east-to-west "milk run" that roughly follows the trade winds near the equator.  Chichester instead sailed solo around the world from west-to-east in 1967, rounding all of the great capes (Cape of Good Hope, Cape Leeuwin, and Cape Horn) via the "clipper ship route".  Not only does this route pit sailors against some of the worst potential weather in the world, it is also counter to the trade winds.  As if that weren't enough, Chichester set the speed record around the world at just 226 days.

Watson's very pink boat.

9) Jessica Watson: Have you heard of Jessica Watson?  She's been in the news a lot the last couple of years.  She now holds the record for being the youngest person to ever sail solo unassisted and non-stop around the world.  She earned the record in May of 2010 when she returned to port in Sydney, Australia.  Here's the astonishing part: Jessica was just 16 years old!  I'm not a fan of all the publicity that these sorts of stunts purposefully attract, but I have to say that this is still a VERY impressive accomplishment.  Abby Sunderland is another name you may know if you're aware of Jessica Watson.  Abby also attempted to set the same record in 2010, but was dismasted in the Indian Ocean and had to be rescued at sea, thus ending her attempt.  Her brother Zac Sunderland also held the record for a brief period.  A third young female sailor, Laura Dekker from Netherlands, had plans to break the record at the age of only 14, but a Dutch court stepped in and delayed the record-breaking attempt.  She was eventually able to begin her attempt in 2010 and is currently in the Atlantic ocean close to completing her voyage after over 500 days at sea.  I have two daughters of my own and love to see them learning to sail and chasing dreams of their own.  However, I most definitely would not allow an attempt at these kinds of records.  Of course, if they wanted to leisurely sail around the world, I'd happily serve as crew.  I was initially hesitant to include Jessica in this list, but even my own parental trepidation can't deny her inspiration.  Stay tuned for a future blog post expressing my thoughts on these young record seeking sailors.

8) Peter Blake: As I've said in many other posts, I'm not a racing sailor and don't have any interest in winning races or setting records.  However, there are some sailors who have been so profoundly successful in racing sailboats that I can not help but be inspired.  Blake is just such a sailor.  He won the Whitbread Round the World Race and in so doing set the record for the fastest circumnavigation at just 74 days, 22 hours, 17 minutes and 22 seconds.  He also skippered dominating wins in the 1995 and 2000 America's Cup yacht races for his home country of New Zealand.  He was tragically killed in 2001 by pirates while on an environmental expedition in Brazil on the Amazon River.  Blake is easily one of the most recognized names in modern sailing and is at the top of many people's "Top Ten Sailors" list.

7) Webb Chiles: "A sailor is an artist whose medium is the wind."  I love that quote by Webb Chiles and often think of it as I'm trimming my sails and trying to get the boat into that perfect rhythm.  As a writer, Chiles has authored seven books and published hundreds of articles.  As a sailor, he's completed five circumnavigations and holds several world records and long ago became the first American to sail alone around Cape Horn.  In his words, he "wanted to live an epic life".  He has plenty of skeletons in his closet (six marriages, etc.), but he's always good for a salty and thought provoking quote.  For instance, try to digest this gem: "I believe that the artists defining responsibility is to go to the edge of human experience and send back reports."  If you long for more, check out Webb's website (or is it webbsite?) at In The Present Sea.

Kon Tiki in 1947
6) Thor Heyerdahl: The Kon-Tiki expedition is remarkable in so many ways.  Imagine building a sailing raft by hand, using only the natural materials that would have been available to primitive people from thousands of years ago.  Heyerdahl did just that when he built the Kon-Tiki.  Even more remarkable is the journey Heyerdahl completed aboard his homemade sailing raft.  He set out from South America in 1947 bound for the islands of French Polynesia.  Heyerdahl theorized that the aboriginal settlers of the once uninhabited South Pacific islands originally came from South America.  After 101 days at sea and over 4,300 miles of blue Pacific Ocean, he landed on a reef at Raroia in the Tuamotu Islands.  Though most modern anthropologists now have different theories about how the South Pacific was first discovered and populated by humans, I have major respect for a man who took such massively courageous steps to prove the feasibility of his theory and beliefs.  If you want to learn more about Heyerdahl and the expedition, I highly recommend the book Kon-Tiki written by Heyerdahl.

Joshua Slocum

5) Joshua Slocum: Sailing single-handed around the world these days is still a major feat, but being the first to do so is truly deserving of this list.  Some said his wooden boat Spray wasnt up to the task, but he proved the naysayers wrong when he finally returned to Newport, Rhode Island in June of 1898 after completing the 46,000 mile circumnavigation.  His book, Sailing Alone Around the World, is a travel and sailing classic.  Slocum disappeared in 1909 when he set sail for the Caribbean.

4) Ferdinand Magellan: I'm both fascinated and frightened to imagine circling the globe aboard a sailing vessel 500 years ago.  500 years ago!  While Magellan himself died on the voyage, his expedition and some of his crew are credited with the first circumnavigation of the planet Earth.  Many of todays geographical landmarks either bare Magellans name or were named by Magellan.  Of particular note are the Pacific Ocean (Mar Pacifico in Portuguese, meaning Peaceful Sea) and the Strait of Magellan.

3) Robin Lee Graham: The 1960s were in many ways the dawn of the cruising sailboat era.  Graham was a pioneering cruiser and the precursor to the recent slough of youngsters attempting to become the youngest person to sail around the world (see Jessica Watson above).  Graham began his epic solo voyage around the world on a 24 foot sailboat when he was just 16 years old.  He completed it at the age of 21 in 1970.  Graham's book about his experience (Dove) is one of my all-time favorites.

2) Bernard Moitessier:  Cruising aboard a sailboat would quite simply not have the deep meaning that it does today for so many of us without Moitessiers inspirational words and foundational world cruises.  Moistessier was one of the first to discuss a non-stop, around the world solo race and eventually competed in the initial event when it finally came to be known as the Sunday Times Golden Globe (known today as the Vendee Globe) in the late 1960s.  He ended up quiting the race but continued on around the world almost one and two-thirds times before finally stopping to recharge in Tahiti.  He was never about racing, speed or winning but rather finding himself and challenging his sea-hippy spirit.  That statement could well describe myself.  The following is a Moitessier quote from one of his books, The Long Way, that I recently received as a gift (Thanks Dad!): My real log is written in the sea and sky; the sails talking with the rain and the stars amid the sounds of the sea, the silences full of secret things between my boat and me, like the times I spent as a child listening to the forest talk.

1) James Cook: No list of great sailors would be complete without mention of Captain James Cook.  His three epic voyages of discovery in the late 1700s helped lay the groundwork for nautical charts still in use today.  Cook is credited with being the first European to discover the Line Islands archipelago (including Hawaii), the first European to set foot on Australias eastern shoreline, the first person to very accurately map the entire coastline of New Zealand, and the first to chart most of North Americas northwestern coastline.  Cook also put to rest Aristotles notion of Terra Australis, the great southern continent thought to include all of todays Antarctica, Australia and New Zealand. Countless locations on todays maps owe their modern names to Cook and his voyages (Botany Bay, Cooktown, Endeavour River, New Caledonia, etc.)  Of particular note are the Hawaiian Islands, which Cook originally named the Sandwich Islands after John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich.  [Free tidbit: Lord Sandwich himself is the reason we call two slices of bread separated by meat a sandwhich.  Apparently, Lord Sandwich had a habit of requesting his meat be placed between slices of bread when playing cards and ever since the combination has been called a sandwich.] 

John Webber's 1776 oil painting
of Captain Cook
While much of Cooks story comes acrossed as roses, there were plenty of thorns.  Cook and his crews typically had good relations with the native South Pacific islanders and in particular the Hawaiians, but this ended after a dispute over small boats being stolen from Cook.  The confrontations and quarrels that followed led to James Cook being killed on the beach at Kealakekua Bay on the big island of Hawaii.  In addition to the notable achievements listed above, Cooks voyages are also often credited with introducing venereal disease, alcohol and firearms to many cultures in the South Pacific that had previously been untouched by the woes of Western civilization. 

The South Pacific looms large in most modern day cruisers dreams, including my own.  While much has changed there since the 1700s, the mystique of an isolated tropical paradise still remains.  The islands of the South Pacific remain a long passage from any mainland and the blue horizons on such a passage are the same as Cook would have seen.  I cant help but picture myself feeling like Captain Cook if Im ever fortunate enough to make the milk run to Polynesia.  Researching and reading about Cooks voyages has fascinated me for years.  If youre interested in learning more about Cook, I highly recommend Tony Horowitzs book Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before.  Cooks embodiment of the words explorer, captain, and sailor are what easily puts him at the top of my most inspirational sailors list.      

Awakening from a Cruiser's Dream

The following is a reprint of one my articles that was recently published in Good Old Boat magazine (November/December 2011 issue - Thanks Karen!).  I originally titled the article “Awakening from a Cruiser’s Dream”, but the editors went with “A Cruise Feeds the Soul”.  Some of you may have already read this article in the magazine, but it’s some of my most inspired and honest writing so I wanted to also share it here on my website.

By Kevin Walters

The docklines are once again tied and my feet plod once more on solid ground.  My body is back in port, but I don’t know if my sailor’s soul will ever make it back to the dock. 

Perfectly peaceful anchorage in Baie Fine, Ontario
Before we left, I did my research.  I read all I could and talked to everyone who would share their experiences about the pros and cons of taking an extended cruise on a small sailboat.  Now that we’ve returned, I realize most weren’t honest about the most difficult part of cruising: coming home.  As my family (wife and two young daughters, then ages 5 and 8) and I returned to our home port and stepped ashore, I realized that – after more than 1,000 nautical miles and nearly 70 days spent living and cruising aboard our 28-foot sailboat – I am closer to drowning on shore than I ever was while at sea.  On land it’s not water, but rather the pace and particulars of being a landlubber, that’s stealing the breath of life.

Last summer (2010) I lived a cruising fantasy.  I snatched a dream from my sleep and made it reality.  I now have something to write about, something to recall fondly, and something to build upon.  How can I be drowning?

Cruising gave me a clear goal; I knew where I was headed and how to get there.  I have goals when I’m on land, but I don’t always know how to achieve them.  I also have skills on land, but they pale in comparison to my ability to move watercraft from one place to the next.  I’m not a great breadwinner, perhaps, but I’m the best cruiser, navigator, sailor, and captain I can be.

Bridal Veil Falls near Kagawong, Ontario
As we plied the waters of the Great Lakes and headed to the isolation of the islands in Lake Huron's North Channel, I was alive with freedom.  “Sail far and live free!” became our slogan.  I was on fire with ambition.  I was full of the life a cruising sailor longs for in the deep of winter.  It’s not easy to describe how 28 feet of fiberglass suddenly contained all I ever hoped for; my family, my charts, my gear, and my passions were all on board.

Little and Big Point Sable flashed by.  Lonely freighters broke up the horizon.  Our voices echoed in the crescent-shaped bay of South Manitou Island.  The passage to Beaver Island was cold and wet.  Grey's Reef amazed us with turquoise water, massive boulders, and abandoned mid-lake lighthouses.  The Mackinac Bridge soared overhead, and the island gave us sights to see as we biked around her shoreline.  We found peace at sunset in Les Chenneaux Islands.  Monarch caterpillars became our pets on Harbor Island.  A storm blew through in Pilot Cove.  We provisioned in Gore Bay.

Family campfire in Pilot Cove, Drummond Island
The anchor held tight during a stormy night on South Benjamin Island.  We tied stern-to-shore on Heywood Island.  Fish and chips filled our tummies from the old bus in Killarney.  We climbed high in Covered Portage CoveWe watched a bald eagle soar in Baie Fine.  We welcomed July in Little Current.  Sturgeon Cove’s entrance challenged our piloting skills.  We shared a campfire and new-found friendship on Louisa Island…blueberries galore on Croker Island…more friends, campfires, and cozy anchorages in the Benjamin Islands.  Freshly caught walleye fillet encrusted with Frosted Flakes cereal was on our dinner menu in Beardrop Harbor.  We enjoyed the same beautiful views as did the megayachts in Harbor Springs.  Six-foot waves helped us surf home from Pentwater, Michigan.  I pinched myself each morning when I woke, making sure I wasn’t stuck in a January dream.

After years of daydreaming about an extended cruise, I fooled myself into believing I’d feel fulfilled when I returned to the dock.  I thought the itch would have been scratched and the hunger inside would have been fed.  I was wrong.  I am now full of memories but somehow empty.  It took months of planning and preparation for a small old boat to carry a family of four over a thousand miles of Great Lakes water in the period of about three months.  My life on land was focused during months of pre-cruise preparation.  My life at sea for three months was intense and full of passion, challenges, beauty, and closeness to my family.  I won’t forget the quiet reflection during my solo-sailing days at the beginning of the journey, or the sight of my daughters sleeping snugly in their berths below as my wife and I battled through waves and rain in the early hours of morning, or our first night anchored at a deserted island.

I was completely fulfilled while cruising in the wilderness of the North Channel with few amenities, yet I find life can be lacking back here on land.  The great irony is that on land I’m surrounded by high-definition televisions, cell phones, high-speed Internet, cars, DVD players inside of cars, restaurants, shopping malls, and every other “luxury” of the 21st century ashore in America.  If I learned anything from cruising, it’s that material things cannot fill the soul but memories and experiences can make it overflow.

My wife wonders how I can be in such a funk after having lived another of my dreams.  I wonder how I let prudence guide me back to our home port when reckless abandon and my sense of adventure could easily have had the bow headed for the Erie Canal and ultimately the Intracoastal Waterway.  From there, the whole world is just over the horizon.  As I sit at home writing, planning next year’s sailing adventure is what will make the weather a bit warmer and the winter sky brighter until that spring day when our bow once again points away from our life here on land.