All checks have been carried out, everything seems to be in order, our boat shines like a mirror; we are finally ready to set sail! But another question springs to mind: where shall we go?
Throughout the winter, we have focused our mind on beautiful empty beaches, flat sea and shining sun. The photograph we have in mind when we think of our holiday could not be more captivating and we look forward to the day when we will finally make our dream come true.
However, before leaving, we should pay attention to some factors which might affect our holiday, determining whether it will develop as we have imagined or it will take a less quite and less relaxing turn.
Aspects to be taken into account, whose resultant will be the balance of our choices, are mainly related to various concepts which range from the weather we will be obliged to handle, our knowledge and type of coastlines where we want to sail, from the type of boat we have to the time we have, without forgetting our crew’s preparation and expertise. The combination of all these aspects should be the guide to our itinerary planning.
The first aspect, probably the most important one, we should consider for the success of our cruise is weather: weather forecast should be checked not only on the day of our departure but, above all, on the following days in order to follow the constant evolution of elements. So, for example, it might happen that one decides to sail to the enchanting western coast of Corsica or Sandinia for a quiet cruise week and, seeing that a couple of days of good weather is expected, he decides to leave.
What most of us sometimes don’t take into account is that, for the rest of the week, weather may not be so mild; strong mistral and rough sea might surprise us, making our crossing difficult if not impossible. We even might not be able to come back to our starting point, within our specified timescale! Inexperienced sailors often run up against this situation since, short-sighted, they tend to make decisions that they may regret later; haste, especially at sea, is never a good helper. It is therefore better to wait and take a few more days off or take both our boat and crew in a nearby safe place to come back later than endangering people and materials. So, as you will have understood, consulting weather forecast in a longer-term perspective ( it might be not accurate on the micro-situation but it can certainly give important information about significant or dangerous phenomena) and going on consulting it day by day will enable us to make cautious decisions about our itinerary.
Our knowledge of the coasts we want to explore will have a considerable influence over our decisions. The more confident we are – as a result of past direct experiences or of certain consultations of manuals ( there are several types of manuals, catalogued by areas, illustrated and commented) or confidence people – the less we will take the chance of run up against unpleasant situations.
Because of its natural conformation, every anchorage or shelter can offer a safe protection against specific winds and seas but it might turn into a trap under other conditions. For example, if you are in an anchorage famous for offering a good shelter against south-east winds and weather forecast calls for sirocco, you’d better to leave the anchor if you want to avoid troubles.
Ports and marinas, too, can cause problems and entering them can become risky or even impossible in strong wind and, above all, in rough sea. In this case, it is always preferable to wait or opt for another location.
As for sea bottoms, they can be sandy, rocky, muddy or with seaweed and there’s no guarantee that our anchor is suitable for all of them. Our plan may be delayed in case of rough sea and headwind.
As you can see, there are many coastal variables to take into the account. The more prepared and informed you are at the beginning of your travel, less time and energies you will devote to these issues during your cruise. Me, for example, I always calculate the number and quality of shelters the coast offers to me, I divide them according to the elements I might be forced to handle and I plan my itinerary. It is also highly recommended not to have only one option to spend the night or stay safe because, especially during the hottest months of the season, because many other yachtsmen might have already chosen it; so, you’d better to identify, as soon as possible, another sheltered location you can get easily. Ports and marinas are not always a good alternative, since, especially in case of strong wind, berths fill up pretty fast.
Now, let’s talk about the type of itinerary we should choose according to the boat we have. The key problem is how your boat can face challenging conditions, or better, how much comfort you are willing to give up in such situations. If you’re looking for a relaxing cruise, you will certainly avoid situations where your boat doesn’t stand out. More specifically, if you have a sailboat which likes sailing downwind but tends to list a lot when sailing close to the wind, you’d better to prefer close reach; if, on the contrary, you have a very fast motorboat which doesn’t tolerate cross sea, the most appropriate option for you is represented by longer transfers on a flat sea. All these tricks will make you enjoy the qualities of your boat.
Fuel, water and food capacity is another essential aspect you should take into account; a thoughtful alternation of stops and nights in the port will prevent you from wasting your time or divert your itinerary to refresh your supplies. As a general rule, it is important to calculate the daily requirement of drinkable water per person – about 2 liters – in the warm months; please remember to stay hydrated at sea because dehydration might make you more tired and significantly more lazy.
Time, too, is a very important aspect that you should never overlook. Travel planning can’t ignore the time you have at your disposal; so, the desire to go too far and visit a multitude of spots is not on your side. Having enough time to reach your destinations will make you feel less tired and significantly less stressed. Night and low visibility make anchorage operations more difficult for both experienced ans inexperienced crews. Moreover, planning departure and return with some days of margin can prevent you from running up against unpleasant situations.
Let me now turn to another aspect which, even though it is sometimes funny, often represents a concrete difficulty for many skippers: to establish the crew’s aptitude for navigation.
Many friends of yours are certainly used to profess themselves to be real sea dogs, with a long experience of terrible storms and repository of the teachings of the greatest sailors in circulation. Unfortunately, however, this is almost never the case and, more likely, they are just some enthusiasts! Sometimes, it’s the opposite and their innate caution and inexperience reach levels that border on a form of panaronia which stops them from leaving the port in a 10-knot wind.
The captain has the task of getting to the bottom of it. After all, cruise means holiday and holiday means happy relaxed people at the end of it. Everyone has his own needs and an itinerary consisting of long crossings, night transfers and only a few stops is not necessarily good for everyone. Someone might get tired, especially if inexperienced, and the mood of the crew might be significantly compromised. Conversely, if the crew is well-skilled and quite prepared to enjoy a very adventurous cruise, long stops and a lack of exciting situations can induce boredom.
An important prerequisite for the decision maker is the capacity to interpret the general mood and the potential of every single member of the crew, in order to make them become precious allies in case of need or to prevent them from finding themselves in situations where they don’t have the right tools they need. On the basis of this evaluations, he will choose the most appropriate type of navigation for his crew. In addition, he should mediate between the different inclinations and characters, in case of large and varied crews.
As for the itinerary and crew, let me give you one last tip or, maybe, a warning: if the situation gets out of hand and you have asked too much of yourself and the others, the charge of the whole navigation will rest on your shoulders.
By mixing and examining all these aspects together, you will able to find the right balance to make your itinerary perfect for everyone.