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  • Tristan Sess

Small Steps

Updated: May 11, 2021

Preparation is key for so many things in life, and sailing is no exception. Take, for example, the America’s Cup. American Magic, the American competitor for the 2021Cup, began its building process in 2017. It took four years of planning, coordinating, building, strategizing, practicing, communicating, and learning, just to prepare for one regatta. After all that planning and $120 million later, they lost in the qualifiers and had to go home with a broken boat. It was heartbreaking to watch and it’s hard to say if they had this particular scenario planned out, but they were prepared for it. You hear stories of sailors whose masts break in the middle of the Atlantic with no power or steering and manage to fix something together to sail to a shipping lane 200 miles away for help. It’s not because they are more intuitive than you and me, although they very well could be, it’s because they had a plan for everything.

The beauty of planning things is that it gets easier with time. Some things even become second nature, a type of muscle memory more than a plan. Unfortunately, passage planning is not one of those things that I can claim to have down to a science yet. As a matter of fact, I’ve never passage planned.

If you read my first post, you’ll remember how I said I found out I was buying my boat the night before I sailed it home. There was zero planning. In fact, at one point we had to swing our arms just to get a draw bridge operator to raise a bridge for us because we didn’t even have a VHF. Although I love spontaneity, I am trying my best to be a more prepared and conservative sailor every day. I don’t expect to become a pro overnight, and I know that everything I do can be critiqued and someone on the internet can tell me I’m doing something wrong, but that’s alright. Everything in moderation. I know I’m doing things wrong, but I’m trying to learn what those things are and how to fix them rather than not trying in the first place.

My first overnight is fast approaching and I’m very thankful to have the internet at my disposal. Countless google searches to get a better understanding of what all goes into a passage from what types of watches (at the helm) work best for others, to what’s the best navigation app. I’ve learned so much in the last few weeks and plan on learning tons more in the weeks to come.

The trip being planned right now is a two-night, two-day trip leaving Friday night from Center Moriches, NY and sailing to Block Island, RI and back by Sunday night (hopefully at a reasonable time). We are constrained by time due to work and school, and constrained by dates due to my girlfriend leaving for 4 months the following weekend. The trip is about 160 miles give or take, and depending on the wind and seas, may be a quick, fun and easy weekend, or the last weekend my friends trust me being in charge of the weekend plans.

May 14th is our departure date and those days from now until then are precious. Fortunately, we were well ahead of the curve on planning things such as departure timing, mooring/anchoring, new coms, food, watches, sea sickness scenarios, etc. These have all been figured out via text, phone call or short hangouts during the weekends. On the flip side, there are some things, the major preparatory items, that are still looming.

We haven’t gotten the boat in the water yet due to drastically low tides from the moon the last few weekends. Winter tides (generally lower than summer tides) are still hanging around as well making things even more difficult. Although not terribly concerning, I would love to get the boat in at least two weeks in advance for a few reasons. First, it’s simply the only safe way to make this trip. The engine ran fine last year, the sails didn’t have any rips, and the steering worked but you can’t assume a boat on the hard all winter is going to perform the same as when you took it out. Maybe it will, more than likely it will, but it’s also not unforeseeable that a rat ate a hole in the Genoa or my 8hp engine with an unknow number of hours on it doesn’t want to run properly. The second reason I want to get the boat in so badly before the trip is to take it out through the inlet.

This may not sound daunting but for anyone that’s seen the Moriches Inlet, you already understand why. The inlet is a channel, 10 ft. deep and 200 ft. wide according to the Army Corps of Engineers. Just outside of the inlet there are sandbars that I know if not careful, could be a bad time for a boat like mine with only 8hp and a 4.5’ keel. We have good up to date maps with good depth data and GPS, but there’s always some reason for concern in areas like such. The current rips in and out of the inlet and timing it properly will either make our lives much easier or harder. We already know where the sandbars are (and the drinking bars at our destination) and what the current will look like during our departure, but nothing is more calming than experience. Until I head out that inlet for the first time, no matter how prepared, there will most definitely be some level of concern.

The excitement from preparing is boiling over for me. After many Google searches, Reddit posts, and countless forums on sailing and cruising pages, I am eager to get after it. A few new spark plugs and cleaned cushions from now, if all goes according to plan, we will be on our way to Block Island. And if all doesn’t go as planned, well, I plan on that being the case, so I’m at least prepared.


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