Check Out the Cruising Lifestyle with Captain Chris Yacht Services

Trawler Training includes Night Operations

More couples are checking out the cruising lifestyle with us aboard SANDY HOOK. They want to live aboard while learning, making sure that cruising is in their future.

(NOTE: We no longer charter our boat but are pleased to come aboard YOUR boat anywhere for personal training with you and your mate)

We met this Indiana couple at the annual northbound AGLCA Loopers’ Rendezvous in Norfolk, VA last May.  When they booked a trip aboard our 44 foot Training Trawler SANDY HOOK for a winter week of training they hoped for sunny Florida weather and they weren’t disappointed. Wind, on the other hand, was in full swing! 

During our training cruise we experienced extra high tides due to sustained 20 knot SE winds forcing water in from the ocean to the inland waterways. Our second day finds us navigating The Crossroads at low tide. Timing can mean everything and low tide often makes this intersection of the ICW and the St. Lucie River a real challenge. Thankfully those southeast winds have given us a bit more water than usual. Carefully observing all the inbound traffic we are able to locate the relatively deep water and without the bottom meeting our keel. 

To help them prepare for their yearlong cruise we introduced this soon-to-be looping couple to the concept of locking through the Okeechobee Waterway at the St. Lucie Lock. After locking up we rose 14 feet to meet the current lake level. Great job working as a team, adjusting lines and communicating throughout the event. Now we can cruise to the River Forest Yachting Center where we dock and visit a few boats in storage on the hill. Seeing boats out of the water frequently leads to great discussions about hull forms and thruster installations. After lunch we head back east and lock through once again, lowering 14 feet to sea level…onward to our next anchorage. 

Next morning after completing more navigation skills and trip planning we navigate The Crossroads once more before stopping at our last evening anchorage. This time it’s not so daunting as we anticipate the curve of the channel, the force of the wind and tide and the many relocated buoys marking this shifting and shoaling leg of the Great Loop. Crabbing to port we are compensating for the crosswinds trying to blow us into the shallow banks of the channel.  Situational awareness shows us a 40 foot sailboat having difficulty. BANG! his mast heels far to starboard and he STOPS hard aground. We hear the VHF radio squawk as the sailboat calls TowBoatUS asking for the low tide schedule. Unfortunately he has about one hour before dead low then a few more hours until the tide comes in. Let’s hope he has insurance as he asks the tow company to free him from heeling more to starboard.  Whew! How quickly the tides can create havoc on the uninitiated. 

We anchor for the evening and plan our BIG CRUISE IN THE DARK.  While we encourage anyone who will listen to avoid boating at night in the ICW, it can be helpful to experience night operations at least once. Having local knowledge and starting out just before sunrise offers us two benefits. First, local knowledge allows us to select an easier area to travel with less than optimal visibility. Secondly, starting out in the dark is far better than arriving in the dark at the end of a tiring trip. Two and a half hours before scheduled sunrise we rise and preview our written cruise plan.  Having an actual written plan might seem like overkill but it helps put perspective to your navigation with notes like this: After passing lighted marker 222 look for overhead power cables. We are now 10 miles from our marina channel. Nothing seems as it really is in the dark of night.  

So, we check fluids in the engine room and crank up our giant twin 130 Perkins. Coffee nestled in our cup holder, binoculars and night vision glasses at the ready, we weigh anchor in a very black night. We are a well-oiled crew depending on the RADAR, GPS Chart plotter, and good old fashioned seamanship skills to cruise home before daybreak. We must stay alert using all our assets and skills to stay out of the shallow water, unlike what we saw yesterday with the sailboat in broad daylight.  

Picking out the lighted navigation aids and marking off our notes as we progress, we are a very focused team. So intent on our goal we almost miss the skinny fingers of light blue stretch up into the night sky, bringing the colors we know as sunrise. The winds have calmed creating a mirror slick water surface. Before we even realize it we no longer need the searchlight to find our next markers. Without much fanfare the sun has joined us on our journey home. What a difference a day makes.