Coastal Cruising
By Becky Coffield

Coastal cruising experience is a must for any serious blue-water sailor, yet it is an often neglected facet of many sailors' experience. Before plunging into the deep blue headed across the big puddle, take some time for coast cruising to really learn your boat's limits...and some of your own.

Rules of the Road:

Learn your buoys and rules of the road. Be forewarned that in many areas, sailors no longer have the right of way! So don't expect that the tug and barge or the large ship bearing down on you are going to yield and change their course.

Learning to read ships' lights is paramount to safe passages, and the coast has an abundance of shipping traffic, especially as one approaches places like the Straits of Juan de Fuca, the Columbia River, and other large ports.

You don't want to be in the middle of the North Pacific wondering about the exact direction of the freighter you see looming in the distance.

Cruising along the coast demands that you know how to read tide tables and currents. Many of the entrances to ports along the West Coast require one to cross river bars.

These entries can be perilous with the confluence of river and ocean currents, and are especially treacherous on an ebb tide. Do you know how to handle these? When to proceed? When to stay at sea?

Is your VHF adequate to pick up coast guard and buoy reports?

Coastal Cruising & Navigation:

Coastal cruising allows you to sharpen navigational skills. You won't have to wait a thousand miles to see if you are right! A GPS is so desirable for coastal travel. My husband and I just made our first trip up the Oregon/Washington Coasts with our new GPS. It was fabulous.

Even when we had fog so thick we could not see the bow of the boat, there was no question as to where we were! No more Radio Direction Finder! No more hand held compass!

But you know what? You should learn to navigate with these anyway. Things have a way of unexpectedly not working on boats, don't they?

A Coast Pilot is a necessity for coastal cruising. The books are not expensive, and unlike the tide tables, they can be used for several years. They give complete, detailed description of land and headlands. They will describe port entries, hazards, etc.

Your Boat & Your Skills:

Coastal cruising allows you the opportunity to test all of your equipment. For example, your autopilot may work fine when you are motoring...or sailing. But will it work if you are motor sailing? Sometimes there is too much torque for the contraptions to maintain a steady course, especially if the seas are big.

There is a wealth of experience and information for the taking if you take some time and do some coastal travel. Staying in the waters of Southern California will be nice, but it is not going to give you the experience you should probably have. Traveling Puget Sound and the Inside Passage will offer you many excellent opportunities to sharpen your skills, but best yet, the trip from San Diego to Seattle will give you all the education you may need!


Becky Coffield and her husband Tom spent six years living aboard and traveling twenty-five thousand miles on their Cal 2-34.

They couple made numerous trips up and down the West coast, and Coffield discusses these ports and coastal cruisingl in her book, Life Was A Cabaret: A Tale of Two Fools, A Boat, and a Big-A** Ocean.

Article Source:    Ezine Articles by Becky Coffield





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