Cruising styles commensurate with age

July 2010

By Dodge Morgan

I spent my second longest continuous time on board a boat this past winter. It was seven months on the trawler Osprey, compared to my two and one-half years in the early ’60s cruising and sailing on the schooner Coaster. I was 30 years old with Coaster and 78 years old with Osprey. I never slept ashore in either adventure, maybe passed out there once and again during the younger experience.

The Coaster time was spent traveling from Maine to the Bahamas, to the Virgin Islands, down the West Indies to Trinidad, the Dutch Antilles, Columbia, Panama, through the canal to Hawaii (5,100 sea miles in 49 days), solo to the Society Islands, back to Hawaii, and to Alaska, Ketchikan to Juneau. The Osprey time was spent cruising the Intracoastal Waterway, Chesapeake Bay to Florida, over to the Bahamas’ Abaco Islands, back to Florida, and up the ICW to Maine.

There were no large-scale charts aboard Coaster, and I winged it in some of the damndest places, such as all the anchorages in the South Pacific Society Islands. And there were enough charts and cruising guides on Osprey to symbolically overwhelm the Library of Congress.

The only navigation gear on Coaster was a sextant, a taffrail log, dividers, plotter, pencils, sounding lead, and a 12-foot-long boathook. Coaster’s engine almost never ran. Osprey is fitted with two GPS chart recorders, depthsounder, VHF radio, an autopilot, a fully instrumented engine that always ran.

Coaster had a two-burner oil-fired stove, kerosene lamps, and an ice box, and Osprey has a home-type refrigerator and freezer, many electric lights, a stereo system, and a pair of laptop computers. Coaster carried a Dyer dinghy, until it was lost off the island of Kaui, with a British Seagull outboard. Osprey has an inflated dinghy that houses on the transom with a Mercury outboard.

The two boats are as suited to my age as they are to the role they were asked to fill. It takes a 30-year-old with a devil-may-care attitude to singlehand or shorthand a 12-ton old, wooden, gaff-headed schooner, and even a 78-year-old can shorthand a 10-ton trawler. I cannot come up with an anchorage or a passage that had any question marks while cruising with Osprey. On Coaster, however, I can recall very few anchorages and passages where I both knew where I was and precisely where I was going.

As example, I sailed solo from Oahu to the Society Islands with just an ocean chart not even showing island names much less exact locations and harbors. I knew I would find one of the islands, and on my 17th day did so, wended my way behind a clearly visible reef to anchor, rowed ashore, and asked the first person I met where I was. He answered in French, and I am not multilingual, which made very little difference in my understanding since I had no chart to use for identification.

On Osprey, Mary Beth and I actually got quite used to cruising over depths averaging about five feet since we only carried four feet of boat below us. We more often anchored, but would buy a marina slip when we needed to find a land-based bar with a TV set to watch the Red Sox or the Celtics or to replenish the grocery inventory or to fill fuel tanks. The guides gave us shore maps with facility locations and harbor charts with marina details and entry routes. Because of the pair of GPS chart recorders, we didn’t even bother to perform any dead-reckoning chores, no plan of chart headings and distances. I even had a reluctance to consult the magnetic compasses for steering.

I wonder what the next boat project will be? My old schooner Eagle will be back with me this summer, and she will remind me that, even at my age, the old ways still hold their compelling charm.

Welcome home Dodge and Mary Beth. We await your next voyaging plans with bated breath.