The advantage of “cruising small”

Gina’s coastal passagemaker? A somewhat modified 1999 Cobalt 253, a 25-foot runabout that does 30 knots. Photo courtesy Gina Catalano

Last word/Gina Catalano

I came to boating through my spouse, who’s long considered the sport a passion of his. What I’ve noticed over the years, however, is that while both of us look forward to the start of the boating season in Rhode Island, lately I’m the one who’s most giddy as a launch date approaches. So boating’s become my passion, as well. To that extent we now have both a runabout and a sailboat. The sailboat? That’s a topic for a different day. What I’d like to talk about here is the runabout, which, though relatively small by cruising standards, has proven to be an invaluable coastal passage maker.

Our 1999 Cobalt 253 is 25 feet long, eminently trailerable, fast, and has the range to do 150-mile days with ease. It features a cozy cuddy with room for two and a few overnighting extras including a “couchette,” a head (under the V-berth), a sink and an alcohol stove. We installed an inverter-charger so we can make coffee and toast while at anchor. Changes like this one, as well as many others, might make this boat the most expensive (but not valuable!) 1999 253 Cobalt in the world.

We keep the boat at the Billington Cove Yacht Club, located at the north end of Point Judith Pond in Wakefield, R.I. Crossing the pond puts us in Point Judith. From Point Judith, Block Island is just 12 miles to the south, the Buzzards Bay Beacon is only 24 miles to the east, and Fishers Island is a mere 16 miles to the west. Point Judith Pond is not only a lovely destination, but a handy departure point – and depart we do.

One of our favorite runs is the 60-mile trip to Edgartown Harbor on Martha’s Vineyard to visit my sister and brother-in-law. They have a lovely spot on Katama Bay, with a dock we can tie off to. I’ll admit that it’s always nice to look back at the boat at the dock, safe and sound after such a long run.

While many members at our club raise an eyebrow (or two) at the idea of running what’s essentially a watersports boat offshore, we’ve found it to track well in heavy seas and provide a decent ride – as long as we adjust our speed to the sea conditions. On the rare days in Block Island Sound in which there are calm seas, we can cruise at 30 knots. But, as seas rise to six feet, one needs to throttle down and live a bit longer with the much-improved ride afforded at speeds as low as 12 knots. When seas get higher than that we stay in harbor. If we find ourselves caught out in those conditions, we head for the nearest harbor.

Incidentally, we also use our boat to cruise, waterski, fish, and as a fun day-boat. But think of all the classic cruising spots available to us within just 60 miles: Mystic, Fishers Island, Montauk, Block Island, all of Narragansett Bay, Buzzards Bay, Martha’s Vineyard, a good chunk of the southern Cape, and, if you push the trip just a bit further, Nantucket. You can bet we want to explore them all.

The advantage of powerboats is the speed they allow and distances they make possible on a morning’s run. With this attitude, cruising can truly be a regular pastime rather than the typical once- or twice-a-summer event. Think about your own homeport, and the destinations available within three or four hours of fast cruising. You might be surprised to learn just how many there are. New ports are exciting to explore, and can introduce you to novel characters. And remember, the trip itself is half the adventure!

Some tips, based on our many mistakes

  • Review the safety gear (including fire extinguishers, as fires happen – at least to us) onboard and make sure they at least meet minimum Coast Guard standards.
  • Make a ditch bag with a waterproof communication device, mirror and drinking water, and be sure to have a plan for when and how to depart the boat, just in case. A portable emergency raft is a nice thing to have, and pays for itself with the peace of mind it provides.
  • Check to see you have updated licenses, insurance, registration and any required environmental permits for the head onboard.
  • Look over the engine/outdrive and check fluid levels before you leave the dock.
  • When in doubt, fill up at your regular marina before you depart and plan your fuel consumption and refueling. We carry dewatering agents for the fuel, just to be safe.
  • Navigation is best done before departure. Even if you have a reliable GPS system, always note on a proper log your compass courses and keep your position active on physical charts. We’ve done a lot of dead reckoning we weren’t reckoning on!
  • Identify alternate destinations along your route, should the need arise to find safe harbor in a hurry.
  • Always file a cruising plan with a responsible family member or friend and have an established check-in process once you reach your destination. Without such a plan no one will know you’re missing.
  • Bring more food and beverages than you need, as guests have a way of showing up.
  • If you can’t remember when you last pumped out the head or filled the water tank, do so before you leave. Remember to flush them both out in the process. In our case we sleep over the head, so, for us, this is an important one.
  • If you have a spare prop set and the special tools required to change them out, bring them along. They will do you little good sitting in the garage at home.
  • Make check lists. That way your spouse won’t forget anything.

Gina Catalano is a private investor living in Wakefield, R.I. She renewed her boating life in 2014 by purchasing a 1999 Cobalt 253 and promptly received a crash course in boat restoration, repowering and fire-damage repair. She spends time on the Cobalt, and a C&C 99 sailboat, with her husband and two dogs, who have helped her gain an appreciation for things that don’t go exactly as expected.