Plan to Arrive Early
If you slow down and are not going to arrive early enough, it's time to start the engine. Don't wait until it's too late to make up for lost progress. Your priority should be to approach an anchorage safely in daylight rather than sailing into the late afternoon or evening hours with the last breath of wind. This is especially important when anchoring in an unfamiliar area or having to secure a mooring buoy where only a few moorings are available. At the chart briefing learn about locations where arriving early is important.
Maintain Situational (and Positional) Awareness
This means not only knowing what is going on at the moment, but being aware of what is about to happen.Is leeway or adverse current taking your boat toward a hazardous area? Is the bearing to another boat in the distance holding steady indicating the likelihood of a collision course? Is reduced speed going to cause you to arrive at your destination too late to enter the anchorage safely? Is there a squall rapidly approaching your position? Is that entire fleet of racing sailboats heading your way? Are there fish trap buoys in your path?Be aware of what's going on around you right now and what the situation is going to be in the next 5 to 10 minutes or even more. Keep your mind ahead of the boat in both time and space so no adverse circumstances can sneak up on you and take you by surprise.
Remember the old adage: "An excellent sailor is one who uses his expert judgment to avoid situations that require him to use his expert skill".Never Trust Just One Source of Navigational Information
This is doubly important when dealing with information from electronic devices, even very good ones like GPS. These devices can be very easy to use but it's also very easy to occasionally punch a wrong button. Cross check navigational data by observing if the information makes sense and by using other sources of information such as depth soundings, hand bearings and dead reckoning whenever possible.Hold Off Entering Tricky Areas During Squall Activity
Fog can be a problem in non-tropical areas and squalls often reduce visibility in the tropics. Both conditions require more careful navigation than at other times.
Even though squalls can reduce visibility to almost nothing, at least they don't last long. Adjust sail appropriately and put off passage in any narrow or tricky channels while the squall is still blowing. If you're in the harbor, let the squall blow over before getting underway. If underway, stand off in open water rather than trying to navigate any narrow channels during the squall. You normally don't have to wait long before it becomes warm and clear again.
Consider Buddy-Boating or Flotilla Chartering
Being part of a group can add to your enjoyment and you can learn from other sailors. If you're not part of a yacht club or other privately organized group, there are still ways to get mutual support and enjoy the company of other charterers. Some sailing club/schools offer group flotillas that you can join as individuals, couples or even whole boat loads of cruisers.
Many cruises organized by sailing schools offer sailing instruction and even certification during the trip. Flotilla members can get to know each other before the trip, and group organizers go along to make the cruise as enjoyable as possible.Major charter companies like The Moorings and Sunsail offer flotilla group chartering opportunities where you join the flotilla with your own charter boat. The flotilla is led by captains from the charter company who stay with the fleet and take care of any problems that might arise.Chartering is a great way to experience the best cruising locations around the world.
It's a lot easier getting to these locations by chartering rather than sailing all the way from home. It's also cheaper and safer. It's the only way if you don't have many months of free time. Just follow good practices seamanship and navigation and you and your shipmates will have a great time and will want to go back again and again..
For more information please visit our website at http://www.spinnakersailing.com. For this article in its entirety including links and photos go to: http://www.spinnakersailing.com/noframes/charters/navtips.
Bob Diamond has been head sailing instructor at Spinnaker Sailing and has been leading group sailing vacations in exotic locations since 1984.
By: Bob Diamond