Saturday, October 9, 2010

Too Much, Too Little, Too Different?

As I sit crumpling tissues, sipping soup, and trying to get over my winter cold, I've searched for a distraction. A blog entry will have to do, but set your expectations low; the drugs won't encourage clarity or bring revelation.

As I sit down, once again, to make revisions to the guide I maintain, Circumnavigating the Delmarva--A Guide for the Shoal Draft Sailor, I wonder if the detail is enough, where there is too little, and when the sailor might have liked more surprise. Some years ago my partner and I wrote a climbing guide to Old Rag Mountain (on the side bar); the general rule was to provide a clear description of how to find the major climbs, describe the route the climb took, and level of difficulty in climbing, but to leave out enough detail of the rock and methods that each climb would feel like a discovery. That is the heart of climbing and that is the manner of most climbing guides; give just enough detail so that the climber won't get in over his head without having been warned he could die. A good guide should hint at surprises, but never give them away.

Cruising guides are different. Many sailors marina-hop. Many go on group cruises, forming a convoy and expecting everything to be spelled out. These folks don't want too many surprises--they want a blazed trail to the best dining. I didn't write for them, I wrote for more adventurous souls with smaller boats, and I wrote for me. I specifically chose to cruise the Delmarva coast, nap of the earth. I saw blank spots on the map and the probability of sustained discovery. Most, cruisers, though, fall in the center. They want to keep their boat safe and they may have family members on board that dislike surprise, or at least want certainty regarding the nights accommodations. It's a good point, we all get tired at some time, and so I did my part on marinas and such on the coast, as best I could. Of course, there are few.

How big should a cruising boat be? When I go out with my family for weeks, the PDQ can get a bit small--when I go out alone, I would want nothing larger, not for any money; she handles perfectly, alone, as she is. Some choose much less, and small can be sea-worthy... and claustrophobic too. On the other hand I've shared dockage with 140-foot mega yachts with full crew. Too much like running a business and no adventure at all.... though I could stand it for a time. But I would need a smaller boat to enjoy alone.

One hull or more? The Delmarva cruise no doubt favors a multihull, but the inside passage was first done and first written about in a 21-foot Sailmaster. But that is only one route. What of cruising the mid-Atlantic in more general terms? I've chosen a cat, but I'm not adamant. The motion of a cat is quick and sometimes tiring. Freedom from watching soundings too closely is gratifying. The speed is generally better, the price is worse, handling is generally easier, and the accommodations are different. It is best, for example, to compare a 32-foot cat to a 36- to 38-foot monohull; then the performance, space, and cost reach parity. Just a choice.

Do choices--monohull or multihull, power or sail-- affect the content of the guide? Yes. There are a surprising number of harbors and channels where 6-foot depths are probable and 5-foot depths are possible. Larger monohulls begin to fret. So I wrote for shoal draft boats, perhaps 4 feet or less, sometimes much less. Power boats are shoal draft too; I hope they don't feel left out. After all, most sailors are power boats 30% of the time on cruise, if we're honest. The expanded range of shallow draft boats get little discussion in the big guides. Either tradition or a sense of who buys their books. Get too many deep-draft sailors stuck because the they didn't read the fine print, and they get sore about it.

If I wrote a guide for the largest boats, I would only need to describe a dozen harbors in the Chesapeake and to refer the professional crew to the appropriate NOAA and Coast Guard references. 

A guide for smallest boats--my tender--could be approached foot-by-foot around the Bay. Not a trip goes by that I don't discover some pleasant shoreline spot, often just under my nose but overlooked for years. I've thrown in some shoreline detail, where I thought it was worthy of special note, but there is so much left out. I only offer illumination of some few spots, but I am adding more in each edition. Every cruiser should occasionally scan the coast for intriguing coasts, anchor out and dingy ashore to explore, and then move on. But I don't see that happening much. The Bay is just a highway between noted harbors. A shame, I think.

I'll never write a general Chesapeake guide. I'm sure some of my cruising interests are mine alone, and that doesn't bother me much at all. So as I revise, I add tiny little points of interest overlooked in the big guides. The first edition was 88 pages, 8 1/2" x 11"; the third edition has grown to 141 pages. If the exercise serves no purpose beyond helping me get to know the Bay a little better, that's just fine. The Chesapeake Bay Magazine Guide to Cruising the Chesapeake Bay is a fine book. Just not my sort of book.

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