The Accidental Tourist Afloat

First published in several Maryland newspapers, 8/18/89

The Accidental Tourist Afloat

by Tom Dove
You have been invited to spend a day or a weekend on a friend’s boat. What should you bring? What will you wear? What are the hazards?

First, find out something about the boat. Group it into one of four general size categories: a runabout or daysailer under 20 feet, a small power or sailing cruiser between about 20 and 28 feet, a medium sized cruising sail or powerboat between 28 and 45 feet, or a large vessel over 45 feet.

Some preparations are common to all boats. Windburn and sunburn are both possible, so take sunscreen lotion and a good hat with a brim. Wear shoes that have soft, nonskid soles – deck shoes are best – and remember your sunglasses. Otherwise, carry much less than you think you will need as storage space on boats is always limited.

If you are going out cruising overnight, pack everything into soft-sided luggage like a duffle bag or nylon carry-on as it is impractical to stow a hard suitcase on anything smaller than a luxury yacht. Keep clothing simple unless the skipper has said you will be going someplace elaborate for dinner. On the Bay, a tie is something you secure a sail with.

If you are going out on a small boat for the day, prepare as you would for a short trip to the beach. You will need a bathing suit and casual clothes; shorts will be fine. Wear easily removable shoes that will not be hurt by getting wet because you may stop at a beach and wade ashore.

On a small boat it is especially important to find out where it is safe to step and where it is not because little vessels can be tippy. People rarely have seasickness on small boats, especially small sailboats.

Small cruisers offer more space along with overnight accomodations, but cruising on any boat smaller than about 27 or 28 feet is essentially camping out on the water. It is a lot of fun, but you will get to know your shipmates well in such quarters. A boat in this size range is usually comfortable for two or three, but any more will be a crowd.

For a weekend on a small cruiser, pack very lightly. One change of clothes plus a bathing suit is generally enough, along with a light windbreaker if the evening may be cool. Take no more than you can fit into a small duffle bag.

Mid-sized cruisers can be very comfortable for two couples. There is generally a separate compartment for the head (toilet) and the sleeping areas are separated from the galley (kitchen) and saloon (main cabin; powerboat builders insist on misnaming it the ‘salon’).

Larger cruisers in the mid size range may have good accomodations for three couples with two private double cabins plus convertible settee berths in the saloon. You will need to carry more clothes for a week than for a weekend, of course, but try to keep it simple. Everything should be informal and packed in something soft sided. 110-Volt AC electricity may be available on some mid-sized boats, but ask the skipper before packing an electric shaver or curling iron.

Large yachts may follow the same informality as smaller vessels or they may be quite formal, indeed. Most Chesapeake based yachts are casual and you may follow the same guides as for a medium-size boat. Larger private cabins and more living space are the main differences between a 40-footer and a 60-footer.

On any boat, offer to help with little chores that to not require specialized boathandling skills: preparing meals, cleaning up, steering in open water. Around docks, let the experienced people handle matters while you keep your hands and feet inside where they cannot be crushed between the boat and a piling.

Do learn how to cleat a line; it is a valuable basic skill.

If you are subject to motion sickness, try your medication several days before your boating trip. The patches that you wear behind the ear are most effective but also most likely to have side effects in certain people.

If you have a particular insect repellent you like, take it along. Mosquitoes are common in summer in Bay anchorages.

Travel light, dress casually and enjoy the air and water and beauty of the Chesapeake. There is no better way to do it than  from a boat.

 — The End —