I’ve read the books. I’ve done the courses. I know that passage planning matters. I know that serious sailors do pages of chart, tide and pilotage work at home, preparing for every eventually when out at sea.
I’m not that kind of sailor.
I take planning seriously. My mind is constantly considering options, thinking about what to do if the weather turns, how to make sure the crew get fed if I’ve miscalculated the tide, what ports of refuge there might be in the case of tempest or – more likely – mutiny.
What I hadn’t realised was just how much more important it is to plan your passage properly in advance.
1. You really need to concentrate on the now
RYA Yachtmaster candidates are told that spending too much time below on chart work is a bad sign. The same is true when sailing with kids. You need to worry about feeding them, entertaining them and keeping them safe. You don’t have much time left over to sail, let alone navigate.
2. Time is your enemy
Small children need to sail in short, sharp bursts. If you were sailing with adults, you could heave to, head out to sea or just sail around a few buoys (especially in the Solent) while you work out where you are going.
When you have kids who need to get ashore soon, you don’t have that luxury.
3. It’s harder to navigate under pressure
“Daddy, my tummy feels strange.”
“Daddy, I’m hungry.”
“Daddy, are we nearly there yet.”
The worst time to do navigation or pilotage work is when you are under pressure. When sailing with kids, you will always be under pressure.
4. Plans might need to change real fast
When sailing with adults, a sudden squall might be no big deal. Running an hour late because the tide was stronger than you anticipated is no problem.
With a child reaching his or her sailing limit, it’s an issue. Is there somewhere you can anchor for a while? Can you stop and run ashore in the dinghy for some exercise? Is there somewhere nearer to go?
Better to make plans in advance.
5. Because emergencies are much more terrifying
I’ve run aground in Chichester Harbour (twice) and in a rocky cove in Mallorca. It has taken me 5 minutes, 2 hours and 6 hours to refloat. It was a stressful event every single time.
Just imagine how much more stressful it would be with a worried, bored toddler.
* * *
I always knew that passage planning was important. I used to just have the main points mapped out in my head before I left, and filled in the details while underway.
Not any more.