We've learned to ALWAYS have back up plans. If we're lucky, we don't need them. But sometimes we do . . .

Having Back Up Plans

When most of us set off in a car we feel pretty confident about getting where we’re going with no major problems or delays. When Dave and I began cruising in Que Tal (our first/previous cruising boat), I think we unconsciously sort of expected the same thing.

Yes, we’d read the books and articles about problems people encountered and knew that weather delays and boat problems were possible. But I don’t think we saw them as probable.

Actually, I know we didn’t. We got frustrated when things didn’t go according to script, particularly when mechanical problems unexpectedly hit or the weather wasn’t quite as forecast. We wondered what we were doing wrong.

I think it’s a phase that all new cruisers – or even just weekend boaters – go through. And if problems seem to stack one on top of another, the frustration level can grow to “let’s just sell the #*$) boat.” It puts a stress on finances and relationships as well if you’re not expecting it. I think it’s one of the reasons that most people find the first year of cruising difficult: not only is there a big learning curve with the new life, but most of us aren’t used to living so closely with uncertainty. Uncertainty about the weather, about what challenges a new place may bring, about what could break, about what to do if there is a problem.

Over time, we learned to, well, expect the unexpected. We could prepare as much as possible, check things over and make sure we had all the spares and what not, but chances were that things wouldn’t go quite as planned. In fact, cruisers joke about plans being written in Jello, or in the sand at low tide, or that “plan” is a four letter word.

Now we know to expect problems and delays. I’m not going to say that we don’t still get frustrated at times, but changing our attitude about them has made for a lot less stress.

We carry spares and numerous reference books. We have extra food. And we have back up plans.

Hope for the best; expect the worst

Before leaving a safe anchorage or marina, we make sure to check the charts and cruising guides for alternate anchorages – or what we call bail-out options.

  • On a short trip, it might just be to return to our starting point.
  • We also have tide tables readily available if tidal currents could play a role in being able to get in somewhere.
  • In looking for alternatives, we think about both protection in case of unexpected weather and places where we could anchor under sail if need be.

On our first trip from the tip of mainland Florida to Marathon in the Keys (2014), there wasn’t much in the way of bail out anchorages. We had actually commented before we left that there weren’t really any . . .

. . . except possibly at “Flashing Red 12” – behind a small shoal (“awash at high tide”) and just outside the marked channel to the 7 Mile Bridge. By staying east of the line between two red markers, and tucked up by the shoal, we’d be out of the path taken by most boats. No this wasn’t mentioned as an anchorage in any cruising guide. But we marked it as a possibility if necessary (see photo at the top of this post with my highlighting).

And as it turned out, we needed it. Our diesel had died and so had the wind. We arrived about two hours after dark, just three miles from the 7 Mile Bridge.

While I can’t say we were happy about the situation, we were glad we’d marked an emergency “anchorage” ahead of time . . . instead of scrambling to find one at the last minute. And once we got to Boot Key Harbor, we happened to run into cruisers we knew from the Sea of Cortez . . . and who we’d shared our final anchorage there with. Turns out, they’d also once used the Flashing Red 12 “anchorage” . . .

We've learned to ALWAYS have back up plans. If we're lucky, we don't need them. But sometimes we do . . .

We've learned to ALWAYS have back up plans. If we're lucky, we don't need them. But sometimes we do . . .

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  • Chris&Janet
    Posted at 22 December 2014 Reply

    The first time I took off in a plane under my control, the moment I reduced throttle, the instructor reached over and pulled it all the way out and said, “you just lost power, where are you going to land?” Not easy to answer in the metropolitan Houston area in 1967.

    You are so right about pre-thinking your alternatives! Especially in restricted waterways. Where am I going to steer if that dufus ahead/behind/alongside does something stoopid?.

  • Jordan Wicht
    Posted at 22 December 2014 Reply

    Great insight and advice! As an aspiring cruiser this is an element of passage planning that I will definitely remember.

  • Claire Ford
    Posted at 23 December 2014 Reply

    I realized when we had our first live aboard boat on the lake that it was best just to take a deep breath and say to myself, “It’s a boat, and things change.” Cruising has been a wonderful experience, and I’m looking forward to our second go-round 11 years after the first, but my mindset is still the same–do what you can, and enjoy it. We’ve spent 13 days in New Orleans due to weather, had the best time, and ate seafood every day. How great is that?!

  • Eric Hendricks
    Posted at 11 February 2017 Reply

    yep, man plans and God laughs.

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