“Watch this boat off our stern,” my dad said. “He’s coming in hot.”
“He’s throwing off a huge wake. You’ve got another one coming at us up ahead off port bow. Watch your channel markers. Keep this red to your left. Remember, we’re leaving, it’s not ‘Red Right Return.’ Pick a side up ahead. Looks like starboard passage is clear.”
Such was the reality check for our sailing trips, clearing any cobwebs from our eyes while navigating Woods Hole, a narrow channel where water funnels into Vineyard Sound from Buzzards Bay or, depending on the tide, vice versa. Just seven miles from homeport Mattapoisett, it was the first shakedown of the cruise where water would flow up to seven knots and boat traffic was typically in a rush to get “there.”
My dad was always patient with me when I was at the helm, especially navigating the “Hole.” He’d talk me through it when I was a kid, and as we got older it was more just a few words and head nods like: “You see him?”
“Got him,” I’d say. Nowadays, we don’t have to say anything. When he turns to point my attention to something he wants me to see, I already know what he’s thinking. I just smile.
A few years ago, I captained our Grady White with friends over to Matunuck Oyster Bar for lunch. It’s an easy trip from Newport, RI, right near Point Judith, another heavily trafficked channel with a mix of commercial and recreational boaters. If you’ve ever driven on route I-95, you can remember sharing the road with all the 18-wheelers, and you know how it feels to squeeze through the channel. On this afternoon, I swear the captain of a huge fishing vessel was smiling as he tooled on by us, throwing off a huge wake, turning to see how we handled it. Thanks!
But that’s boating, where the rules of the road are oftentimes unwritten. Knowing, for example, that this huge fishing vessel had the right of way and steering clear might have been the smart move. Going through Woods Hole can be the same.
But it’s not always that way.
There are times when the “Hole” is as calm as a lake. The sun reflects off the surface and small whirlpools invite you in for a dip as you motor past. Of course, that’s not the time for swimming because there’s still a slew of navigational beacons to connect and other yahoos to avoid, including that smiling hi-speed ferry captain (I imagine they’re always smiling), technically not speeding but going way too fast.
Action Line: Getting the timing of the tides right is a huge advantage. It’s not rocket science, but it is a science. It takes years of “learning” as you go. It’s the understanding of the unwritten rules that can make or break a cruise. And it can be applied to all aspects of life, like stock markets. Let’s get through this one together.
E.J. Smith - Your Survival Guy
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