THE UNIQUE PLEASURES OF CRUISING ON SMALL BOATS
When the metallic clank of the oarlocks stopped, it was so quiet you could hear the gentle hum of the four-winged dragonflies as they landed on the shiny green lily pads. A few more moments and you’d spot the protruding beak and eyes of a turtle, maybe the serpentine trail of a water moccasin as it traversed the swamp that flanked each side of the shallow, meandering creek. Venture too far, as I did on occasion, and you’d have to go overboard to push off from the muck, risking an attack by leeches, the evil little beasts that were the indomitable Bogie’s nemesis on the African Queen.
That first vessel I commanded as a child was an old Chesapeake Bay rowboat, a “bespoke yacht” built of Virginia long-leaf pine, and my Tahiti was Marumsco Creek, now part of the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Woodbridge, Virginia.
Don’t get me wrong: I love big yachts and the opportunities they afford. Joni, my auburn-haired sweetheart, and I have fond memories of a week spent in the Virgin Islands enjoying life aboard a 120foot motoryacht while the folks back home shivered through the last gasps of winter. Cruising the waters surrounding the beautiful Door County peninsula aboard the 195-foot La Baronessa as Wisconsin’s magnificent autumn display of color passed by was incomparable, and sailing aboard the 289-foot Perini Navi Maltese Falcon as she passed along the stunning coastline of Italy’s Cinque Terre, near Portofino, was time well spent. Perhaps most memorable was not even at sea, but instead sitting on the aft deck of the 257-foot Abeking & Rasmussen Excellence IV, enjoying a drink as the sun set over the stone wall of Antibes’ old port.
As wonderful as these experiences were, each one could just as well have been done on a smaller boat. In fact, on each occasion, smaller vessels shadowed our yacht, and I’d guess that the experiences were just as memorable for the people aboard them as they were for me. There are, of course, some spots that can be enjoyed only aboard a large yacht, but for many cruisers, a smaller vessel should be an option. Even if you can afford it, bigger is not always better. Size is a relative term, and smaller doesn’t have to mean too small.
During one September to remember—as the superyachts headed north on the Inside Passage to Alaska, confined to the main channel by their size— Joni and I spent 10 days exploring the hidden treasures of British Columbia’s Fiordland Conservancy aboard a 58-footer. Like my little rowboat from years before, this smaller craft offered a unique perspective. Once again, I could hear wings, but this time, not a dragonfly. It was a curious bald eagle passing within arm’s reach as we had a quiet breakfast on the flybridge. Morning also brought grizzlies and their young to dine on salmon along the beaches at the head of many of the fjords, and the frequent rain showers gave quick birth to waterfalls springing from the cliffs above.
If you’re among the fortunate few, I certainly don’t begrudge you everything your big yacht affords. As a fortunate yachting journalist, I’ve sampled the lifestyle, and it’s very good. Just don’t overlook the additional delights that come only with a smaller boat. Carry one or two or a few with you on that big yacht.
And for those, like me, who can’t afford the superyacht, don’t despair. You can still have one or two or a few. I peaked at nine and am now down to just four, but I’m shopping. Small boats can fulfill big dreams and make big memories.
The unique pleasures of cruising on small boats.