Areas to Cruise. Your own home waters may be all you need to start cruising. But with a trailerable dinghy, all the accessible waters of North America are open to you. Ontario in summer may well be the finest area for dinghy cruising in the world. Its waters are notably free of sharks, crocodiles, alligators, piranhas, and other deadly creatures. You will appreciate this, as in a dinghy you are very near the water indeed. There are many areas of the Great Lakes with off-shore islands and thus sheltered waters between the islands and the shore. The scenery is magnificent, especially when you can be so closely surrounded by it as you are in a dinghy. In the uninhabited areas, you can camp or picnic almost anywhere. Where there are cottages, there are usually occasional uninhabited islands, or National or Provincial Park areas. Certainly I would choose an area with islands, for cruising on the Great Lakes.
There are the "Thousand Islands" east of Kingston at the beginning of the St. Lawrence River, the "Thirty Thousand Islands" on the eastern side of Georgian Bay, and the many islands of the North Channel. Lake Superior has some wonderful areas, though its water is so cold that it is not safe for the inexperienced.
Reading books about these cruising areas is a fine way to spend time in the winter. Some excellent books are listed in Appendices, as well as a library of logs of other people's cruises by dinghy, which can be borrowed by mail from CWA Librarian, Doug Netherton. Look at nautical charts, too. It is not difficult to teach your self to read charts so that you get a good idea of the shoreline, the depth of water close to shore, the nature of the bottom, and what shelter there will be for anchoring and camping.
Do not skimp on buying charts. They are not very expensive and are well worth the cost. If you have an interest in an area, buy the chart at once and study it. Get into the habit of getting out the chart when a friend drops in and starts to talk. Having the chart on hand at the right moment may lead to planning a wonderful vacation. You certainly cannot do it properly on road maps.
When you have decided on an area, you will need all the relevant charts including the largest scale available to get the details, and the smaller scale, wider area charts to get the general picture. (The experienced dinghy cruiser can usually do without the large scale harbour charts). It makes sense to take along charts of adjacent areas, in case you change your plans and want to go further, or perhaps sail on downwind and hitch a ride back to your car.
The prevailing winds in the Great Lakes area are from West and South-west. Plan your trip with this fact in mind. Choose the more eastward direction for open-water crossings. A long exposed beat is tiring and wet in a good breeze, tedious in a drifter. Plan to finish any cruise travelling eastward rather than westward.
One Boat Alone, or in Company? For many, the choice between sailing alone or with other boats will be automatic because of circumstances, temperament, and number of friends who are interested. We have cruised mainly in company, but after one ambitious week's cruise alone, we felt the following factors should be considered.
With a single boat, you are free to start off in the morning when you are ready, stop when you like, or go on to all hours and skip supper if you wish. In company, even if you are tired and ready to stop, you may be unwilling to inflict a possibly uncomfortable campsite on other people. Alone, you can accept a small or inconvenient anchorage if you prefer, rather than go on and look for something better.
When you are sailing a single boat there is no pressure to keep up with others. You can take a few extra minutes to get the boat ship-shape before you move off, you can heave to and reef in a leisurely fashion instead of having to keep on, you can reef as early as you like if the wind is freshening, or you can decide to take shelter without asking anybody. If the crew is busy on something else or asleep, you can leave the jib hauled in too tight and it does not matter that you lose a bit of speed. Or if you want to, you may go on as fast as you like and not be held up by slow-pokes. In a calm, you can decide to row or sit and wait, as you wish. And especially when sailing alone, there is freedom from the anxiety you can suffer when one boat gets out of sight ahead or lags behind.
On the other hand, sailing in company provides companionship and we have made long-term friends cruising. There is the double-check on navigation and compass courses, and ready help in the event of equipment failure or for making incidental repairs. If you should have a big misfortune or even lose your boat on the rocks, such close help may be vital. We have once or twice felt, while cruising alone, that we were at risk of being molested at an anchorage or campsite by thieves or vandals. There may also be a problem if you want to leave your boat at a dock or beach to go shopping, which sailing in company would solve.
When cruising in company, our preference is for two to four boats only. This would not apply to cruising resort or areas in which there are many campsites. But, in uninhabited areas, we tend to look for very small sheltered coves in which to camp, and more than three or four dinghies may not be able to beach or anchor together.
If dinghies sailing together are not all of the same class, it is important that they should have very nearly the same speed in all wind conditions, and on all points of sailing, especially the same speed on a beat, in order to stay together.
Choice of Dinghy. At this point you may have your own dinghy, and are not about to change. But, if the choice is still open, consider looking for the following desirable features:
Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Planning
Chapter 3: Equipment
Chapter 4: Rigging and Sails
Chapter 5: Camping
Chapter 6: Cooking and catering
Chapter 7: Communication
Chapter 8: Navigation
Chapter 9: Heavy Weather
Chapter 10: Spares and repairs
Chapter 11: Clothing, Personal Items, First Aid
Chapter 12: Stowage
Chapter 13: The Record
Appendix A: The CWA Cruising Library
Appendix A1: Dinghy Cruising Logs on line
Appendix B: Book List
Appendix C: Recipes
Appendix D: Addresses: Government Agencies, etc.
Appendix E: Buoyancy Testing