I’d just muddled through my first year as a yacht broker when Gary Mabry and Charles Nail contacted me about buying a new sport-fisherman. The two recently retired gentlemen were looking to fish locally and do a little traveling too. I recommended they purchase an unfinished 57 Spencer Yachts boat that I knew about to get them started. The next step was to complete the boat and find them a captain.
However, since this was their first boat, they were a little concerned with putting their new investment in the hands of someone they didn’t know. I ran a boat for their former business partner some years earlier, so we all knew each other pretty well. They asked if I would run Stalker for them until they found a captain they liked. I’d been cooped up in the office for a while, so I figured it could be a good opportunity to do a little traveling. After getting the go-ahead from my wife and my brokerage boss, I accepted the offer, but with a couple of conditions.
I told them my deal could be for no more than one year, and we had to hit at least two of these five places: Mexico, St. Thomas, Venezuela, Panama and Costa Rica. I did not want to take a job baby-sitting a boat that sat at the dock. To my surprise, they agreed. And they wanted to hit all five spots in one year!
Fast-forward to now coming up on nine years later, and we are still going strong; we added Cabo San Lucas, Guatemala and the Galapagos Islands to the itinerary, but have otherwise stuck to the same busy schedule. Since we get around a lot on Stalker, I get asked what the best routes from one place or another are, along with many other questions. Any good captain is always concerned about where to get fuel, customs, immigration, agents, best grocery stores — you name it. Every trip is different. For instance, is your trip a delivery? Are you going to fish along the way? Will you have the boss on board, or just the crew? All these things can change a route, not to mention weather, breakdowns and other unforeseen acts of God!
Three Ways To Travel On Your Boat
We have three different modes of travel when we take a trip on our own bottom. The first mode — used when the boss or bosses are on board — is fishing our way along. But we don’t want to fish in open blue water; we try to hit some kind of structure along the way. We’re always ready while running in case we see good conditions. You never know when you’ll find a big log full of bait or a big stack of birds to stop on. Unfortunately, fishing can take away from the mileage you can log in a day, making getting into your destination marina a little hard. So you have to be ready to swing into anchorages you find along the way or duck into marinas close by that may take you off course.
Our second and third modes of travel are with the crew. This is where we make our decision, based on weather and the schedule, to either chug the whole way or run.
To get to spots like Mexico, Venezuela, Panama and Costa Rica, you will need to chug overnight at some point. Chugging of course saves a lot of fuel, but more importantly, it extends your range. Chugging, however, saps all the fun out of traveling. One time, due to a short weather window, we chugged five days straight and then picked up and ran the last 150 miles of a 1,236-nautical-mile trip from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to Guatemala. We made the transit just four hours short of six days, only burning 1,170 gallons of fuel. If we had run at 25 knots and made a fuel stop on that same route, with all the checking in and out and the necessary paperwork, it would have taken seven and a half days, not to mention burning 2,500 extra gallons of fuel. (Not making the weather window to jump across the Gulf of Tehuantepec could have added another week waiting for the wind to stop blowing as well.)
But those five days of chugging almost drove us crazy! Before you try a jump of that distance, I would recommend starting out with shorter distances, say 350 to 400 miles, to get an understanding of your fuel burn and the process. The faster you want to make the trip, the more fuel your boat will burn. So go through the drill that comes with carrying extra fuel, and the process of transferring it into the tanks. It takes getting used to, and you want to know how to do it in heavy weather as well.
Most of the places I travel to now, I was lucky enough to have visited as a mate — with captains who had been there before. These captains only had charts and compasses to navigate by; there was no GPS back then. When I became captain, we used a much earlier edition of the color-screened GPS that all boats carry now. But I still carry all the paper backup charts for every area I travel through, in case there’s some kind of problem with the electronics.
And since it’s impossible to know or remember every port, I also carry the latest mariners’ guidebooks. Regulations change, new marinas open and old ones close, and the latest guidebooks keep you informed. On several occasions, rough weather initiated a course change in the middle of a trip, and a guidebook helped give me the confidence to come into a port that I had not navigated before. Guidebooks also can give you a quick refresher on a port that you have not seen in years. Either way, they are a must-have for any captain! You can find all the books, charts and flags you need at Bluewater Books & Charts in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.