Posted by Bill
It is blowing up to 30 knots today and starting to rain here in Charleston, and we are rocking and rolling in the marina. The Cooper River is not looking too nice:
We walked to the grocery store a couple of hours ago, but otherwise we are stuck inside. Based on that, I decided to share our passage planning process. Several people have asked about it and I also thought that it might also help someone who is new to traveling the ICW.
The major components that go into the process are as follows:
1. Kettlewell Guide to the ICW – this is a publication that has nautical charts for the Atlantic ICW. Each page is about a 5 mile segment of the ICW, and in the margin there is information about marinas, anchorages, bridges, etc… We didn’t have this on the way south last year, but used my friend Matt’s copy on the way back. It has made tracking and planning much easier than the standard charts and chart books. One caveat, they stopped updating the charts and information in 2006, but it is still the best publication we have found.
2. Active Captain – this is a web site and associated database that has electronic nautical charts that highlights marinas, anchorages, local knowledge points, and hazards on the map. On top of that, people provide comments and can add/delete/maintain the data in a crowd sourcing fashion. Kind of like Yelp for the cruising community. Since it has grown in popularity, many marine navigation vendors have incorporated the database in their products. It is a valuable resource. www.activecaptian.com
3. Weather – we primarily use Weather Underground (wunderground.com) for weather forecasts and radar. In addition, we use NOAA Marine Weather (marine.weather.gov), Passage Weather (passageweather.com), Wind Finder (windfinder.com), Mikes weather page on Facebook or spaghettimodels.com, and for tropical storms…tropicaltidbits.com. These are all internet resources but in addition we use the following apps for iphone/ipad: Marine Weather (tides, marine weather, currents), Pocket Grib (similar to Passageweather.com data), the Wind Finder app, and the Weather Underground app.
Tides and Currents – we use the NOAA tides and currents website and/or apps: Ayetide, Marine Weather, Garmin Blue Chart Mobile
Here are some screen shots of some of the above resources to give you an idea of the information that they provide:
NOAA marine forecasts:
The colored boxes denote marinas (red), local knowledge (blue), hazards (yellow), and anchorages (green). You click on a box to get more info, including comments and ratings.
We plan on 50 – 60 statute miles per day generally. Looking a the Kettlewell guide, you can see how far that takes you. Then using Active Captain, you look at available anchorages and marinas in that general area so you know where you might want to stop for the night. I usually look at 40 miles and 65 miles as alternatives in case the currents work for or against you.
Next, look at the hazards in Active Captain, which tells me what shoal areas are going to impact us, and how other people dealt with them successfully. I do this with the web site or using Garmin Blue Chart Mobile on the iPad. Garmin has Active Captain data integrated and also tides and currents. I go page by page on Kettlewell and look up the area in Active Captain, writing the results on a post it note that goes in the Kettlewell page as an instruction of how to deal with this area of the charts. I use tide and current information to formulate the plan as well. After all is considered, I write up a plan in my passage composition book as to when to leave, when to hit certain mile markers/areas and pertinent information. While underway, I use this book and the Kettlewell charts with my sticky notes to follow in the cockpit.
Sample of the Kettlewell book with my notes:
Some people just write in the margin of these pages, but the conditions change all the time and I opted to use the post its so they can be swapped out.
Off shore passages require a different type of planning which is heavily dependent on data about wind speed, wind direction, wave height, wave period, wave direction, tides and currents. We use NOAA nautical charts and Maptech Chartkits for off shore. For the Bahamas, we use Explorer Charts.
You are never quite sure what the speed of the boat will end up being, so you need to have alternate plans for both ICW and off shore that take into account multiple scenarios.
For weather forecasting, I use all of the resources mentioned and develop my own idea based on all of them as input. They are never the same, so you need multiple sources and have to interpolate. You also need to watch the sky…duh! As for weather…we don’t plan to go out in anything uncomfortable, but plan to get surprised for the worst while we are out there.
It is definitely more of an art than a science.