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An interview with Dave and Susan Winningham, who chartered the 44-foot R-Escape for a family cruise through the Gulf Islands.David and Susan Winningham

What are the considerations?

Dave: In choosing a boat and a charter company, our first consideration was really “where” because our first thought had been that we’d leave from our home in Seattle. But then we realized that would mean that we’d spend one day travelling up through a boring area. That led us to narrow our search to charter companies that serviced the islands we were interested in. That way we wouldn’t lose a lot of time.

How do you find the charter companies?

Susan: You can basically Google for that. They post their inventories online so you can see if a specific company has anything that would meet your needs. Then you need to check out the company. We did that through the Better Business Bureau and you can do that online as well.

How do you decide what kind of boat to charter?

Dave: First consideration would be... sail or power?

Susan: Then, how many people are going? And in deciding who you are inviting along, consider how well specific people will get along with each other. It’s really close quarters and if the weather turns bad, very confined spaces. Think hard about who to invite. Once you kR-Escapenow how many, the number of berths you require will narrow the field of craft you can consider.

Dave: Then too, when it comes to boats, there are Chevy’s and there are BMWs. How deep is your wallet? Another consideration is speed. Do you want to go a long distance quickly or do you want to plod along. Speed uses a lot more fuel. The R-Escape only does 7 to 9 knots maximum. But at this time of year (August) we had plenty of daylight so there is no hurry. If we’d wanted to go to Alaska we’d have had to choose a boat that goes a lot faster. Speed, distance, time, cost, it’s all about tradeoffs.

What about training? Can anyone charter a big boat?

Dave: The charter companies are going to want to see your “driving” resume. What kind of boats have you handled before? What courses have you taken? Basic of course is some kind of power squadron training from the Coast Guard. You need to learn the “rules of the road, navigation, how boats work.” Beyond that, some charter companies will offer training. It runs about $125 per hour. But hands-on experience with the size of boats you want to charter is what they are looking for so if you don’t have it, you will need to pay to get it.

Susan: While in the navy, Dave’s job was to be a ship driver. He’s also taken a six-week Coast Guard course and we chartered a smaller, but still quite large boat a few years ago. So he has both the experience and the training. To prepare for this trip we chartered the boat for three hours earlier this spring ...to give Dave and our crew time to get the feel of the boat and learn the systems.


Dave: You have to figure out all the systems on the boat and how to make everything work. It can be quite confusing and once you are out there, you are often completely alone. As we discovered, even on this trip through the Gulf Islands, cell phone service is patchy and very unreliable. You have only yourself, your crewmates and the operating manual you (hopefully) downloaded to give you clues about why something is not working.

Susan: On this trip we had a lot of trouble making the macerator on the sewage system work. We couldn’t dump the sewage. When you are in the middle of nowhere, this achieves critical importance! The fellows finally discovered it was a burned-out fuse. Having some mechanical talent onboard, either yourself or the crew, is very important.

How do you prepare for a cruise?

Susan: The captain cannot manage a boat of this size all by himself. It’s just not possible. So you have to look at the capabilities of the other people onboard. You need crewmates who are limber enough to jump on and off the boat to handle lines as you are docking, be strong enough to guide the anchor down, sufficiently literate to read navigational charts and equipment instructions.

Dave: You need to plot a route that takes into account when you will need to replenish your water, dump the sewage, etc. Not all marinas offer those services.

Susan: And most small marinas don’t have much in the way of groceries so you need to plan a route that takes you into harbours that do offer access to fresh fruit and vegetables and ice at the times you are likely to run out. That became a bit of an issue on this trip because we were crossing the US/Canada border and there were many fruits and vegetables that could not be taken across that border. But just finding out what those were seemed to take some sleuthing.

Dave: It’s also a matter of choosing between so many great options for places to visit. We followed recommendations from others and looked at the guides. The Waggoner Cruising Guide is kind of the Lonely Planet guide of cruising. And it was a case of becoming familiar with tides too because some anchorages were too shallow to get into at certain times of the day. And that is exactly what happened at Pirates Cove ...when we got there it was too shallow for the size of the boat, so we moved on to our second choice. We only tied up one night at a marina. The rest of the time we wanted to be anchoring out in the midst of nature. That’s what we went for.

You have to take into account how fast the boat goes and calculates how far you can get in a day. You can’t travel at night. You have to plan your trip accordingly.

Susan: And you also have to figure out what the group you are with really want to do. Some people want to go to casinos and fancy resorts. They tie up marinas every night. We wanted to access remote areas where we could kayak and hike around on islands that cannot be reached by anything but water. So that certainly affects your route planning.

The Winningham family (and friends) enjoyed a perfect week cruising through the Canadian Gulf Islands. Since we had a very good experience with Anacortes Yacht Charters, we are happy to refer others there explore the idea of chartering a boating holiday.