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destinations-canada-dream_cruise-largeThis is the second in a series of articles by Sheryl and Paul Shard who have been cruising internationally and living aboard their Classic 37 sailboat, Two-Step, since 1989.

In the first article in this series, we talked about the importance of determining "why" you might want to go cruising to help you focus your cruising goals to ensure the cruise you're planning satisfies them. In this article we are going to discuss "where" you dream of cruising to, determine if the destinations you've got in mind are ideal for you and your crew, and if so, the various route planning options available to you for getting there.

If You Don't Know Where You're Going, How Are You Going to Get There?

Most cruises are based on a destination: "When school finishes, we are going to take the kids on a summer cruise of Georgian Bay." "When I retire, I want to sail through the islands of the Caribbean for a couple of years." "We're going to ship our motorboat over to Europe and explore the Med for a few seasons." "We're going to sail around the world!"

Even if you change your plans along the way, having a specific destination in mind will give you a starting point for designing your voyage.

When we decided to build our Classic 37 sailboat, Two-Step, and "go cruising" our plan was to take a one-year sabbatical and sail to the Caribbean. (Yes, plans change. It's been 18 years and we're still "out here".) We had several friends who have done it, had seen several inspiring presentations about doing it, and finally made the decision to do it ourselves when we took a bareboat sailing vacation in the Caribbean one winter to get a taste of our dream. That clinched it. We were hooked!

Having a destination plan gave us direction and incentive. Knowing we were headed for the tropics and having had a taste of what it was going to be like and what it was going to cost helped us make decisions about our budget (more on that in a future article), boat design, cabin layout, our rig, ventilation, safety equipment–everything down to the smallest detail. It even helped us make valuable career decisions that increased our incomes so we could achieve our goal more easily. The dream of sailing our own boat to the tropics was very motivating!

So where do you want to cruise? Maybe hot destinations don't appeal to you. Perhaps the challenge and remoteness of cold weather destinations entice you instead. Maybe your dream is take your powerboat down the Mississippi River, or your imagination gets fired up when you think about crossing an ocean in a sailboat. Maybe the cruising ground you're interested in is across an ocean and you're not prepared to sail your boat over there to enjoy it. So why not consider shipping your boat over on a freighter–an increasingly popular process–or buying or renting a boat in the place you want explore. We've even heard of people advertising to swap boats that are based in different parts of the planet for a season or specified period of time. Whatever your dream destination is, it will greatly affect your plans by determining if you and/or your boat are up to challenge of getting there, what changes you'll have to make and/or what experiences you'll have to gain to achieve your cruising goal.

Our goal was to eventually cross the ocean and sail through the Mediterranean which we've now done twice. When we first left Canada, we knew we didn't have the experience and so stuck to the Erie Canal and Intracoastal Waterway making occasional jaunts out into the ocean to build our skills and confidence. After gaining bluewater cruising experience over time sailing through the islands we eventually made the "jump across the pond" and have been revelling in the diversity of cultures, foods, and languages in the Mediterranean and Middle East ever since.

What About the Crew?

This is a good point to mention the importance of determining whether your mate, or the crew you are hoping to come along for the ride, is interested in going to the same place you are (or going at all, for that matter).

Destinations can greatly affect cruising styles and if your mate has a different tolerance to climate (he can't stand the heat), lack of facilities (she insists the boat be tied to a dock each night and all marinas must have clean hot showers and a Laundromat–unlikely in isolated islands), physical discomfort (your dream is to battle the elements), remoteness (he likes busy social places with restaurants and nightlife) or dealing with language barriers (What! They don't speak English!). Best to work it out now. Everyone has got to be on the same page about where he or she is going and what he or she is going to do there or it won't be fun for anyone. At least discuss your plans openly so you can work out compromises.

Compromising can be very successful. Friends of our cruised most of the way around the world together as a family for years, but whenever there was a passage, Mom and the youngest daughter–both susceptible to seasickness–flew home to spend time with friends and family, something they missed when away for too long. The older kids plus pals from the yacht club back home helped Dad on the passage. Everyone had a great time, no one felt pressured to do or go somewhere they didn't want to, and on the other side of the coin no one was held back from doing whatever or going wherever they wanted to either. When the passage was over they all got together and shared the joy of gentle cruising as they immersed themselves in fascinating new cultures.

Although your mate or crew is keen on the same destination as you are, his or her experience may be less than yours and this must be considered when route planning too. The worst thing you can do is traumatize a willing but inexperienced crewmember by exposing them to challenging conditions too soon in the voyage. We once saw the downfall of doing this dramatically demonstrated. A man and woman came in shaken from a rough sea and anchored their boat near us. In fear and anger the terrified woman jumped into their inflatable dinghy screaming curses at the captain. When she got to shore she slashed the dinghy to pieces and left him stranded. None of us were sure at what point we should go and help him–it was such an embarrassing situation. If your mate or crew is keen, but still nervous, it's much easier to take a slower pace or plan a less demanding route until they gain confidence. Willing crew are treasures, so please treat them accordingly.

Do You Really Want to Go There?

So you've surfed the web and visited lots of cruisers' websites for ideas, you've read books and magazine articles about the latest greatest cruising destination, attended cruising presentations and talked to friends from the yacht club about places they've been and it all sounds great. Now you want to visit the places they wax poetic about too and so does your mate(s). But here's a question for you: do you really want to go there?

One of our favourite cruising destinations is the Bahamas. We have sailed there three times now from various parts of the world, have spent several winters there, and filmed an award-winning documentary about sailing in these islands now featured in the "Cruising with the Shards" DVD. We never grow tired of the place and still want to go back. The crystal clear water, vibrant reefs, endless white sand beaches, abundant wildlife and numerous picturesque anchorages make the Bahamas the ideal cruising grounds for us.

But we have friends who found cruising these islands very disappointing. We were so surprised when we learned that they felt this way! We had all made the long journey from Toronto together one year because we had heard so much about the Bahamas and we were all anxious to explore them. After our winter there we felt we had found paradise and were ready to tell everyone to go there. They were telling everyone to consider other cruising destinations. How could we all be reacting so differently?

What it got down to was expectations. Our friends are adventurous boaters with lots of cruising experience, but in the Out Islands of the Bahamas there isn't a whole lot more to do than swim, dive and fish. Besides sailing, most other waters ports don't interest our friends. We are certified scuba divers and love sailing because we can get to great out-of-the-way dive sites! They felt confined by the shallow water, reefs and sandbars. We liked the navigational challenges and didn't worry if we had to push through the sand occasionally to reach a safe harbour–Two-Step draws 6 feet. We love remote anchorages; they do to a point but are more comfortable if they can stop in marinas occasionally for a break. In the Out Island, marinas are few and far between and in most cases offer pretty basic facilities.

It was a valuable lesson for us. We are now very careful when people ask us for recommendations on cruising destinations. Having said this we still think that the best form of research on cruising destinations is talking to fellow cruisers who have first-hand experience in the place you are considering, best done sharing a beer in the bar. Just keep in mind that their interests, attitudes, and comfort levels may be different from yours.

It's very important to consider your own cruising style and whether or not the cruising destination you are dreaming about can support it. Sometimes this is hard to judge just from research, but that's the beauty of cruising. You're free to up anchor and set sail for new horizons.

Next time we'll discuss the Cost of Cruising - how to determine it, how to design a budget you can stick to, how to save up for your voyage, and tips on managing your money from afar.

Paul and Sheryl Shard are the authors of the bestselling book, "Sail Away! A Guide to Outfitting and Provisioning for Cruising" and the hosts of the award-winning sailing TV series, "Distant Shores" which is also available on DVD. Visit their website www.distantshores.ca