There’s nothing like a story on the best places to sail to start a bit of a debate. Last time we ran one, some SAIL writers weren’t too happy that their own home waters were not included. Doubtless a lot of readers will feel the same way. You’d think that predictable breezes, ample sunshine, plentiful and attractive anchorages, and interesting topography would comprise irrefutable proof of one region’s superiority over another, but sailors mostly being independently minded, stubborn people, that would be too easy. Of all the elements that shape a total sailing experience, these are only the tangible ones.
I once shared a charter boat with a crusty old-timer who lived near the Bristol Channel on England’s west coast. There, the tide sluices out at eight knots to unveil hungry mudbanks and the clouds bunch up like huge dark fists trying to fend off the remorseless cold fronts marching in from the west; not what most of us call a dream destination. “It’s okay here,” he said, staring out over our sunlit anchorage in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands, “but you know, if I had to choose, I’d rather sail back home.”
Most sensible non-sailors would find a statement like this somewhat perverse, but I knew where he was coming from. If you sail the same stretch of water year in, year out, be it a bay, a lake, an estuary or a few miles of coastline, you tune into its moods. You learn where the current flows strongest, where the shallow patches are in the marina access channel, and which is the best anchorage for any given wind direction. You know which restaurants serve the best bar snacks at happy hour, and when you have to arrive at a harbor in order to be sure of a mooring. You have a good idea of where the fish bite, and the height of tide needed before you can sneak into that secluded cove. You know where the best launch ramps are, and maybe you’re on first-name terms with the harbormaster.
I’ve sailed in some fairly exotic places but oddly enough most of my fondest memories involve the murky waters, fast-running tides and often lousy weather of the place I called home for many years. There is much to be said for the comforting embrace of familiarity, even if it often seems that on the other side of the fence the water is always warmer and the sky always bluer.