For whatever reason our engine is running 10 degrees cooler than it ever has. Diesel engines like to run and hate to sit idle. Especially marine engines. I am sure that whatever stuff that was built up in the heat exchanger and other cooling arteries have been flushed out. Before, whenever we ran at 1800 rpm's the temp was 180 and when pushed up to 2200 rpm's or higher the temp would rise to 190-195. Now it stays a constant 175 at 1800 rpm and if we are running higher rpm's it never exceeds 180 degrees. The engine also Sounds different.
You get used to your boat noises whether it's engine or just the creaks when running in a seaway. All the noises change a bit and become something new. We always investigate new noise to make sure all is good. Just consider it cruising noises after you are sure you know the source.
Boat Maintenance is almost as easy when cruising. We have been able to find a West Marine or Hardware store whenever we needed. Here in Destin there is one just a few blocks walking distance from our little marina. Routine inspection of the engine and running gear is essential for safety and peace of mind. It is impossible to carry spares for everything.
We of course read, listen and learn from cruising guides, and electronic sources but the most valuable information comes from the locals. It is important to get out and talk to others like the sport fishing captains who have local knowledge. You can also call the Towboat US in the area to get the information needed to navigate safely in and out of tricky spots.
You get a lot of advice from those who have gone before you and they may insist that you go to a certain anchorages, marinas, or destination, or avoid certain ones. Suffice it to say that every journey is different mostly depending on ones, cruising budget, WEATHER, and interest. Also you just can't see it all. You have to pass up a lot of great places, you just can't do it all. So as in the Ricky Nelson song, "You can't please everyone so you just have to please yourself".
The time zones Changes expectantly.
Pack only the healthiest food on the boat, you will have plenty of opportunities for the other stuff along the way.
Visibility is always a concern while underway, keep a good pair of binoculars handy. Some vessels like the large power boats have fly bridges so they can often see you before you see them. The other guy reads your intentions by determining where your bow is pointed. Best practice is to announce your intentions early so there is timely communication between vessels. On one occasion in the ICW on our trip to Pensacola I saw in the distance a motor vessel, I was a bit on the left side of the channel so I began to make my way to starboard to properly announce my attentions to pass on the "1". Even though it was nearly 10 minutes before we passed each other I think he was upset due to his rude behavior as we passed each other. Everyone has a different tolerance level.
I thought we had a good idea of what the cruising budget would be like. 2 things are much different from what I expected. First, the rule evidently for sailboats is that when cruising the wind will either be right on the nose or non-existent. Be sure to buy a boat with a really good engine. Secondly, even though you are going to an area where the temperatures are supposed to be warmer, it is not. On the nice days you are traveling, on the cold front days you seek a marina so you can plug in to deal with the 30 degree morning temps and or have a safe mooring for the frontal passage. So allow more money for fuel and Marinas. For us it means eating on the boat with just occasional meals out.
We took advantage of all the electronic sources for navigation. We updated the charts on our Garmin chart plotter in the cockpit, our portable Garmin (it is old but Garmin still produces updates). We have Navionics Chart plotting apps on our IPAD and the Admirals Iphone. We did buy some spiral bound chart books for the Florida Coast but these are the Admirals domain, I never use them. She likes to have them in the cockpit and make notes on them along the way. Instead I use free Seaclear II software and download free current NOAA marine raster charts. So I have on my little laptop all the charts for Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. We would not have the room to store so many paper charts on this boat. The SeaClear software is easy to use and I use it for all route planning. Also if I can get a local person on board I can easily access the chart and discuss details with them. Other sources include our Southern Waterways and Skipper Bob cruising guides. Then the latest in electronic cruising guides is Active Captain which is available with the Navimatics Navigation app for the IPAD or Iphone. The website is http://www.captainrated.com/ . Active Captain is a site where member captains contribute local/current knowledge so the information is relatively fresh. They promote participation by giving points to contributors and when you get a certain number of points they send you free stuff. But without the free stuff users are aware of how they can help others and they reap the benefits of others contributions. pretty sure this will replace book type cruising guides in the not to distant future.
Be careful taking navigational short cuts. Often when route planning or just when underway you look at the chart and see that you might save some time & fuel by taking a more direct line rather than stay in a marked channel. Study the charts three times to make sure you see everything, if using electronic charts zoom both in and out since the electronic chart offers different levels of data at different zoom levels. Another part of this task is AIS. If your chart plotter is also the AIS display then it is wise to leave the display zoomed out to see the AIS targets early. At the Zoomed out position you may be missing some navigational data that are important. So it is necessary to consistently adjust the zoom to insure you are seeing all the data to travel safely.
Weather is the primary concern. We consult several weather forcast sources but the one that rules the travel decision is the NOAA Marine Forcast. It is good to have a National picture so you can predict how long you may be staying at a given location, but as you know weather forcasting is really only good 24-48 hours out. Below is an example of the NOAA report we like the best since it gives the forcast for the sea conditions up to 20 miles out. The NOAA website has several features and is is important to learn how to navigate the site to get the information you need. It is not a real user friendly site, you need to click on everything and figure out how to get what you want. The Admiral is the Weather Bug on this vessel and she has it all down.