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What is Gunkholing?

Gunkholing in New England

Anchored in Maple Juice Cove

Life afloat on a sail boat is amazing and healthful. One of the best things about cruising on a sail or power boat is anchoring in small, quite anchorages. The general term for this style of cruising is called Gunkholing. A gunkholer is a breed of power or sail boat cruiser who finds his or her way into gunkholes of all sizes and description both for the satisfaction of doing so and in the search for serenity.  Gunkholing is a life style that takes time.

Those of you unfamiliar with the terms gunkhole and gunkholer needn’t bother to look for them in a dictionary. They are common only in the lexicon of the cruiser. Gunkhole generally refers to a small, quiet, out of the way body of water seldom frequented by the general boating community because it is either difficult to find or enter, or at least it is perceived to be. This natural exclusivity is the gunkhole’s primary appeal. To our minds it places gunkholes among the best anchorages.

An important tool of the gunkholer is having a proper dinghy. The dinghy (dink, tender) is the final mode of transportation to and from the boat to shore. A dinghy that can transport crew, provisions and other provision is essential. The gunkholer might find they need to make more than one trip back and forth to snorkel, sight see, or simply find a place to loaf.

Local Cruising Knowledge

Anytime two or more cruising types get together, the conversation inevitably turns to anchorages, especially if at least one of them has recently visited a new place and acquired new “local knowledge.” All cruisers have had such conversations, and they seem to follow a standard script. Everyone wants to know what the “expert” has learned. Five topics typically dominate the conversations:

  1. Location: Where is the area relative to better known harbors and reference points?
  2. Recommended approach: What landmarks and ranges can be used for entering an anchorage? Are there shoals to beware of? Which side of the channel should be favored in which portion of the approach?
  3. Recommended anchorage: How enthusiastically is the anchorage recommended, and why? Where is the best anchorage? Is the anchorage snug, or is it open for a fetch of a mile or more in any direction? What is the range of water depth inside, and what is the controlling depth in the entrance? Is it peaceful or disturbed by traffic, congestion, or water skiers? Is there a time in the year to avoid it? Why? When is it likely to be crowded?
    1. In the surrounding area what is there to see? Is there a beach? Are there islands or other places to explore? Can you go ashore or is the whole area private property? Is swimming possible? Why or why not?
  4. Facilities: Are restaurants, marinas, self-service laundries, or stores readily accessible?Where are they located and what is the atmosphere like? Are there any pump out stations in the area?
  5. Special interest items: Are there any historic landmarks or museums nearby? Is there wildlife activity or anything else worth noting?

Remember that negative information is just as valuable as positive, sometimes more so. For example, what areas should be avoided, why, and when?

Guttering in KayaksA variation on Gunkholing – Guttering

If you enjoy gunkholing by dinghy or kayak, reading charts and calculating currents, try Guttering. When you go Guttering, you need to pick the tides and currents carefully, and have an anchor to keep your dinghy in place at times.

Gunkholing Today

With the advent of GPS systems and the Internet’s detailed information it is easier to gain local knowledge. Remember it is impossible to guarantee that information is accurate and up to date. There is no substitute for experience and prudent seamanship. Remember that many dredged channels and harbors are constantly filling in and charts are rarely up to date regarding the latest control depth. The judicious use of a depth-sounder, or better yet, a sounding pole, will permit you to poke into many fascinating small creeks and coves. Perhaps the best of exploring along the shores of the world is the world of Gunkholing.

Learn more about Gunkholing Boats here

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