We listed down some thoughts on boat gear that have been top-of-mind for us over the last year – some we have, others we don’t and wish we did.
But first, the disclaimers:
- This is not intended to be a list of the right things for cruising (we don’t come even close to having the experience for such, if that can possibly exist). Rather, these are the things that would work for us, based on research, observation, conversations and usage before and after our first year of full time cruising.
- Also, this is not a comprehensive/ exhaustive list of the “top X” most important items. We don’t even mention VHF/HF radios or safety equipment, for example, which are mandatory elements of full time cruising.
- This is not supposed to be a recommendation to anyone. It is just a list of what we think about certain boat gear after one year of usage.
Ok, so now on to it …
1.) ANCHORING: in my opinion, this is the absolutely most critical system for a full-time cruising boat. I believed on it before departing, and now I know it for sure. In one year, we’ve had at least 5 unintended harsh anchoring situations, and were thankful for having a reliable system. So, here are the bullets:
1.a) Just ONE anchor at the bow: twin arrangements are messy to install, operate and stow. Moreover, proceed to the next bullet.
1.b) Weight is king: oversized main anchor (two sizes up on the anchor manufacturer’s recommendation for your boat). People may make fun of it at the dock, but we have never regretted it out there.
1.c) Type: we use Rocna and are very happy with it. Spade is also know to be equally good. Have been hearing good things (from reputable sailors) about the Mantus. I personally wouldn’t go with any other type of anchor.
1.d) (this is a consequence of “b” and “c” above and, yes, it hurts the pocket badly, but I strongly believe it’s an investment not to be regretted ever): install an oversized windlass.
1.e) Single-length chain, at least 300ft. Ideally 400. I would go with G70 (people will say they are brittle, corrode easily, and were not made for the marine environment. But search this item on setsail.com and morganscloud.com to understand why it makes sense and is a sensible choice). We use Acco, from Peerless. 300ft. Never used all length (but haven’t anchored in deep anchorages yet).
1.f) NO SWIVEL. We prefer the anchor connected straight to the chain with the largest possible Cosby Shackle (ideally, have the chain manufacturer install a larger link on each end of the chain so that a larger, stronger shackle can be used).
1.g) Snubber: we use a long length to absorb shockloads on the chain and anchor, nearly 40ft of ¾ 3-strand nylon, and are very happy with it. After the experience with Tropical Storm Blanca, we will buy an oversized rode to serve as our “Storm Snubber” – possibly 50 or 60ft, with a breaking load higher than the one of our anchor chain.
1.h) Snubber attachment: no hooks. We simply tie the snubber line to the anchor with a rolling hitch knot. It’s simple, easy to tie and remove, and hasn’t let go once throughout this year, even in the harshest conditions (30-knot winds with 2-mt waves, and white water on decks for over 24 hrs).
1.f) Stabilizers: these are devices that hang from poles set on each side of the boat, and dramatically reduce the boat’s rolling at anchorages. Not essential, but makes a major improvement to comfort when conditions get rolly. I’ve read that Flopper Stoppers are really good (but expensive). We’ve been using the ones from Magma instead, and are satisfied with them up to now. They require twin whisker poles, though. Which I find to be important anyway (refer to 3.f below)
2.) MOORING: On the first part of our journey – sailing down the US West Coast – we stayed almost 100% of the time in marinas. Some times side-tie, others with a slip just for us – tying on both sides, and others simply going bow-in or stern-in. So, here is what we think would work best for us:
2.a) Have one pair of beefy mooring cleats attached amidships. The center line makes a big difference when mooring.
2.b) Ok, this may be unconventional, but I would LOVE to have TWO sets of cleats attached at the stern. Most (all?) boats come with just one set, but I would FOR SURE have used a second set in at least 80% of the times we’ve been in marinas. This is even more true when the wind is expected to blow hard and you need to double up your lines.
2.c) The same applies to the bow arrangement. Ideally, I would like to have the standard set of mooring cleats PLUS a beefy simpson post. The second best alternative would be to have the twin cleat setting, as described in 2.b for the stern.
2.d) Carry strong, long mooring lines. I would say at least 6 lines, all of them as long as the boat as a minimum.
2.e) Fenders: these guys do take up a lot of space. But after we’ve been in that windy storm in the marina in Santa Barbara, and I saw our 7 large fenders being squeezed to their limits between Pesto’s hull and the dock, I got convinced they are well worth having. In our case, they were originally stored in the lazarette, and I needed that space to store other articles. We ended up storing them externally, tied horizontally to the rear railings. Not pretty, but it has worked so far. I also saw boats storing them neatly organized atop the cabin. The fact is, they are rugged and not too expensive and can thus be stored outside, leaving precious protected storage space for other higher-value-added articles.
3.) SAILING: I would say the sails are up at least 80% of the time the boat is moving. Some times it is motor sailing. Others it is pure sailing, And, when the wind goes up, chances are your sails will be a safer – if not the only viable – resource than the engine. Our thoughts:
3.a) Sail systems must be carefully thought to enable ease or handling. Especially when the size of the boat goes up. On Pesto (53ft) I can NOT move a sail on deck by myself, given the size and weight of it.
3.b) Foresails: have a main headsail (genoa) and a staysail. Both permanently rigged on furlers.
3.c) A special word on furlers: the four times we’ve been in storms where winds reached 40 knots, we’ve seen boats have their headsails blown out of the furlers. And in all cases, the sails suffered terrible damage, and the masts flexed like plastic sticks during the storm – very bad for the rigging. Do a lot of research with manufacturers and users (and maybe the insurance company ?!?) before choosing the right brand.
3.d) This is more a matter of personal choice, but we don’t use our headsail partially furled. When the wind picks up, the main headsail is rolled in and the staysail is rolled out (in our case, hoisted – we don’t have a roller furler for it, and I wish we did).
3.e) If possible, we would like to have a bowsprit, for use with an asymmetrical downwind sail
3.f) Building up on 3.e, if the budget allows for, do take a light downwind sail (Ideally a gennaker, but a spinnaker will do). The boat gains so much life when you set them downwind. On Pesto, the Spinnaker has become a favorite among the kids and Adriana, and it is not really too difficult to set.
3.g) Regardless of 3.e, we are strong proponents of having TWO whisker poles. First, because they enable use of stabilizers (see 1.f), second, because they enable two headsails to be set when running downwind. Third, because one of them may break or get lost (true story, learned the hard way a long time ago…)
4.) ENERGY: A few words are necessary before starting with the bullets. The strategy we chose for our energy system has been to focus on Generation and Large Storage, so that the system always runs at low usage levels. Our batteries have been cycling down to 80-75% most of the time, rarely running deeper than this. And I would say that at least in 2/3rds of the cycles, they are charged back to 100%. With this, I believe they tend to sulfate less, and last longer. After one year of intense daily use our batteries still seem to be at the same capacity they had originally. My 2 cents. So, here are the bullets now.
4.a) Install the largest amount of battery capacity possible
4.b) Split the bank as least as possible. Two banks works great (one for “the house”, another, much smaller, to start the engine). I would even consider the idea of having one single bank (but would need to validate with expert input).
4.c) Before leaving, I toyed with the idea of installing AGM batteries. Or even Gel Cell. We ended up with plain Wet Cells (and spent the money elsewhere, on Generation). Wet Cells do require replenishing water every 2 or 3 months. But (1) are much cheaper than AGMs or Gels and (2) seem to be more tolerant to “user abuse” … that’s my humble opinion.
4.d) Install the largest alternator that the main engine (and/or engine room) can handle. Ideally connected with a serpentine pulley. We installed the largest Balmar available, and are satisfied so far. If budget permits, consider the ones from Electrodyne (search on setsail.com to understand why). A large alternator keeps the main engine loaded, which it likes. They also provide plenty of energy to charge the batteries. Also, it might be possible to run a watermaker off it (see 5.d below). Finally – and this may sound counter intuitive – by having a very large alternator, one can then de-rate it (have it programmed to run at, say, 75% of its maximum capacity). By doing so, it will likely last longer.
4.e) We installed a lot of solar power. And are happy with the decision. Here on Baja, they charge our batteries up to 98-100% probably 3 days out of every 4 days – not bad (remember, they are also feeding the fridge/freezer, fans, and other house appliances). Up to now, we haven’t had problems with the panels installed on the rails. Seas and winds have been respectful of them so far.
4.f) Ok, this may be a controversial one … and is in fact two subjects in one. First, I believe it is necessary to have an electrical generator onboard. Despite all the solar, and battery capacity we have, I found that we still run the genset on average once every three or four days. And the cruising boats we’ve met so far seem to do the same. Having said this, “next time” I would go with portable Honda gensets – the so-called 1200’s or 2000’s. They are quite economical, seem to last forever (I spoke with a guy who said he’s been getting 20,000 hrs of his’). But, more importantly, they cost a very small fraction of their large diesel counterparts. Just to put into perspective: what I spent last year fixing the water pump of our Westerbeke generator amounted to nearly 80% of the price of brand new portable Honda unit. And, perhaps even more importantly, they don’t require complex installation (again, a stationary diesel genset uses lots of internal space, requires at least 2 additional through-hull fittings. There’s the cooling, fuel and exhaust systems running inside the boat, and one needs to take care of them all … and the maintenance runs on USD500 increments. Believe me, it’s a mess).
4.g) Finally, a few words on Wind Generators. Before leaving, we considered to install a windgen to complement our power generation matrix, but decided to try with solar power first. To date, after having observed other boats around us, we are still not fully convinced about windgens. The idea of being able to generate power rain or shine, and during the night, is enticing. But they also appear to be very sensitive to the boat’s aerodynamics, in addition to being noisy (some brands much more than others). I think if we were to deploy more $ into additional generation power, we might still go with more Solar …
5.) ELECTRICAL: this area has been a steep learning curve for me, and I am sure the list will get bigger as time goes by. For now, here are our observations.
5.a) try to have the fewest circuits possible. Pesto has 4 – 12v, 24v, 110v and 220v. It’s a lot. More parts to break, more wires to corrode, more opportunities for energy loss. I would try to keep it simpler “next time”.
5.b) Try to have as much DC equipment as possible, minimizing use of AC power (when at anchor, AC comes from the batteries via the inverter, and this is where the problem starts – the inverter has an inherent inefficiency … possibly around 30%. This means that each AC equipment is 30%-plus less efficient from the start. In practice, they do use a lot of battery capacity. It sucks).
5.c) ALL light bulbs onboard MUST be LED. No exceptions. They use a small fraction of their incandescent counterparts, generate much less heat, and last forever. The masthead light should switch off automatically with daylight
5.d) (this is the most important one on this subject, in my opinion) – Try to have the watermaker work equally off Shorepower, the Genset(s) AND – most importantly – the Main Engine (via the alternator). Here’s the rationale:
– why off the main engine: there’s a lot of motoring time in long-term cruising. Moroting is boring, noisy, and normally crosses the cleanest salt water (water tends to have more sediments inside bays). What a great opportunity to make water and arrive to that paradisiac anchorage with the freshwater tanks full !
– why off the shorepower: cruising sometimes entails spending long periods in Marinas. Being able to run the watermaker off shorepower means they can be run more frequently, thus preventing the membranes from clogging, avoiding the tedious process of pickling, and also enabling the production of fresh potable water.
5.e) Have the ability to connect to all kinds of shorepower outlets: 30 amps, 50 amps – 50 or 60 hz.
6.) ELECTRONICS: unfortunately, electronics are now an integral part of cruising. They are fancy, most times fun to play with. And especially when commissioning a yacht, I believe this is the easiest area to “over-run” (aka: install way more than necessary – both in quantity and complexity). But, remember, they break. And break they will. Here’s our thoughts:
6.a) the essentials: depth sounder, AIS (transceiver – not just receiver, ideally Class A. When it is foggy out there, you REALLY want to be able to see and be seen), Autopilot, a GPS-enabled charplotting device (see 6.c and 6.d below), and Radar. A windspeed indicator is a nice to have, but I think one can do without. And I wouldn’t install a speedometer. The sensor will soon get dirty with marine growth and stop working, and you end up with a useless through-hull fitting (a sin!) and an equally useless display functionality.
6.b) Network? I would have the chartplotter, AIS and Radar integrated. But let the Depth sounder and Autopilot stand alone. Here’s the rationale: first, having everything on the network makes you hostage of one single brand. Also, if your network goes down, you lose everything (and your depth sounder and autopilot are mission-critical components).
6.c) Chartplotting: we use Navionics charts on a Raymarine chartplotter. It has worked extremely well in the US. Not so much here in Mexico – the charts don’t have detail and accuracy. For that matter, we have increasingly relied on our Ipad. I recently downloaded the iSalor app, with the add-on charts package for Mexico, and now have an excellent backup charting system for the region.
6.d) Chartplotting (2): in fact, the iPad is an excellent chartplotting device. I heard it is possible to sync them with a Bluetooth-enabled BadElf GPS, and then they become a fully functional chartplotter (I will buy a BadElf GPS this summer). To be honest, if I could find a way to fetch Radar+AIS+GPS data to the Ipad at the same time, I would be more than happy with doing away with the dedicated chartplotter at all !
6.e) Before closing the subject of Electronics, I wanted to mention the Satellite phone. We acquired one from Iridium just before departure, and are satisfied with it. Mind you, it is expensive, but it has served us well along the way. Especially after we left the US and connectivity became an issue. Our satphone allowed us to monitor the weather daily along our 740-mile passage to Baja and remain in touch with a weather router, it allowed us to check weather constantly before and during the landfall of hurricane Blanca and adjust our actions accordingly. It has also allowed us to ensure marina spots twice along the way, and to keep in touch with family members on special dates while at sea or without connectivity. I might be able to achieve the same with a HF radio – which we have. But I find it overly finicky – the antenna set up, grounding, electric noise from the chargers. Not to mention trying to understand English over a static-heavy transmission. Maybe if one day we start crossing oceans, I will surrender to the ritualization required by HF radios. Until then, I will be happily using my iridium.
7.) CABIN, COMFORT and OTHER: The boat becomes your home. You spend 24/7 in it. You are much more exposed to the elements than in a brick-and-mortar home.
Here’s a few thoughts:
7.a) First and foremost, the Pilothouse. This was a must-have aspect of our boat search, and we are so glad to have stuck to it. The pilothouse makes a huge difference to cruising in my opinion. Underway, it protects us from the elements – blazing sun, rain, wind, salt-water spray, and cold. At anchor, the cockpit protected by a pilothouse becomes one of the best areas for lounging. Not to mention the glorious meals at sunset. Some boats come with built-in pilothouses – like Pesto – but we have seen numerous ingenuous pilothouses built with canvas.
7.b) Dorade Vents: they are graceful, lend a “cruising like” aspect to the sailing yacht, and I HATE them. Pesto has 7. In cold weather, they forced frigid air in, and we had to close them with rolled socks. In hot weather, they don’t make any difference. They take up premium real estate on deck. Lines snag on them, and often you will have to replace the cowl vents. And, when it rains bad, they let water in. If I could, this would be probably one of the things I would first eliminate from Pesto.
7.c) Cabin fans (DC, Please): on the other hand, we LOVE them. On hot weather they make a huge difference. The basic set should include one for each bed/bunk, at least two in the main salon, one of them with the ability to refresh the cook generously. Ideally, have fans installed in the heads (bathrooms).
7.d) Awnings: in warm weather, the cabin gets incredibly hot. The last week, we’ve had consistently temperatures of 35-38C INSIDE the cabin all day long. And the problem is, it takes 2/3rds of the night for it to cool down a bit. And when it does, the sun rises again! So, it is imperative to have a way to cover the deck and prevent the sun from hitting it straight (we still don’t). We’ve found that one large cover can be cumbersome. To install, to stow and to handle – particularly as the wind freshens. Also, whatever cover you have, it MUST preserve your ability to walk freely on deck (while at anchor, it is imperative to have easy access to the bow, otherwise you may end up reducing the amount of times you go check the anchor at night, and this is bad). We are now considering a set of smaller awnings. One over the main cabin, one covering the pilothouse, one for the foredeck, and another one for the aft cabin. They would lay low on deck, and be attached to the lower portion of the stanchion posts – this way we can walk over the attachment lines, thus retaining walkability on deck. They will be also easier to install (much lighter) and to stow. Once I have them done, I will report back here.
7.e) If there were degrees of freedom regarding cabin layout, I would try as much as possible to place the fridge (and/or freezer) away from the stove. On Pesto, they are adjacent, and every time we switch the oven on, our fridge gets wet and messy inside (not to mention the electricity required to restore the fridge’s temperature). If possible, I would also try hard to place them (fridge/freezer) amidships. On warm weather, the topsides exposed to the sun radiate an enormous amount of heat to the inside of the cabin (and fridge/freezer, if they are built against the topsides).
7.f) Still on cabin layout, a note on bathrooms. It os not uncommon for boats to come with two, and some times even three bathrooms in the cabin. Pesto has two, and over time we have tended to use just one – easier to clean. We only use the second bathroom when we receive guests.
7.g) And while we are on the subject, last year we installed an electric toilet (Vacu-flush), and have been thankful of this decision each and every time we’ve used it. One year down the road, it has been working flawlessly. And it is a major comfort factor.
7.h) And now I will make probably the major stride into the non-essential-but-great category: the laundry machine. Pesto came equipped with one. It wasn’t on our list, it didn’t weight on the purchase decision, and it is obviously not mission-critical. But boy we love it! Ok, most marinas offer laundry (in the US, not much so here in MX). But some times you have to wait in line, there’s the endless supply of quarter coins you need to maintain, and the occasional odd stuff that may show up in your laundry bag. And while at anchor, the solution is the bucket. On Pesto, every time we run the generator I also do our laundry. Quick and easy.
7.i) Vacuum Cleaner: Going Cruising? Take a vaccum cleaner. Period. You won’t believe how much and quickly dust and dirt accumulates around the cabin.
7.j) “Stuff”: I have written a long paragraph on this topic but just erased it. Will try to keep it short. A boat is a small space for a living. Storage comes at a high premium. It is very easy to accumulate and carry things that aren’t essential for the cruising life (“Stuff”). Beware of it. The more Stuff accumulates, the more likely it s to keep accumulating further. Just saying.
8.a) Dinghy: a dinghy is an essential component of cruising. Pesto came with a 10ft inflatable with a double hard bottom (fiberglass). It planes and is fast, it has a proper “deck”, and is good looking. But it is very heavy, which is a complication for hoisting and especially for beach landings. “Next Time Up”, I would opt for a lighter one, still with a hard bottom, but one which I could pull up a beach by myself. I heard the AB inflatables are great (aluminum bottom). A little less mainstream, the Portland Pudgy is one that has always caught my attention. I even tried to convince Adriana and the kids of trading our dinghy/outboard for a Portland Pudgy, but was incredibly unsuccessful in the process. Oh well.
8.b) Dinghy Wheels: Back in San Diego we installed wheels to our dinghy. Almost five months and a number of beach landings later, I know for sure that I chose the wrong model. Ours are small – in absolute terms, and even more so compared to the size and weight of our dinghy-outboard assembly – thus burying on the sand, making the landing process a multi-person affair, and defeating its very own purpose. When it comes to dinghy wheels, we learned size matters and the larger, the better (the wheels, not the dinghy).
8.c) Outboard: Pesto came equipped with a powerful 15hp four stroke Honda. It gives little maintenance, is very economical, and propels the dinghy at great speeds. But, again, it is very heavy. And way overpowered. I believe we have used it on idle speed for at least 80% of the time. In fact, we are on the market now for a much smaller outboard – probably a 2.5hp, 2-stroke. Enough power to push us along inside bays, and light enough to facilitate beach landings, and dinghy hoisting. We will keep the bigger one for the occasional exploratory trip up a river some time (Stuff ?!?!?!?)
8.d) Dinghy hoisting: having the ability to take the dinghy/motor assembly out of the water relatively easily is a major plus in my opinion. It is always safer to have the dinghy out of the water at night in anchorages, definitely more efficient for sailing and motoring, and the dinghy/engine will certainly last longer. On Pesto we have davits at the stern, and it is very easy to hoist the dinghy. I’ve gotten used to raising it every night, and it has now become an automatic action, pretty much like clipping on the seat belt when entering a car.
That’s it for now. If you’ve reached thus far … wow, thanks for reading 🙂