Adding the Important Bits

Cruising Preparation – A Taste of What’s in the Masterclass 

Other gear, the important bits.

It’s two in the morning, the wind’s gone round 180 degrees and has started to pipe. A typical “Tropical Flick” as a frontal band moves through. We knew it was coming so had picked a good anchorage, along with a few others and while I’m not particularly concerned I’m still up and keeping an anchor watch. We’re pretty well glued to the bottom; a 33kg Rockna, 100m of high test 10mm chain, a good length of “Snubber” and the whole thing properly set, no worries.

The wind indicators sitting at 35 knots with the occasional 40, the rain has started to come down in sheets and as I’m looking around for reference points the lights on Likuri Island, one of Fiji’s picture perfect spots, go out. It’s as black as pitch except for the occasional anchor light that’s able to penetrate the weather.

These weather events aren’t new, but it got me thinking, “we had one of these over Christmas out at the Barrier”. It’s the one thing that’s a constant, doesn’t matter if you’re a weekend cruiser or a serious coastal or offshore cruiser you need a good anchor and rode, but what is it with the timing, the Christmas event was at about the same time, 2am! Surely somewhere in the world the proverbial must hit the fan during the day!

So let’s start at the front of the boat and have a look at the gear you really need for serious cruising. While I was sitting up on anchor watch I started musing about the differences in gear related to how much work they had to do. The anchor is about the only item aboard that stays the same no matter what level of cruising you intend. You only need to go back a meter from the bow of the boat and you get to the anchor windlass, that’s about where commonality stops. Straight out the box your average production cruiser will have a windlass that’s pitched at getting the anchor up once a week at most. So as not to take up too much room on the foredeck its motor is hung below deck in what is possibly one of the most corrosive environments on earth, the anchor locker. Think of what happens in there on an ocean passage or a serious coastal bash. Salt water mixed with electricity = corrosion. 

We battled with our old anchor winch, the one that, “Came with the boat”, for many years before finally tossing in the towel and upgrading. I calculated that in a typical six month season in the tropics the anchor winch pulled in nearly twelve kilometers of chain, often from depths of 20m, double that if you power up and down, so the new winch had to have some serious grunt. I also wanted a deck mounted unit with the motor nicely sealed and NOT in the anchor locker. It didn’t hurt that being on deck I could see and admire the object of so much cash. We finally settled on a Lofrans Falkon, I think they bench tested these units pulling up the Titanic.

Talking about cash, that leads us to one of the biggest mistakes made when it comes to buying gear. If it’s cheap there’s probably a reason. Consider first the work the unit will do and look at a “Cost – Benefit analysis”. In other words if I pay $100 for something that’s going to last two years or $250 for one that’s going to last ten years what’s the better deal? Don’t forget, you’ll need to factor in the cost of replacement and the probability you will be in the back of beyond when it fails. Of course it will only fail if you’ve not got a spare, Murphy 101.

Serious coastal and offshore cruising puts loads on many of the ships systems that the average product just wasn’t designed for. The toilet for one, when you and your partner are aboard 24/7 the head will get used, on average eight times a day. That’s close to 1500 flushes in a six month season. At the very least make sure you have a comprehensive spares kit, at best  trade the beast in on a quality throne with a descent size seat. Make sure it’s well fastened down; you don’t want it rolling off its plinth with you atop in a big seaway, not a good look. If you’ve got a watermaker, consider converting the head to fresh water flush or dual, salt/fresh flush. It will solve a host of maintenance problemsThe same goes for the galley stove and the freshwater pump and before we go back on deck, replace the old foam mattress in the master cabin with either an inner sprung or quality foam one. 

The other item that causes new cruisers the most angst is their tender. Instead of thinking I need to roll this up and put it away in a locker for passages. Think instead this will be used on a daily basis getting ashore in a sloppy anchorage and I don’t want dingy bum every day (wet shorts). Think also getting shopping aboard, dry. Gerry cans ashore and back and any number of other tasks the dingy is asked to do including being used to barge your pride and joy when the engine fails. It’s the number one item on the list for returning cruisers and will always be a compromise, you want the load carrying capacity and some horsepower would be nice but I still want to be able to pull it up the beach without enlisting the help of a local football team. We settled on 3.0 Offshore Cruising  Tender, NZ made of course, with a few mods for the perfect cruising tender. We put an 9.8hp two stroke Tohatsu on the back so we could plane but it’s still light enough to pull up the beach with just the two of us. It’s now over ten years old, still get’s the looks from other cruisers and with a new Fender cushion last year, looks brand new again. Now that’s what i’m talking about with the cost benefit analysis. A good set of wheels is a must. 

The gear you put aboard will depend on many things but there are two important questions; Is this a one off experience for you or are you intending to make cruising your lifestyle for the longer term? And, what’s your budget?

If your intention is to keep cruising and you’re looking at either some extended coastal first or a six month sojourn to the islands then it can pay not to make too many sweeping changes at the outset. Cruise for a while, get used to the boat and develop some strategies for easy living, then make changes when you get back from your first trip. You’ll be surprised how your wish list changes after your first extended cruise.

Budget, you’d be surprised at what you can get by out there on. We had one couple, a few years ago, that set their boat up and cruised on the smell of an oily rag. OK they didn’t have some of the creature comforts but they didn’t lack in fun or enjoyment. Make sure your budget included plenty of nibbles and a few bevies for those inevitable Sundowners!