Cruising Equipment review What works and what doesn’t ! What we learned ... sometimes the hard way ! Forewords: Any equipment on a sailboat voyaging around the world will face very harsh conditions .. from salt air, high humidity, shocks during pounding seas... No 2 boats are the same or have the same experiences so sharing information between cruisers often results in positive as well as negative comments about any equipment so you have to take any testimonial with a grain of salt! But this said, if most comments heard lean one way more than the other way, you should have a fair idea of what awaits you with similar equipment! Forewarned is forearmed! Section 1 : Communication Equipment The vast majority of cruisers are now using all kinds of communication gear to stay in touch with each other and family & friends ashore. Nice to stay in touch instantly instead of waiting for weeks each way for letters to arrive ... as we had to do in the 80’s when we started our voyage!  Very practical to get all these wx bulletins daily ... even if too often they mislead us! Cruising worldwide, for long distance communications, you basically have 2 options: Email via SSB radio or Satellite phone system. Since 1992, we’ve used Email via radio communication because it offers the best value-for-services vs cost. Equipment comprises a SSB radio: we use ICOM amateur radios, bought in the US, with entire satisfaction. We had a ICOM 706 MKIIG for many years. We liked it as it was very small, you could locate the front of the radio in a different location than the radio itself and it did HF/VHF on Ham bands. A simple manipulation let you use it also on marine bands. Ham radio are much more flexible for what you can do with them and also cost about 50% of so-called marine radios. The Achilles of that radio was it’s compactness .. corrosion crept between close components and eventually the radio failed. To repair it would have cost more than the new model we decide to get: ICOM 718 HF Transceiver. A classic size radio at a budget price of around 600  US$ at the time! Check web specials from US reputable ham radio dealers. Then you need an antenna and a tuner. We use 2 types of antennas. The classical long wire but instead of isolating the back stay with a big expensive insulator (that could possibly break and cause the mast to come down! ) we just installed a single electrical wire with a plastic insulator and an Icom AH2 Automatic Tuner. Our backup antenna is a triple vertical - a Hustler triple band vertical (40m/20m/15m). Then you need a modem to interface between the SSB and your computer. We first used a KAM+ made then later switched to a SCS Multimode PACTOR- Controller (PTCIII- pro) to be able to use the faster Pactor 2 and then Pactor 3 mode. SCS modems are German precision made and nearly indestructible ... they pretty much have 100% of the modems used on boats! Pactor 4 Dragon is now the best choice! The last element you need is a computer with the software used for pactor. After years of using laptops like most cruisers do, I decided to have 12 vdc Computers made by a great fellow cruiser, Bob from IslandTime PC. Since 2003, I use computers custom-made by him following my specs. You have to decide if low power consumption is important versus speed and other attributes. The main advantage to such system is that when (NOT IF)  something fails, you can just order the replacement part and have it shipped one way at low cost and do the repair yourself. We have 1 backup laptop if we can only connect when ashore but we know that is rarely can be repaired locally and thus too expensive to send it back to the store or even the manufacturer!!! As far as email software, we use Airmail, made benevolently by the talented Jim Corenman. It’s free for cruisers and works well with the Winlink network (free usage by licensed ham radio operators) and Sailmail (moderate annual fee for members). There are many other options now too. For short distance communication, you will use a VHF radio. You need a fixed radio with a big antenna, preferably on top of your mast as it is line of sight. One or two portable VHF radios are also very useful for a crew ashore to contact his ship or for 2 crew to stay in touch. We have waterproof pouches for our hand held and we attach these on our harness during passages too (see safety chapter). Mobile telephony has been making leaps around the world lately so you might also carry a mobile phone with a local Sim card and pay in advance plan. In some places, you can even access Internet via the mobile network. We carry a special hi-gain WiFi antenna to let us access Internet directly from the boat when local coverage is available. More and more you will find free or low costs Internet connections access around the world. Internet access will be invaluable to search for parts to order equipment. You can also find the ‘real’ news you won’t get in mainstream media. Cruising around the world should not mean you can’t be aware of what goes on around the globe, as much of it can & will affect you! Section 2 : Navigation Equipment The tendency nowadays by novice cruisers is to over equip themselves with electronics ... Far from being purists wanting to sail as Capt Cook did, we lean towards a more pragmatic approach. A fact to keep in mind is that the question is NOT IF electronic equipment will fail BUT WHEN it will fail! That means you have to either be able to cruise without a particular piece of equipment or you better have some back ups, as the last thing you want is to be stuck in some deserted area waiting for parts to arrive ... slowly and/or at high expenses! So this being said, lets take a look first at the most necessary or useful electronic navigation apparatus and then we’ll look at some useful ones that you could live without easily. Knowing where you are is probably the most important aspect of navigation. Luckily for us now, GPS has been invented and works so accurately! I can only guess at what earlier discoverers would have thought if some time traveler had show them a small GPS! Same thing for electronic charts where your boat position is plotted automatically! Never before could a navigator plan his cruise in such details with so much advanced and instant information! When we started cruising in 92’, GPS had just been just launched and we got a small hand held Garmin GPS. We plotted the position manually on paper charts (acquired over 500 of them ... lots of weight and space!). We now use CMAP & satellite overlay charts in OpenCpn on our PC. I connected 2 GPS so we can follow our progress in rel time on the chart. I quickly realized that charts accuracy was often the same with electronic charts than with paper ones ... meaning sometimes the chart is off by more than a mile! With that in mind, I decided to unload most of our paper charts and install the electronic charts on 3 laptops (yes, you read well: 3 computers as they will fail when you need them the most!). A few years ago, we discovered the GPS Mouse that is much easier to connect to your computer and is less expensive than a full size GPS. So we now carry a full size portable GPS (without charting), a GPS Mouse and a Tablet. Knowing how much water you have under your keel is also very useful! The best & cheapest solution is to get a fish finder so you not only know the depth but you also see the depth contour & composition. Hummingbird does very good and inexpensive ones. A pair of polaroid sunglasses make it much easier to read the depth of the water as it cuts the surface glare. The time proven compass will be needed to manually steer ... something we only do occasionally on passage (if autopilot cannot cope). Time to speak about one of the most important pieces of equipment on long passage: the autopilot or windvane. Having plenty of electricity as well as easy hydraulic steering, we opted for a small Evolution EV-1 Raymarine autopilot with hydraulic pump connected to the manual steering cylinder. We have a spare control module as sailors with broken autopilots will tell you how they regretted not having one. During a night approach or to track squalls, we use our radar. Note: we almost never enter unknown passes or anchorages at night. We added a simple AIS receiver for extra safety in congested shipping lanes (soon to be upgraded to a full transceiver). On top of the mast we have a small wind direction & speed indicator. We are lucky to have a very conservative sail area so we don’t have to take any reef before the wind reaches over 25 kts. Telltales on some of the stays help also to see the apparent wind.       Section 3 : Electric systems From the beginning of cruising we were attracted by natural ways to generate electricity. The best way to recharge your batteries, in our cruising experience, is the addition of numerous solar panels. They last over 20 years with virtually no maintenance and no break downs! They are silent, have no moving parts and perform day in and day out if you have sun on them. Since we always wanted to cruise in tropical paradises where sun would be often present, this is a no-brainer choice. Now, we also know that sometimes the sun may be too discreet so having a wind generator (in our case, two) is an excellent complement. After using a Four Winds unit for many years as well as a cruiser built one, we ended up most happy with Windpower Air X and now Air Breeze. They are small and light (nice when you have to take them down to work on them!), they are fairly quiet, especially the Air Breeze, and produce well at low winds ... and the price is reasonable, do I need to say more? Our 3rd way to charge our battery bank is to have the benefit of a hi-amp alternator on our inboard diesel engine. We hate having to run the engine just to charge batteries (and we rarely have to) but may as well get a max of power if we have to run the engine anyway! Our engine gearbox is one that can run freely while under sail so we have a shaft alternator connected on a large pulley around our prop shaft. At about 5kt of boat speed, we get about 5 amps ... at 7 kts, we get 10 amps .... Our last way to charge our batteries is to use our big 100A-2000W Magnum inverter/charger on our 2000W Honda gas generator. Our battery bank consists 6 big Trojan 2V-1110 AH deep cycle batteries. They seem to give the most bang for your buck ... but I have to admit that each set of batteries seems to last less than the preceding set (our first set lasted 6 years). So we are thinking about Gel or AGM battery for our next change ... but none are perfect ... someone has to come up with a much better battery technology! In our experience, and talking to other cruisers, the biggest key to battery life is never let your bank drop below 75% capacity before topping them back up again. Section 4 : Water systems We made up a pretty original system of 3 independent water systems, each having it’s own water tank(s), water pump and faucet(s). System 1 consists of 2x 5-gal translucent plastic tanks, easily cleaned and placed under the galley sink so you can see the level of water at a glimpse. The only water fed into that system comes from our watermaker and that water is used only for drinking & cooking. Quality is thus top. For the 2 of us, we found out that it takes us about 4-6 days to run these tanks almost dry so we never have to biocide our watermaker as we always run it weekly! No need to keep track when we last used the watermaker or having to biocide it often! When that tank is full, it overfills into system 2. System 2 consists of 2x 40-gal fiberglass tanks, used for cleaning and the inside shower. Each sink (we have 5!) is fed by that system. We can fill these tanks from the cockpit intake hoses with shore water as well as overfill from system 1 and also overfill from system 3. The interior shower has a propane gas heater connected via a solenoid valve on one of our 20 Lbs propane tanks stored in a aired locker in a cockpit.  System 3 consists of 2x 40-gal fiberglass tanks used exclusively for both showers, washing machine and deck washdown. It can be filled by rain collected on most of our foredeck with just the turn (after we let the deck be washed, the rainwater goes through a paper filter before ending up in the tank). That tank also acts as a sedimenter to protect the quality of the water overfilling into system 2. Section 5 : Food related equipment Eating well is not only a great pleasure in life, it is also a sure way to stay healthy! Therefore, we try to carry as many practical galley tools as possible, not only to prepare meals but also to prepare the raw ingredients. Here below are some things that make the cook’s life much easier! Bamix: This compact electric ‘European’ mixer will make mayonnaise in 30sec, right in the jar and can be cleaned up in a minute! I use it to mix pastry dough. I use it also as a blender, chopper to make daiquiri and blended drinks. Made in Switzerland, you can also find it in 110vac in the US. Matstone low speed 6 in 1 single auger Juicer: Excellent to juice fresh leafy vegetables like spinach, cabbage, celery, wheat grass, ...  We also used it to make pandanus juice! You can use to juice some fruits. Sprouting trays: we use a commercially-made stackable plastic sprouter as well as garden trays with coconut fiber to grow all kinds of sprouts & mini-greens. Solar dehydrator: we built a 8 tray dehydrator as per model in the excellent book “Sailing the Farm”. It allows us to easily dry bananas that keep fresh & sweet non-refrigerated for more than a year. You can use it to dry fish and plenty other things. Easi-yo yogurt maker: Easiest and simplest way to make no-fail yogurt. Food Saver vacuum sealer: One of the most valuable items for keeping provisions for long term storage. Also good to pack spare parts, clothing, ... Helps against freezer burns ... we keep lobsters for months so we always have some at Xmas, New Year :) Pressure cookers: Cut your cooking time by 1/2 to 2/3 (also cut down the heating of the boat!). Makes a fantastic rice cooker (5-min to perfect rice). We use them to can fish and make marmalades. Splurge to get a SS Kuhn Rikon. L’Acquadiqui and Sodastream soda machines: great to make your own carbonated water! We mix it with our own fruit concentrates and soda mixes. Save a ton of weight and money! We carry a big refillable CO2 tank to refill ourselves the small gas cartridge of the soda machine. That big CO2 tank is also a back up fire extinguisher! Sink sprayer: Jackie thanks Luc every time she uses this! Connect the nozzle of a small insecticide sprayer (like you find in all hardware stores) to your fresh water system with a long hose. It blasts food off plates & pots, rinses hard to reach areas, spritzes sprouts, and used with a shop- vac, cleans up spills or dog accident on the carpet. Very economical with water! Section 6 : Comfort Since cruising is really our lifestyle and not just a short vacation, we decided early to make our floating home as comfortable as possible! And it is fairly easy to have the same comfort afloat as living on dry land ... as easy as a good size mobile-home. Comfort was already one of the prime reason for choosing a multi-hull versus a mono-hull. Living on a slanted floor during any sailing was not too appealing to us! Since we spend about a 1/3 of our life in bed, we decided to get as good a sleep as we could. We choose close-cell foam mattress  because it supports your back really well, even in a 2-person bed. We have 3 bedrooms with standard full size mattress. Under on own mattress we added a magnetic pad. We studied the subject and found the Magnetico Pad from Dr Bonlie the best quality. The increased magnetism helps your health and the increased weight (140Lbs). Our boat came with nice coach seating that comfortably seats 5 people around our salon table. We also have a wide cockpit table  with a couple patio chairs that accommodates up to 6 people. Our helm station can all be closed (and locked) so we can be on passage and be completely out of the weather, being rain, cold, crashing seas, excess sun. All the navigation electronics and autopilot are thus inside and last much longer too. We have 2 cockpits (one on each side of the helm station, the port one with the outside dinning table, the starboard side with all the sailing line controls. Ventilation is also very important when cruising in warm & humid climates. So we added some hatches and designed a ventilation system that works on our 11 portholes. Our portholes always stay open at anchor without any rain or insects coming in and we very easily put foam plugs for heavy wx passages. We also built our wind-scoops to fit on some of our hatches when there is little wind. An added benefit of all these hatches and portholes is the good amount of natural light in our boat. For nighttime, I replaced most of our lights with LED lights. The advantages of LED are amazing: using only about 20% of the electricity of conventional lights, last much longer (if the quality of the included electronics is good), and they do not get hot to the touch or warm your boat interior! Entertainment: we use a CD/MP3 car stereo with an auxiliary cable coming from our ship’s computer. We have a 12vdc computer that runs our navigation, emails and entertainment with two monitors, one in front of computer station, the other in the salon so we can watch occasional movies from our computer. We can play our extensive MP3 music collection from the computer as well on the common stereo system. Stereo system has 4 salon interior speakers direct on car stereo and we have 4 wheelhouse/cockpit outside speakers on an amplifier (with individual controls). Section 7 : Safety Traveling for many years around the world in a safe manner should be a great concern to any cruiser. Here are a few things we do for safety gear we carry aboard. It pays to think of what could happen when cruising in order to take habits and measures to prevent such accidents to happen. Also, whenever a sad story happens to another cruiser, it is good to wonder what would have happened to you in the same situation and learn from any such sad experiences! One of the most horrible accidents to happen is to be lost overboard! So how can we prevent that to happen and what can we do to have the most chances to be recovered if we do fall overboard? Prevention dictates to wear a harness and secure yourself whenever you are venturing on deck in conditions that could well result in you going overboard. It depends of the width of your deck, on the sea conditions and on why you are venturing on deck. We try to always wear our harness at night or when sea conditions are bad. Prevention also is that any other crew is aware right away when one falls overboard and to that effect we always inform each other when going out on deck (always at night when the sleeping crew may not hear any yell!). Now if the worse happens and somebody falls overboard, how can we insure a successful recovery? What can the man overboard do? We have a Laser Rescue Flare and a whistle on our harness, we also wear a small portable VHF in a waterproof pouch so we can communicate with the crew on board and direct the boat towards where we’re located (we always have our VHF on channel 16 when traveling!). It is much easier for a small swimmer to see a big boat and mast. The Rescue Laser Flare can be seen miles away and is waterproof to 60ft We also activate the personal AIS beacon when our inflatable life-vest inflates automatically and PLB (small portable EPIRB attached to his harness) if recovery does not happen rapidly! We do have auto-infating life-vest for our dogs too:) What can the crew on the boat do? Throw the MOB pole overboard, punch the MOB button on the GPS or in the electronic navigation software, stop any forward motion by dropping the sails, put the engine in neutral. Then as fast as possible he has to return to the estimated overboard position looking at AIS position & the MOB pole, listening for VHF instructions, follow any directions if an extra crew went on watch high up on the mast. Easier to calmly think about it than acting in the real situation! The sudden stress makes us loose our head very easily. But practicing in our mind or even in calm water may make a difference if the situation ever occurs! Another hazard, especially during navigation is banging yourself against something solid because of the boat motion so use the hand rails you have judiciously placed and when moving always grab something solid for support. On a multihull, we are lucky as we have minimum motion compared to monohulls. You have to be careful also not to get moving objects banging into you. So secure any loose items before you go on a passage and be careful not to have the boom cross your path ... your head won’t resist the impact of any spars ... watch your hands for chaffing with sailing lines ... don’t get your fingers smashed on winches (especially careful if you have hydraulic/electrical winches!) Keep up a good first aid kit on board for any emergency as well as everyday possible aches & pains. No need to carry with you a huge box as you will mostly find ashore whatever you need. Medicine has short expiry dates so it may cost you a fortune if you go overboard getting a medical kit together. Lots of articles and books give you ideas on what to carry. Educate yourself in what you can do to prevent most sicknesses and to cure them rapidly and gently. You can often avoid the side effects of allopathic medicine by using natural remedies like ginger, magnetic bracelets, ... And remember to keep as fit as possible as it will help you a lot with your safety when voyaging! Think about what you could do if taking on water following a collision or a thru-hull failure ... or leak around the shaft ... Do you have electrical and manual pump quickly accessible? Do you have any watertight bulkheads? Has your boat a lot of internal flotation if the bilges are filling up with seawater? We have lots of insulation to make us almost unsinkable ... insulation in ceiling and side panels, plenty of objects that will float ... If your boat was sinking ... how would you stay afloat until rescue arrives? Do you have a good life-raft or is your dinghy well equipped to serve as a life-raft? Do you have any EPIRB you can use to signal your location? (do not forget to register your beacon and keep current!) At night always have some lights on. If you navigate do not try to save a few watts by not turning your masthead nav lights. If you are anchored, always turn on an anchor light - perhaps a deck all-around light. It avoids collisions! If some other boat runs unto you when you are unlit, guess who would lose in court!! If your lights are using too much electricity, replace them with LED. Having a visible anchor light will sometimes help some sailor coming into the anchorage at night. If you are traveling by dinghy at night (especially in crowded anchorages), think about some dinghy nav lights. We installed some colored LED on our outboard and use a tiny battery (that we remove when not using). Are you ready to extinguish any fire that might occur in the galley or engine room? Make sure your fire extinguishers are in working condition - if you have dry powder one, do turn them upside down yearly and tap them with a rubber mallet just to keep the powder unclumped! After much research & thought, we decided on a Jordan Serie Drogue for storm-at-sea conditions. It seems to make the most sense for our boat and our capabilities. We hope never to have to use it, but it’s ready to go in our lazarette. © 2006-2017