16 March 2007

What works for us

March 16, 2007

We recently received some questions about cruising and outfitting from a reader of this blog. We have omitted their email for the sake of privacy, however perhaps others will find our thoughts & response useful:

A 36' Catalina is a good sized boat, however, speaking from a 27' boat perspective, get the smallest boat that you think you will be comfortable on. Everything is exponentially cheaper (dock lines, dock fees, rigging, sails, anchors, running rigging, hardware, etc. etc.). When we first moved on to Whisper, it seemed like everything was on top of everything else and in the way, but now that we've been living on her for 6 months, we don't even notice the small space. A Catalina is a good boat for the Bahamas, however when we bought our Albin Vega our main focus was a seaworthy, solidly built boat. Catalina's tend to be better for racing, lake and coastal weekend sailing. I wouldn't want to make any long passages to windward or any ocean crossings in a Catalina (nor a Hunter or Beneteau). Having said that, lots of people are here in the Bahamas in those same boats and are very happy. So, it really is your own personal preference. A book we found very useful is John Vigor's "20 small sailboats that will take you anywhere." But again, our cruising plans extend beyond the Caribbean.

In terms of budgeting: We have an estimated budget of $1000/mo. So far we've stayed to that budget, although this month we had to stitch the genoa and we're about to buy a new dinghy so we'll go over that. We're hoping that each year that passes, we'll spend less money. Most people spend a lot more than that, it just depends on your lifestyle. Since we've been in the Bahamas, we've only paid for dock space twice, and haven't paid for any moorings. We sail all the time and have spent just $75 on diesel in 6 weeks which will last us until July we hope. We also only go to bars for happy hours about once a week and spend $25 and we never buy food out in restaurants. Water here is .25/gallon. Basically, your budget can be as little or as much as you want/can manage.

Power: We keep our batteries fully charged with an AeroGen wind generator and a small solar panel. Since the wind is always blowing in the Bahamas, our batteries are always full. We can't emphasize enough how essential it is to have an independent charging system. Many, many boats have gasoline-powered Honda generators or have to run their engine daily to charge their batteries. Not only is that expensive, but it is a nuisance and causes wear and tear on the engine. That said, our power draw is small since we don't have refrigeration. We mainly need power for cabin lights, the computer and charging different electronic devices such as the handheld VHF and the camera. All of our power is 12 volt DC. If you were to get refrigeration, make sure that you budget for adequate solar panels and wind generator equipment to keep your batteries charged. Hans rewired and configured our power system on the boat with the help of Hot Wire Enterprises located in Florida. www.svhotwire.com We do not have air conditioning nor feel the need for it since it is about 60 degrees at night and 75 in the day. Many people do have A/C, however we just don't like it and have fans in the cabin for when it gets hot.

We have had little to no luck fishing and getting lobsters, much to our frustration and disappointment! We keep at it though and hope for a lobster dinner one day soon. Lobster can be found in water that is 6" deep to very deep. We usually end up looking for them in water that's about 10-15 feet deep.

In terms of equipment, we have relatively simple systems on Whisper. We don't have refrigeration, although we are considering adding it at some point. Our holding tank holds 14 gallons and we use it when we are in protected harbors and then empty it when we go out sailing. Almost no one uses pumpouts here in the Bahamas and it is very common to let your sewage drain overboard, which of course is free.

We don't have insurance on the boat, so we can't really help you with that.

As for recommendations for equipment, we can suggest the following:

Get the biggest anchor you can handle on an all chain rode, in fact get two oversized anchors. That way you'll be able to sleep at night. For Wisper we use a 35lb Delta as our primary on 100ft of chain and have a Fortress FX-23 as a secondary anchor on 50ft of chain. These anchors are both rated for 50+ foot boats. We also have two more anchors stored down below for the BIG blow. We don't have a windlass, but depending on the size of your boat it might become necessary.

Get a dinghy that you know that you'll be happy with. Be prepared to spend some money on this item. Chances are that you'll spend far more time motoring around in your dinghy than sailing your boat. We made the mistake of getting too small a dinghy, and are now looking to replace it, which is a real hassle. Most people have either a RIB or an airfloor inflatable. Avon, Apex, Caribe and Achilles are good brands. It is very nice to have a large enough engine to be able to get two passengers up on a plane in the dinghy. Make sure you have a way to store the dinghy on board for making passages.

Make sure you get a boat with an engine in very good condition. When you survey the boat, hire a diesel mechanic to look over the engine and drive train and do a compression test. While it will cost a little bit of money, it is absolutely worth it since almost no surveyor will be able to adequately evaluate an engine.

Again, make sure that your electrical system is up to the demands you will put on it, solar panels and wind generator are key.

The last piece of advice I'll give you is to read a lot before you go. We have run into many cruisers who seem to have no clue about proper seamanship, boat maintenance and staying safe on the water. It's a little bit scary, really. Buy and read Nigel Calder's "Cruising Handbook." While a lot of the information in his book is aimed at absolute perfection, which is out of the price range of most of us, his principles still apply. The other book we find essential is also by Nigel Calder: "The Boatowners' Mechanical and Electrical Handbook."

Waves crashing at the Pelican Cays