When it comes to personal comfort on board a boat that's out for a daysail, a supply of water and a Porta-Potti would seem to cover the beginning and end of that subject. But some hard experience has taught me otherwise.
This is not a subject that much has been written about, perhaps because most people can figure out how to relieve themselves on board a boat. I do a lot of reading, and read about a lot of things that are essential to have on board a boat. Some things, however, I'm too stingy or old-fashioned to get, and some things I just don't agree are necessary. Experience may yet teach me just how wrong I am not to get night-vision binoculars, but I consider my top-10 list of things to have on board pretty basic and, for the most part, easily affordable (see sidebar).
Some of the top10 items were dictated by experiences two seasons ago, shortly after buying Kirsten
, my Mystic 20 catboat, and sailing 60 miles to her new berth. Drifting downwind on the Great South Bay on the hottest, muggiest day of the year, we quickly learned the importance of icewater, sunblock, and wide-brim hats, along with lightweight, long-sleeve shirts and pants, and, most importantly, insect repellant. We were languishing in the heat and humidity, barely tolerating it, when greenhead flies began swarming the boat, every inch of exposed flesh and drawing blood. We nearly went mad. We were saved when we found a half-empty tube of insect repellant among the stuff the former owner had left on board. Ever since then, Kirsten has been well-stocked with insect repellant, sunblock, Chapstick, and plastic containers of water, stashed in lockers below the waterline to stay cool.
We didn't find the large umbrella, tucked under a bunk cushion, until well after the journey was over. In the absence of a cockpit awning, the umbrella could have provided some very welcome shade during a journey that was nearly all downwind, a point of sailing that provides absolutely no relief from the heat.
The former owner had left everything he used on board, including a gallon-sized plastic jug, with a large hole cut out near the top. Kirsten's cockpit is self-bailing, and there were plenty of buckets for bailing if it ever came to that. What purpose the jug served was a mystery, but in keeping with my philosophy to leave things be until the reason for change was clear, it stayed on board.
The jug's value made itself clear when I was on a long, single-handed passage later. I discovered that I couldn't leave the tiller long enough to use the Porta-Potti in the cabin, and there were too many other boats about for the privacy I wanted. The jug solved that problem.
A tiller-tamer helps, but so far I haven't found or devised a simple, inexpensive way to keep the boat on course while I'm single-handing and need to go into the cabin. On Kristen
, moving that much ballast forward causes the boat to round up into the wind. A tiller-tamer can free me from the duty of hanging onto the tiller at all times, but I also keep the jug around for those times when nature calls and I don't want to heave-to or round up. It also provides another dimension to the term "single-handed."
Personal comfort doesn't always come so cheap on board a boat. My personal comfort level is constantly at battle with my budget when it comes to navigation and safety gear, as well as a few other things that would be nice to have.
My personal comfort level in binoculars, for example, would be reached with binoculars that have stabilization features and night-vision capabilities. My budget, however, is not comfortable with that, not when the majority of my time on the water is daysailing in familiar territory. The binoculars fall into the "nice to have" category mainly because I like birdwatching and checking out other boats, and sometimes because I need help picking out a buoy. But for these needs, a $20 pair of folding glasses works fine most of the time.
For me, a GPS unit has created even more turmoil between comfort level and budget. A large part of the appeal of sailing I find is being able to escape electronics to a simpler world defined by wind and current and tides, where wood and rope and cloth do most of the work. But when I decided to sail to Block Island, across a stretch of water notorious for fog, I caved in. My personal comfort level did not include accidentally voyaging to Portugal.
The budget, my techno-aversion, and a desire for solitude have, so far, defeated all arguments for having a cell phone on board. Remaining out of touch and out of reach for an extended time is, so far, one of the greatest luxuries of sailing.
My resistance to gadgets is partly due to a desire to master the traditional basics of sailing. Dead reckoning and using a VHF radio are hard enough to learn when the lessons are not reinforced on a daily basis. I doubt I would ever learn them if all I had to do is push familiar buttons.
The other reason for my techno-aversion is that technology is so commonplace elsewhere in my life. It's what I must pay attention to every day as part of my job. So when I find something that is useful just because of its pure physical shape and dimension, like that jug, it makes me feel like an adventurer-explorer opening up a little bit of foreign territory.
All Things Good and Useful
These are the top 10 things—tested by experience—that I need, on board or in the bag I carry to the boat, for my personal comfort or comfort level during day sails or weekend cruises. All right, I'm a packrat, there's a lot more than 10 "things" here, but probably only someone like Lin and Larry Pardey, who don't have an engine or radio on board, could really make a list of just 10 things that are essential. They'd probably just have five or so…
1. Toilet needs: Plastic jug with large hole cut in top, Porta-Potti, dissolving toilet paper
2. Skin care: Insect repellant, sunblock, Chapstick, floppy brimmed hat, gloves
3. Fluids: Bottled water, iced tea, Gatorade, ice, insulated bag or cooler
4. Cooking: Alcohol stove, matches, packaged oatmeal, granola bars, trailmix, coffee
5. Navigation: Charts, tidetable, guidebooks, folding binoculars, handheld compass, wristwatch
6. Communications: Handheld VHF
7. Safety: First-aid kit, extra life jackets, whistles, flares, flashlights, fire extinguisher, harness and tether, spare fuel can, paddle
8. Weather: Barometer, cloud guidebook
9. Repairs: Pliers, hammer, screw drivers, Allen wrenches, pocket knife, needles and sail thread, tape, filters, fuses, cotter pins, clevis pins, other hardware
10. Mooring: Boat pole, extra docking line, extra anchor and anchor line, bumpers, chafing gear
Planning the First Ocean Passage by Bruce Caldwelll
Criteria for Successful Cruising by Liza Copeland
Reflections on Cruising Instruments by Tom Wood
Buying Guide: VHF Radios