I was somewhat aghast when SailNet suggested I choose our favorite 10 items to cruise with as the subject for an article. After all, we have written a whole book on the topic of cruising in Cruising for Cowards
! When I started I was considering an "item" as one single thing, but while laboring over my list it dawned on me that there could actually be a far broader meaning. So in my list, specific items are discussed within our 10 criteria for successful cruising. These are the things we wouldn't cruise without:
1. A Well-Performing Boat Through our background of Caribbean charter-yacht skippering, ocean deliveries, extensive offshore cruising, and racing, we have experienced almost every type and size of sailboat from ultra-lights, multihulls, modern cruisers to classic full-keeled vessels.
When it came to choosing our current boat, we knew our priorities. First, we wanted a boat that performed well both upwind and down. Performance means safety, since you can spend less time underway and can avoid deteriorating weather, sailing or motoring out of trouble more efficiently. Of course we also demanded structural integrity, a seakindly motion, and the need to accommodate a family of five. With these parameters in mind in 1985 we chose the Beneteau First 38s (actually 40 feet overall), a moderate-displacement design with a spade rudder, all together a well-built boat that suited our budget.
We have never for a minute regretted our decision and have since cruised over 75,000 miles around the world in Bagheera in all conditions. She tracks well, is stable, dry, and always capable of 150 or more miles a day. Structurally, she has held up superbly and now that we are cruising as a couple, she is still the perfect size to manage.
2. Sail-Handling Ease Spending as little time as possible on the foredeck and the ability to manage sails single-handed are both important safety priorities for us, so we have always had furling gear for the genoa. Now, we have also fitted Profurl in-boom furling for the mainsail and no longer have to go on deck to the mast to reef or stow the sail. With a full-battened mainsail, we still have a sail that performs well.
I have to admit that a recent purchase of an electric winch is icing on the cake! This is rigged to hoist the main, furl the genoa, and handle the sheets. Again, for easier handling, we now fly a cruising spinnaker instead of our large racing chute, and also have a sock for raising and dousing.
All off our sails are triple stitched for longevity. To prevent chafe, the sails are patched at chafe points such as at the spreaders and where the seams touch the shrouds. We’ve also found that threading flexible hose through the bowline that attaches the sheets to the genoa prevents chafe from the spinnaker pole while wing on wing. 3. A Protected Cockpit
We’re often asked about dangers from pirates, sharks, and mosquitoes, but we find the sun is the greatest enemy while cruising. Not knowing about the dangers while in the Caribbean in the 1960s, Andy now needs frequent nitrogen treatments for pre-cancer cells due to sun exposure, while I have had a melanoma. As most of our waking hours are spent in the cockpit, we now consider protection from the sun a high priority. A robust dodger and bimini ensure good shade and side curtains on the lifelines considerably reduce the burning from the reflected rays off the water. We love the protection these also give us in spray, rain, and adverse weather.
A large zippered opening in the dodger allows a through-breeze at anchor and we can attach a filler panel between the bimini and dodger for more shelter. It is also useful to have a side curtain on the bimini to protect from rain or glare from the sun. For longer periods at anchor, an awning is rigged over the boom for additional shade and to help catch rain for the water tanks.
Careful thought was given to the design of cockpit canvas to make it easy to climb on board and on deck, to ensure visibility forward from the wheel, and to withstand stormy conditions. At the same time we designed comfortable cockpit cushions, crucial for life on board whether at anchor or on the high seas.4. A Comfortable Interior
The interior of the First 38s for long-term cruising was one of the boat's greatest attractions, with the beautiful woodwork and practical three-cabin layout. It has safe, curved companionway steps, plenty of handholds for rough weather, and is bright and well-ventilated. A real bonus is the tremendous amount of storage, including lockers and drawers in the galley, four hanging lockers, a wet locker, and easily accessible space behind and under the berths. There is also a large chart table and the galley is very workable with a three-burner stove with oven, deep double sinks, and a fridge large enough for us to convert the back section into a freezer at a later date. Although our only electrical appliance is a coffee grinder, we can do almost everything that we do at home. One of our favorite galley items is our manual latte milk foamer!
As I always get a backache sleeping on boat cushions, we had our mattresses changed to five-inch foam, which has made a huge difference regarding comfort, as have the fans over each berth, in the galley, and the main cabin.
5. Electronics and Electricals I have to admit that we love our ‘toys’ but at the beginning of our circumnavigation we had a limited budget. Priorities for us were Satnav (now GPS), VHF radio, depth sounder, shortwave radio for news and weather, self-steering and refrigeration (no freezer). Now, 15 years later, we have just about the whole shebang! Although we still carry a sextant, it doesn’t get much use and we also have a backup GPS unit on board.
Radar is useful in so many ways—for fog, tracking other vessels and approaching storms, correctly establishing the position of land (important when charting is inaccurate) and approaching anchorages at night. A SSB or HAM radio enables communications including e-mail over vast distances, and a weatherfax is indispensable when in remote oceans. Our powerful autopilot is used far more than the Aries wind vane as it keeps an accurate course in all conditions.
An electric anchor windlass became necessary in the Pacific to handle 300 feet of chain. We also use it to hoist a person to the masthead and to lift the dinghy on deck. A watermaker gives the luxury of unlimited showers and healthy drinking water (see Sailing to San Francisco). One of our earliest modifications was to increase our battery bank and we now have 690 amp hours. A high output alternator, solar panels, and a wind generator keep all our toys running, including an efficient, 12-volt refrigeration system (that replaced our engine-driven holding-plate unit), which allows flexibility for inland travel.
6. Safety Gear Having good, wet-weather gear and warm clothing, safety harnesses, life jackets, jacklines, flares, collision mat, drogue, Life Sling, life raft, search light, fog horn, fire extinguishers, and an EPIRB are the basic safety items that we wouldn’t be comfortable cruising without.
Just as important as having the gear is knowing how to use it and having well-planned safety routines. Onboard rules are detailed to new crew in every pre-passage briefing. These include the requirements for wearing safety gear, man overboard and fire routines, watchkeeping instructions, and rules such as never going out of the cockpit onto the deck when on watch alone. Seasickness is common and can be debilitating so seasick medications are part of our safety kit. (see The Delicate Art of Preventing Seasickness).
7. Good Charts and Cruising Guides As nothing is more scary than coming into an anchorage without large-scale charts, we carry hundreds on board during long cruises, and always research our route carefully to ensure wide coverage. To limit costs we beg, borrow, and photocopy as well as buy! A chart plotter is increasingly used, but paper charts are also carried since electronics can fail. Cruising guides supplement our charts, providing information about anchorages and facilities, and chartlets often enable us to cut down on harbor chart purchases. Pilot charts for weather, light lists, tide tables, sight-reduction tables, and a nautical almanac all have space in our navigation station.
|"Once you’ve been struck by lightning, you carry insurance!"|
Once you’ve been struck by lightning, you carry insurance! Fortunately we were one of the few boats that had coverage when we were hit off the South African coast. We have always carried insurance, because experience taught us that disaster could hit at the most unlikely times (see
10. A Compatible Cruising Companion This is of course the most important requirement for successful cruising! I am constantly amused how often we are asked if I am a ‘first’ wife. The significance is that as many decide to go cruising later in life they find the idea is far less appealing to their erstwhile partner. Andy and I are lucky. We met sailing in a world championship in South America, which confirmed that we both liked to travel and could sail! But there is of course much more to being a successful cruising couple and without doubt personalities do change on a boat! Life on a small vessel is confining with little privacy. For the partnership to work there must be confidence in each other and the lifestyle, which takes time and experience to establish.
Over the years we have found the benefits of cruising as a couple, and as a family, have been enormous with a special bond and mutual respect gained from operating as a partnership in both positive and adverse situations. We have shared hundreds of stimulating cultural experiences in nearly a hundred countries, made innumerable new friends, had the time to discuss and reflect on life, and enjoy together the incredible wonders of nature.
So these are our 10 criteria for cruising. I have to admit, they have changed over the years. When I was young, strong, and eager to please, I was happy to pull up the sails and anchor by hand, steer for hours every day, cook on a one-burner stove, and carry ice for miles. No longer! Although we now enjoy our creature comforts on board, we still look back fondly on the days we sailed the Caribbean in a 28 footer with little more than a lead-line. The adventure and camaraderie of cruising is just the same. So whatever your budget, go cruising! It will be the highlight of your life!