Things we learned about life aboard while traveling south on the ICW
Cruising Dad requested that I do a post of what worked and what didn’t work as sailors trying to transition to cruisers. We traveled from Newport News, Virginia and are now at Boot Key Harbor in Marathon, FL. We stopped at our home in Deltona, FL for about 2 months for the holidays. I found out I was pregnant about a month before we left so we also did a few doctors visits and tests to make sure we were healthy. Sorry if this is a little long but hopefully it will help as people are deciding what they need and want on a boat to cruise.
A little bit of background first. We bought an Islander 36 (Second Wind) almost 6 years ago with the purpose of using it as a weekender or for the occasional vacation of a week or 2 at a time. We wanted something with a large cockpit and enough room in the cabin that we could potentially have 4 adults sleep overnight on the boat. This is a great boat for that and it is a solid comfortable boat.
It has 6 feet of draft, over 11 feet of beam and the mast is about 59 feet off the water. We spent many evenings and weekends in the Newport News/Norfolk, VA area and a few weeks at a time vacationing on the Chesapeake Bay. She is a great boat in heavy winds, she points well due to deep draft, but the bottom must be clean to be any good in light wind. We have had her out in gusts up to 40 or 45 knots with reefs in the main and she has handled very well. We got to know the boat and how to handle her pretty well and we learned a ton about navigation because we were in a busy commercial and military port. We had never spent more than 2 weeks on the boat and usually preferred anchoring, but would stay in marinas some as well.
We decided to make some modifications to Second Wind and take her for a cruise down the ICW and possibly further. We knew due to finances that stays in marinas would need to be limited.
So here are some of the big things that we learned.
Take everyone’s advice and leave the Chesapeake Bay after the boat show in October.
We wanted to finish up some “have to do” projects and ended up starting our journey on Nov 15 from the Norfolk area. We spent a month pushing hard to get to warmer weather. November & December 2009 was unusually cold, wet, and windy. We made it to Daytona about December 15.
Preparations that really worked out:
• Installation of a saltwater wash down system with hoses in the cockpit, at the anchor and a spray nozzle at the kitchen sink. If you are traveling with a dog having the wash down system in the cockpit and on deck make a big difference. The spray nozzle in the sink saved precious fresh water while doing dishes. (We always rinsed with fresh water.)
• We added cabinets to both the port and starboard sides of the main cabin for storage. (Unfortunately we had a leak that we didn’t know about until after we left Norfolk and didn’t get to fix it until we reached the Daytona Beach area. That cut down some on storage, but it was nice to have what was still usable.)
• The froli sleep system and memory foam added to the V-berth. (Since I was about 2 months pregnant when we left Norfolk this made a huge difference.
• We bought a 12 volt electric blanket that unfortunately was only big enough to cover our feet and legs, but when it dipped into the 30’s at night it made a huge difference. We added a DC outlet in the V-berth specifically for the blanket.
• We rebuilt the refrigerator adding a fan and extra insulation. This meant not having to buy a bag of ice the entire time we traveled.
• We added a chartplotter at the wheel, we did this long before the trip, but it was essential for relaxing travel in strange and narrow waters.
If you are going to be traveling when it is cold there are several things that almost become a necessity.
• A source of heat for the boat for both warmth and to reduce condensation. (We woke up several mornings to cold drips of water falling off the windows and onto our faces.)
• A hot water heater. (Our boat came with one that was mounted in the V berth, but was not hooked up. We assumed it didn’t work and just hadn’t taken it off the boat. After talking to a young guy at a marina in Georgia he suggested that we could hook it up to the engine and use it even if it didn’t work off of AC power.) When we got to Florida we moved the hot water heater and hooked it up and there was nothing wrong with it. It worked great. It is only about a 6 gallon water heater, but it would have improved the quality of life significantly.
• I would not do another cold trip without a cockpit enclosure, we had a dodger, a bimini would have helped with the rain, but a full enclosure was really needed. We still only have a dodger.
• Room for two or more propane bottles, bigger being better, 20 lb propane bottles like used on grills would far be preferred. (We have a small propane locker with a small odd size propane bottle. We stayed concerned that we would run out of propane for the stove most of the trip. We grilled on our grill with 1 lb bottles anytime that it wasn’t raining to conserve propane for the stove.) We recently got an adapter so we can use 1 pound bottles for the stove, this is a stop gap measure for cruising, but would be great for the original intended use of the boat.
General necessities independent of weather
• All of our tankage is too small. (We have about 22 gallons for fuel, 75 gallons for water, and 10 gallons for holding tank.) We absolutely had to stop at a marina at least every 3 days for fuel and every 5 days for pump out. The boat would motor 4 days on a tank of fuel, but that would leave no reserve, we added a 6 gallon can of fuel so we could use the fourth day and not worry about it.
• 2 comfortable places to sit in the main cabin for days when the weather is bad and you hang out at anchor or in the marina. This can not be over emphasized. We bought 2 - Go Anywhere Seats from West Marine after we got to Florida. This has helped some on the trip to the Keys, but there is still only 1 place in the cabin that is truly comfortable now.
• A second GPS is a necessity, while in inland waters, you can get by without one, we did for years, but if you are traveling in strange waters without a chart plotter you have full time work for a navigator, and that is not convenient or relaxing.
• A wind generator to recharge the batteries while at anchor in bad weather & solar cells to recharge the batteries in good weather. (We ran the engine about 2 hours a day at anchor on days we didn’t travel.
• A comfortable seat behind the wheel for while under way
• A really good autopilot.
• A VHF in the cockpit, using the one in the cabin for talking to passing boats and bridges was a pain.
• A second depth sounder.
• A second pair of binoculars
• One item that is a big preference but not a necessity is dingy davits. We have a dingy that rode on the bow of the boat for most of the trip. Other than the obvious disadvantage of having to drop it in the water and then drop the motor on it, it also made seeing much more difficult. Davits are high up there on my wants list.
• Three anchors and rodes, and two should work seamlessly from the bow with the anchor windless. This would require a divider or bag of some sort in the chain locker to keep the two from getting tangled up, also, it would be better if the hausenpipe, the hole that dropped the chain into the chain locker were not part of the windless. As the boat is currently set up it easily works a second rope, but the second chain is less convenient.
• A freezer for Ice Cream, and extending trips to grocery stores.
• LED navigation lights
• High efficiency interior lights
• A bigger kitchen sink
• An inverter for the laptops
• Another hanging locker
We knew there were several disadvantages to the boat for long term cruising before we set out, we just didn’t understand how important those issues were. To have fitted this boat with all of the items above would have had us spending more than the boat is worth and then there would still be major space limitations. Installing a generator, with a reverse cycle A/C for both heat and air would greatly reduce the available storage. We’ve been told A/C is almost a must if you are in FL or along the south eastern coast of the US in the summer.
Outstanding writeup and that was just what I was looking for. I hope others will look through these things as they consider a boat to cruise on and how to prep their boat.
Very good post. Thanks!
Great writeup. Thank you for taking the time.
Did you go offshore at all, or was it mostly in the ICW? Also, any pictures?
We went offshore .just north of Ft Lauderdale at Hillsboro Inlet. Our offshore experience was limited to about 8 hours before we left Virginia. We also went about 20 miles out from Cape Canaveral to go fishing for a day. We have yet to be offshore during bad weather. The time that we were able to be sailing offshore was some of our favorite, just because it is so much easier having some breathing room and it is more enjoyable to us to have the sails up rather than having the engine running.
We are hoping to get a couple of days with a wind from the south so we could head back to Daytona in the gulf stream. For the next week that doesn't look too promising.
I will work on some pictures of the boat tomorrow and will have to wait to post a couple from the trip until we get our new power supply in the mail for our other computer in a day or two.
Your comments about comfortable cabin seats, VHF in the cockpit, anchors and the inverter are so true and often overlooked. The off shore jumps from Miami to Ft Lauderdale to Lake worth to Stuart are great day trips heading north and all have good inlets and anchorages near the inlets. Read the water and make sure you are far enough off shore to catch a push. Enjoyed your post. Dan S/V Marian Claire
Excellent, and timely post! Thanks!!
The comfortable seat thing is something I have spent a lot of time thinking about lately. I do not think I have been on a sailboat under 40' that came stock with a comfortable seat. I am for certain going to re-engineer one. Just wondering what others have done that works well for this.
You say you now have one comfortable seat. Can you give more details on that and also what you may have tried that did not work?
You list an inverter for the laptops.
There's a good chance that there's a DC car-style adapter for your laptop. They definitely make 'em for netbooks, which use about as much electricity as you can generate with a can of beans and an airX.
That's funny, I read the original post moments after it was posted but did not have time then to respond, and now I come back to respond and find that two other posters remarked on the same thing I wanted to say something about .. comfortable seats! :D You are really on to something there Soon2b!
I know in non-cruising mode a comfortable chair makes all the difference in the world to me, you could almost go as far as saying that home is where the comfortable chair is! I think on a boat this would be an absolute requirement for me, at least as important as a comfortable place to sleep. Too many boats just have these little stools with inadequate backs, or fiberglass seats built into the boat with flimsy little cushions on them, etc, I would really prefer something much more comfortable.
Great post Soon2b.
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