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.