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  • 2 Post By Randy Harman
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Old 07-20-2004
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Cruising Necessities and Luxuries


As the day of departure approaches, sorting out what's essential and what's not for your cruise becomes an unavoidable and important task.
As retirement gets closer, sailors who are planning to cast off will find that they are faced with the complex task of differentiating between necessities and luxuries—the things you must have and the things you would like to have while living out your cruising dream. This may sound like an easy exercise, but it will challenge both the pocketbook and storage constraints of your vessel before you are through. Unless your list is thoughtfully selected, the scheduled departure date will come and go while items continue to be acquired, installed, and—last but not least—tested.

The time you spend maintaining and repairing your vessel is directly dependent upon on two major factors: complexity and age. The more neat features on the boat, the more potential there is for things to go wrong. And, as this equipment becomes older, it requires repair and replacement ever more frequently. Renowned cruisers Lyn and Larry Pardeys have built and written about two boats— Seraffyn and Taleisin—and the stories about each illustrate how a couple can cruise without complex devices. An even more emphatic example of the value of simplicity on board was provided by a couple I knew whose sailing dreamboat was totally electric with a large gen-set supplying the power. When that device stopped working, they lost all their frozen stores and were unable to cook—and this occurred twice in the first six months they were out. Most cruisers strive for a reasonable compromise between these two extremes.

What makes these decisions complex for the new cruiser is that while it's easy to forgo creature comforts for a weekend, living aboard full-time without luxuries isn't so easy. Sailors who enjoy Seattle's Puget Sound and the downeast region of Maine often have cabin heaters aboard. We used Oui Si's kerosene heater nearly all year long in Southern California since the sea temperature was typically in the 60s. Along the eastern seacoast, air conditioners are commonly found on liveaboard vessels. These comfort items are nice to have, but I don't deem them a cruising necessity. Your stove can heat the cabin, the sun can heat shower water, and fans, awnings, and wind catchers can help you stay comfortable as the temperature climbs.

"The balance between the desire for comfort and the effect it has on the budget and storage space can reach in all directions."
The balance between the desire for comfort and the effect it has on the budget and storage space can reach in all directions. While I consider a dodger and bimini as mandatory equipment for living aboard, some cruisers manage to live without them. A full deck awning is a desirable luxury when cruising in warm climates, but it's one I classify as a necessity for the full-time cruiser.

And sailors will find that it's common for priorities to change after they've logged a few hundred miles under the keel. I thought a radar reflector was adequate safety insurance until a close encounter with a freighter in the fog changed that notion. Many large vessels have inoperable radar units, or they keep them turned off or too low to sense small targets, or they simply don't monitor the set. Shortly after that incident is when I installed my own radar, but I still have two radar reflectors aloft when sailing offshore.

And GPS was a luxury when it first became available because of the cost. But now small GPS units are surprisingly inexpensive, and after using one for a season we bought a second one as a backup unit. As you can see, both radar and GPS have moved over time from my luxury list to the cruising necessities one.

When augmented with a top quality pair of binoculars, the most readily available safety tool on board is your own eyes. Binoculars are as important to coastal cruisers as they are to those going offshore. This is a necessity item, and that means that you should shop for quality, not price. Buy the best that you can comfortably afford since the ease by which you identify an ICW marker in dim light or a sight range or the running lights of a freighter at night is directly related to your binocular selection. (A magnification of seven times that of the unaided eye and a 50-mm objective diameter result in the expression "7 x 50" commonly found with marine binoculars.)


Having a set of long eyes with image stabilization can truly enhance your piloting and navigation.
The key factors to consider when shopping for a pair of longeyes include light transmission efficiency, waterproof construction, weight, and eye comfort while viewing a distant object. After a few minutes of attempting to compensate for poor image quality, your eyes and brain will signal complaint by the initial stages of a headache. Recent technology in optics and electro-mechanical engineering has produced image-stabilizing binoculars that are ideally suited for use aboard boats. And these are available with a magnification up to twice that of unstablized units, albeit at a premium price. Aboard Oui Si, we keep one pair of 7x50s in the cockpit for routine use and a more expensive pair below decks for those times where image quality is vitally important.

I've known cruisers on a tight budget who elect to use their inflatable dinghy as a life raft. We initially thought our life raft was a luxury, but have always enjoyed the security of having one aboard. I now consider it and an EPIRB to be necessities for blue-water sailboats. The same is true with things like the Lifesling, safety vests, personal strobe lights, harnesses, and jacklines. These items are not all not required by government regulatory agencies, but common sense has taught me that cruisers ought to have them—and use them properly.

"From experience we learned bad weather is relative; it can be defined as wind and waves about five percent greater than you have experienced before."
As novice sailors, our great concern was being able to deal with heavy weather. From experience we learned bad weather is relative; it can be defined as wind and waves about five percent greater than you have experienced before. New cruisers discover that it is relatively easy to reduce sail area—the bigger problem is how to deal with light air. Coastal cruisers use the engine when boat speeds drop below a predetermined level, but on a long offshore passage, using the iron genny may not be an option. Friends who own a heavy cutter told us about drifting alongside their overboard garbage for five days on a trip from Mexico to the French Polynesia. Motivated sailors use drifters and spinnakers to keep moving without the engine and find that sails such as a fully-battened main and storm trysail are very nice to have, but not an absolute necessity.

Although most senior sailors opt for self-furling headsails, we've found that mainsail furlers are not yet commonplace. I thought sailing performance would suffer with this rig until I met John and Heather Lidgard. This New Zealand couple won the Double-Handed Cruising Class in the first Melbourne to Osaka race one year—finishing with the fully-crewed racing fleet and beating the next boat in their class by over a day. These seniors were sailing Reward, a cutter they designed and built with furling units on all three sails.

Now, when it comes to dinghies, not having one is like living ashore without a car for most cruisers. We've found that we are lost without a tender. And most sailors that start out with a rigid dinghy soon change to an inflatable capable of planing with the power of a midsize outboard motor. They discover, as we did, that the ability to get somewhere fast is not always a luxury. When a boat is dragging anchor or when someone needs assistance immediately, speed is a necessity.


The author recommends having a sizeable outboard for your dinghy, and davits like these or some other device for hauling it on board.
Of course mounting and removing a six to 10-hp outboard from the dinghy can be difficult even in calm weather, especially as sailors get older. Both you and your mate will find it fairly easy to justify the expense of a lifting mechanism like a pair of davits, making this feature a necessity rather than a luxury. When you think of the time and expense required to repair a motor th at went swimming, the cost of the lifting device becomes easy to accept. A far less desirable alternative is to opt for a small, low-powered outboard, although some cruisers with larger budgets cover all their bases by having one of each.

Selecting a dinghy, on the other hand, can be an almost overwhelming prospect, with strong pros and cons for each type. Those cruisers with davits usually choose a RIB, and the rest of us are usually envious. When going offshore, however, the dinghy must be stored on deck and the size and weight of a RIB makes it difficult to load on the boat. In times like this, cruisers with dinghies having light, inflatable floors feel fortunate with our selection. In the last two decades, Oui Si has had five inflatable tenders and I firmly believe that you get what you pay for—all my "cheap" choices have been eventual disappointments.

Now, when it comes to having freshwater on board, I consider reverse-osmosis water makers to be a luxury—although a very desirable one—but my Admiral believes ours is a necessity. Because of the lower cost and availability of water makers, some cruisers have come to believe that proper water storage is not critical on board. Murphy's Law for mariners says: 'What can happen, will happen at the most inappropriate time and place,' and it was a difficult task getting replacement parts for our water maker while cruising in Venezuela. Justification cannot be made economically, even when paying as much as 50 cents per gallon of water, as we have in the Bahamas. But having water of known quality in the tanks, and the convenience of not carrying heavy jerry jugs, overrode the cost factor and motivated us to install a water maker aboard Oui Si. We now consider it a worthwhile investment.

The selection of rodes and anchors is very important since the quantity and quality of sleep a cruiser gets will be directly related to these decisions. When faced with a choice of anchor size, go bigger—it is not a luxury. Keep your options open by having different anchor types, since each brand seems to hold well in different bottoms. Many cruisers appreciate the added security of an all-chain setup with a line snubber for shock dampening, and instead of using muscles to manhandle the tackle, nearly all liveaboards have a windlass to ease the task of setting and weighing anchor. The older the cruiser, the more likely the windlass will be electric.


Not one, not two, but three anchors and rodes are considered a necessity by the author.
I consider the minimum compliment of anchor-and rode sets to be three. During one unpleasant 16-hour period, I lost both a primary and secondary system—Oui Si now carries five anchors and rodes. After losing a CQR and 200 feet of chain by not having a chain stopper, I felt able to justify the cost of one. Learning to separate the luxuries from the necessities is sometimes an expensive process.

Not all three-strand nylon rodes are equal, but they all deteriorate with age. When the wind was counter to the current one night, two of the three strands on a new, inexpensive rode chafed through against the keel. We felt very lucky to have learned this lesson without grounding Oui Si. Couples we know aboard three boats that rode out Hurricane Fran at Isla Providencia in 1988 reported that rodes less than three years old survived; but those older gave way under the load. Scrimping on necessities like these is a good way to get into trouble.

"The right combination of battery banks, solar panels, and a wind charger can go a long way toward preserving the silence and tranquility that so many sailors enjoy of being at anchor."
I enjoy the peace and quiet of being at anchor, and to disturb this tranquillity with the sound of an engine is almost a sacrilege. The right combination of battery banks, solar panels, and a wind charger can go a long way toward preserving that silence. New technologies in power generation, storage, and usage help in the process. With good planning, we can enjoy ice in our sunset drinks, hear weather reports and news information on the radio, and use lights without feeling guilty about the associated power drain. Halogen and fluorescent lights made older incandescent lights obsolete. Top quality alternator systems and battery banks are necessities. Ancillary power production from solar and wind sources can be extremely desirable luxuries for all but those who stay close to shore power. For those who can afford such opulence, there is the gen-set to round out all the options, even though it brings noise back into the equation.

An inverter, SSB radio, hand-held VHF, propane stove, and pressure cooker are among the many items that are not necessities but certainly enhance enjoyment aboard your vessel. Autopilots are extremely desirable for coastal cruising and many offshore sailors consider self-steering vanes mandatory. Depth sounders and knotmeters give peace of mind and wind speed/direction systems are very useful sailing aids. We had a microwave aboard Oui Si for a season, but removed it after concluding it had limited utility.

It may be wise to live aboard for a while before making the final selection of those minor items that supplement your cruising necessities. This will allow you to assess those bells and whistles best suited to your lifestyle. And remember, once you're out cruising, you continue to learn about new and improved gear from your fellow cruisers along the way, and then you'll once again be faced with the quandary of separating the necessities from the luxuries.

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