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Go Back   SailNet Community > Contributing Authors > Miscellaneous
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Old 04-27-2005
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Don Casey is on a distinguished road
If I Knew Then...


Before leaving your homeport, you want to make sure that you bring along all the essentials so that you're not longing for the next time you set foot ashore.
Olga and I have been out cruising exactly one year, and in that time we have encountered enumerable other sailors lamenting things they failed to put aboard. Sometimes the oversights are esoteric, like a supply of crushed pepper or a coffee mill, but there are a few that we have heard over and over. If an extended cruise is in your future, here is a list of issues to resolve before you leave the dock.

Alternative Power    I dedicated an entire column (“Alternative Power”) to matching charging sources to power consumption. That was the how; this is the why. Engine driven charging is more than adequate for a boat on the move, especially one headed south since most of us resort to running the engine when the wind is on the nose. When you are running the engine daily anyway, the charging is free. But eventually you arrive at some harbor where you stay for days or weeks or even months. Now the only reason to run the engine is to keep the batteries charged. The knowledge that you abuse a diesel engine when you run it lightly loaded for hours a day (you do the math) soon wears on you, as does the noise, vibration, and perhaps most of all the obligation. You must be aboard every day.  You cannot join an overnight sailing excursion on another boat, take a sightseeing trip, or travel home without either hiring a caretaker, burdening a fellow cruiser, or emptying and shutting down your refrigerator and/or freezer.


Experienced cruisers know that alternative charging is a must since it prevents having to run the engine periodically.
Solar panels and wind generators provide passive charging. With enough charging capacity from one or both,  you can completely eliminate the need to run the main engine at anchor, but even less capacity partially frees you from the tyranny of engine charging. Running the engine every third day, for example, is much more palatable than running it every day.

We met not a single cruiser who started out without solar panels and/or a wind generator who did not regret this omission. Alternative charging is ubiquitous among cruising boats. If you start out without it, you will find yourself adding it in mid cruise, at greater cost and with fewer choices.

Weather    For sailors accustomed to punching a single button on the VHF for a complete rundown of the weather, it is hard to conceive how unavailable weather information is away from the US. Here is an eye opener. Go down to your boat this weekend and without using the VHF, TV, or AM-FM radio—these will be mute offshore and in many cruising grounds—see if you can obtain a reliable weather forecast for your area.  At a minimum you will need an SSB-capable shortwave receiver, but there are other options, depending on your inclination and your budget. These include weatherfax software for your laptop, dedicated weatherfax, a Navtex receiver, and a satellite telephone. In the case of the last on this list, I detailed back in February (“Weather Charts by E-mail”) how to have daily charts and forecasts delivered directly to your boat by email. Weatherfax software, the least expensive option (if you already own a laptop computer), requires more patience than I can muster. You should research this subject fully before deciding what will work best for you.


A well-insulated box becomes exponentially more important the closer you get to the tropics, says the author.

Insulation    Disappointing refrigerator performance is epidemic among the cruising fleet. If your refrigerator/freezer is not properly insulated and you are headed toward the tropics, don't just hope for the best. An inadequately insulated box will result in spoiling food or a constantly running compressor, or both. There is a direct relationship between thickness of the insulation and satisfaction with the installation. The box should be as small as you can live with, as thickly insulated as space allows, and as well sealed as you can make it.  The choice of machinery has a much smaller impact than the construction of the box.


Among the list of essential plumbing spares carried aboard are ball valves.
Pump Parts   
You always have to weigh the cost of spare parts against the likelihood of needing them.  The parts that always pass this test are pump parts—for all your onboard pumps. That means engine cooling pumps, galley pumps, and the head, which is just a hand-operated or electric pump.  Even for new pumps you should put aboard a rebuild kit or at least replacement seals, impellers, and diaphragms.  Long term cruisers eventually carry a complete spare pump for the most critical applications—the engine raw-water pump, for example—which facilitates a quick replacement and allows the rebuild to happen at leisure.

Engine Manuals    When it comes to engine maintenance and/or repair, winging it with a modern diesel engine is inviting disaster. Put aboard a service manual for your engine. Outboard failures are even more common, and having a service manual to consult before you start prying on fragile castings can conceivably save you the cost of a new motor.

A parts book is also a valuable tool to have aboard.

Varnish/Cetol    If you have brightwork on your boat, carry a supply of whatever coating you like. Once you leave the US, you will find marine-grade varnishes and sealers either unavailable or shockingly expensive. Post 9/11, you can no longer have friends or family stick a quart or a gallon of any type of flammable liquid in their luggage when they fly down for a visit. Decide how much finish you will need to keep your wood sealed and put that amount aboard.


The more hatches and ports you have the better. However, you may want to consider bringing along a few fans as well.

Fans, et al.    Starting from Florida, 12-volt fans aboard are automatic. But a lot of boats from northern climes arrive in the tropics ill equipped for the heat. You guys in Maine and Minnesota and Washington, listen up. It is hot down here. Everywhere you sit or sleep, you need a fan available to move the air across you. Overhead hatches and opening ports are essential, the more the better. Your canvas projects should include a harbor awning and at least one wind scoop. An open and shaded boat can be surprisingly cool, even in the tropics, while a boat with inadequate ventilation is an oven. Let the breeze below, or make a breeze, and you will find the tropics usually quite comfortable.

Language Tapes    Speaking the language adds immeasurably to the enjoyment of visiting foreign countries. If your cruise will, for example, take you to a Spanish-speaking country, put aboard Spanish tapes or a Spanish language course for your computer. A sailboat can be a magic carpet that takes you to foreign shores, but if your objective is to experience the country beyond the beach, language is essential.  Even if you only master a few words and phrases, they will lead to memorable encounters that otherwise will not happen.

When you finally cast off, you will certainly discover omissions of your own, but at least perhaps those listed above won't be among them.

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