Preparations for Going Offshore, Part Four - SailNet Community
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Preparations for Going Offshore, Part Four

Every well-found cruising vessel needn't have all the amenities that the author's boat does (above), but having more than one way to charge your batteries is a useful application of redundancy.
With the launching of my new book Comfortable Cruising Around North and Central America, I spent a lot of time attending boat shows this fall. Whether at Southampton in England; Annapolis, MD; or Florida, many of the cruisers with whom I spoke were buying last-minute items before heading to the sunny south. More than a few commented 'Comfortable Cruising! That’s for us, but how do you achieve it?'

Besides route and weather considerations, pre-passage planning goes a long way toward giving you confidence that the boat will be a comfortable home and a secure passage-maker. Knowing the vessel’s systems and being able to fix most problems offers further assurance. In addition, being able to carry out preventive maintenance means potential troubles will have been identified and repaired before they become crises, with most being completed in a calm harbor. Cruisers who rely on professional help to maintain their boats have to stay close to civilization, while those who are self-reliant are able to enjoy adventures off the beaten track, and for us, that's one of the true pleasures of offshore cruising.

In the three previous articles in this series on preparing to go offshore, issues regarding the hull and deck, the interior, electrics and electronics, and mechanical considerations were covered. This article concludes the series with suggestions for maintenance schedules, spares and tools required on board, and further considerations for ‘comfortable cruising.'

Whether at sea or dockside, the author can recharge the on-board cordless drill, and that's a particularly useful feature. 
Engines, Etc.    Because most operator manuals that are supplied with the boat assume that engines will be serviced by local dealers, it is worthwhile obtaining the workshop manuals that the professional use. These are indispensable service and troubleshooting guides. Lube oil and filter changes are done every 100 hours or less on Bagheera, fuel filters every 200 hours while the gear box lube, although checked at 100-hour intervals, is only changed annually. Ability to dispose of old oil and filters may speed up these intervals. We will do this kind of service before setting off on a lengthy passage regardless of the hours logged. Injectors should be serviced professionally, ideally every 400 hours. Daily checks include oil and coolant levels, belt tension, and an inspection for oil leaks, water in the filter trap, etc.

Of course to perform these tasks you'll need lube and gear oils, lube and diesel filters, V-belts, coolant corrosion inhibitor, diesel biocide, engine touch-up paint, gasket compound, Locktite, fuel hose and clamps, as well as assorted fasteners.

We always take a judicious assortment of spares for the injectors; the fuel pump; the raw-water pump impellers, the seals and gaskets; the alternator and regulator; and a complete engine gasket set, along with hoses and clamps, heat exchanger end caps, and zincs. We'll also have a spare starter switch and relays; a raw-water intake filter; dripless stern gland bellows, and face-plate or packing for traditional glands and cutlass bearings, along with some shaft zincs and a spare propeller.

Of course you can't peform any of these critical tasks without some specialty tools, so we like to keep a lube-oil sump pump on board (ours is permanently hooked up); both imperial and metric socket sets and open-end wrenches, Allen keys and feeler gauges, a prop puller, a filter wrench; a ‘Baja’ fuel funnel/filter, a small brass hand pump, and a nine-foot siphon pump (for fuel transfers).

The proper storage (including venting) of propane tanks is a must aboard any offshore cruising vessel.

Electrics    The care and feeding of the batteries is the key to ensuring reliable electrics on board. On Bagheera we now have 690 amp hours to cope with all the electrical and electronic demands. The batteries on our boat are charged from the engine's high-output alternator with a ‘smart’ three-stage regulator, four solar panels, a wind generator, or at dockside by a fully automatic battery charger. We use ammeters to indicate charge rates from all these, as well as our rate of consumption. A voltmeter and low-voltage alarm set at 12.2 volts allows us to monitor and control battery condition. As batteries give off hydrogen when charging, the battery boxes on board are ventilated by a silent, brushless computer fan. Servicing is made easier by using identifying labels on all new wiring and corrosion is inhibited at terminals, bulb sockets etc., using Corrosion Block or WD-40. A small inverter enables us to recharge dry batteries and run small appliances as well as our laptop.

Once again, having the proper spares is important for the offshore cruiser who plans to do this maintenance him or herself. You'll need distilled water; tinned copper insulated cables in various gauges and colors; shielded co-axial cable and fittings; assorted terminals, cable clamps, circuit breakers and fuses; fluorescent tubes and bulbs for all the equipment; electrical solder, insulating tape and shrink tubing; switches, terminal bars, fuse holders, watertight connectors, diodes and LEDs; flashlights and searchlight; dry cell, nicad, lithium and mercury batteries. And of course you'll want to have plenty of Corrosion Block or WD-40, and silicone grease on board.

Among the parts you might consider having on board are electric motors, drive belts, and pressure switches for the bilge and water pumps. If your boat doesn't already have spares on board for your cabin fans, navigation and cabin lights, float switch, and alarm buzzers, you should consider stocking those too.

"Most of the world’s power is 220-volt and 50-cycle AC power rather than the 110-volt, 60-cycle AC power we know in the US and much of the Caribbean."

To make all of the spares work you'll need some tools. I recommend having both 12 and 110-volt soldering irons, a digital multimeter, crimping and insulation stripping tools, jumper cables, electrical screwdrivers and long-nosed pliers, a modeller’s vice, and a 12-volt nicad battery charger. We have modified our 110-volt AC system to accept from shore either 110-volts directly, or 220-volts AC through a built-in transformer, as most of the world’s power is 220-volt and 50-cycle AC power rather than the 110-volt, 60-cycle AC power that is used in the US and much of the Caribbean.

Plumbing Systems    On Bagheera, the heads, water system, bilge pumps, refrigeration, watermaker, cabin heater, fans, and anything that moves water are regularly checked over, cleaned where needed, and lubricated. We make it a habit to service all seacocks at each haul-out, and hoses and hose clamps are replaced at the first sign of deterioration.

For spares we travel with water filters for the pressure water system and watermaker; refrigerant and filter/dryers; tubing, pipe fittings, and stainless steel clamps in various diameters. We also find it usefult to have sealants and gasket compound on hand, along with teflon tape, and oil can, and an assortment of greases. We stock complete rebuild kits for all units, which are supplemented by extras of items that regularly need replacing like the submersible bilge pump, the manual bilge pump, the strum box, the Y-valves, and thru-hulls and seacocks.

Regarding tools for all of these items, it's important to have the proper meters for the refrigeration system, along with a tube cutter and a flaring tool, and of course a small plumber’s mate.

Among the list of essential plumbing spares carried aboard Bagheera are ball valves.
Sails, Canvas, and Lines   
Constant checking of the sails and sheets when they are in use on a long passage becomes routine. Before each trip we ensure that protection against chafe is in place. Self-adhesive anti-chafe patches need to be reapplied on sails as soon as they show any signs of deterioration. Having seams triple-stitched before the start of a cruise is something we always recommend. Of course while en route, any frayed stitching should be reinforced. We like to turn worn sheets and halyards end-for ended or simply replace them before a problem arises. Ultra-violet light in the tropics weakens sails fairly rapidly and if the fabric shows weakness, the sail should be replaced. And it's imperative that sails always be protected with covers when they're stowed or furled.

For spare parts, our sail repair kit is augmented by polyester sailcloth, nylon spinnaker cloth, self adhesive sail patch tape, and nylon rip-stop tape, along with polyester sewing and whipping twine in various sizes, beeswax and liquid whipping compound, and polyester webbing. We also stock an assortment of cringles, batten stock, shock cord and crimps, and plastic tubing and fire hose for line chafe protection. We'll usually have some polyester and nylon lines in varying diameters and lengths as spares and some monel seizing wire and heat-shrink tube as well.

We also carry a large selection of different colors of spinnaker cloth, colored thread, waterproof colored marker pens and colored adhesive cloth tapes to make courtesy flags as accurately as possible (some are too complicated and have to be bought). A sewing machine is useful for sail repair, flags, canvas, etc., if you have room. We also carry spare sail slides, jib hanks, mast sheaves, as well as a variety of types and sizes of blocks, cleats, shackles and snaphooks.

Apart from our emergency sail repair kit, we also stock sailmaker’s needles, a gimlet and palm, splicing fids, a fisherman’s netting needle, a miniature propone torch, some large scissors, and a razor knife and some cringle punches.

"Any inspection of the rig is considerably eased if there are steps up the mast."
Any inspection of the rig is considerably eased if there are steps up the mast, even better if there is an electric anchor windlass that can be used to hoist the bosun’s chair on a masthead halyard led to the capstan drum. (Don’t buy a windlass that has only a gypsy fitted for chain; as a capstan is invaluable.) We use our windlass to hoist the dinghy on deck, take a person to the masthead, take in slack on warps, recover the storm anchor and can rig it to hoist someone from the water.

The furling gear, along with every wire terminal, toggle, tang and exit box, plus sheaves and pins and standing rigging wire are inspected visually and by hand for cracks, wear, or corrosion before any significant passage. At the same time masthead lights and antennae are checked and chafe protection is replaced. We also make it a practice to monitor shroud tension and make any appropriate adjustments.

On an annual basis we make a point of using our chemical crack detection kit to inspect the rig and all its fittings. Any stainless fitting that is fastened to the mast or boom is isolated with a plastic spacer and all fastenings are put in with anti-seize compound to prevent galvanic corrosion. The lightning grounding cables between the mast, the chain plates, and the keel-bolts are inspected and if needed, the terminals are cleaned to ensure good conductivity.

To carry out all this work we stock a crack-detection kit, anti-seize compound, lanolin and teflon lubricants, wire clamps, assorted toggles, shackles, cotter and split pins and rings, Locktite, monel seizing wire, rigger’s tape and carpeting (for chafe), along with silicon sealant and mast-boot material. For spare parts we also haveo on board a selection of turnbuckles, sheaves and pins, rigging wire and mechanical terminals, a masthead trilight and anchor light, a VHF antenna and a Windex unit. In the same kit we have a hacksaw and a large pair of wire/bolt cutters.

Periodic winch maintenance is one of the imperatives aboard Bagheera, particularly prior to a long voyage.
Deck and Topsides    As any weakness will show up in bad weather, routine inspections of all mechanical systems, with replacement of those showing even the slightest wear, is crucial. The steering gear warrants particular attention with the windlass, winches, turning blocks, hatch and locker hinges and catches, the wind-vane gear cleaned and lubricated every few weeks. Aluminum should be washed with fresh water to stop pitting from salt crystals and even stainless steel will develop brown oxidation marks (guaranteed to stain your favorite item of clothing if hung on the lifelines).

Nicks and scratches in the fibreglass should be repaired with gelcoat, and major damage reglassed and finished. Staining from rust specks, and brown streaks at the waterline can be removed with oxalic acid. Topsides should be waxed regularly to forestall the chalking of the gelcoat. And deck fittings need to be rebedded in sealant at the first sign of movement or leaking.

Mooring lines and fenders should be inspected on a regular basis. Savvy owners allow enough line for doubling up either side of the boat with chafe guards, and usually stow at least one 300-foot piece of heavy duty nylon line for streaming astern in heavy weather, or as a tow line or for kedging the anchor rode. Where Med-mooring (anchored with the stern to a dock) is common, a boarding ladder may be needed. You should also check and mark all anchor lines and chain. (See previous articles for anchor analysis and requirements, including Anchor Control.)

Underwater    Antifouling paints are less effective and have to be more frequently applied now that many countries have banned tin-based toxicants for yacht use. Copolymer paints, which slowly erode, are popular as they are easier to clean off and prevent a large build-up of paint.

We like to keep an adequate supply of antifouling paints (buy these in advance because they're often not available in some overseas locations) on board, along with some coal-tar epoxy paint, metal primer, and rollers, brushes, wet and dry sandpaper, masking tape and solvent, underwater hardening epoxy paste, and zinc anodes. We also stock a small selection of fiberglass materials, including acetone and resin.

The spares that we carry for problems beneath the waterline include a propeller, cutlass bearings, and rudder bearings. We also stock a prop puller, and a stainless-steel wire brush.

Guides, Books, and Charts    Many cruising sailors use chart plotters or computer charts these days, but as electronics on board cannot be relied upon, paper charts should always be carried, along with dividers, parallel rule, pencils, a logbook and spare compass. For celestial navigation, take sight-reduction tables and a nautical almanac. Those relying on GPS will want to have a spare unit on board.

"Travel books and resource books on fauna, flora, fish etc can greatly enhance the enjoyment of life aboard and ashore. "
For route planning, pilot or routing charts showing expected weather and current patterns are indispensable. Lists of radio and weather stations, lights and aids to navigation, tides and currents and pilot books are also needed. There are now cruising guides for every popular cruising destination in the world and most provide valuable information. Travel books and resource books on fauna, flora, fish etc can greatly enhance the enjoyment of life aboard and ashore.

Further reminders include checking safety gear, and making sure you've got the proper boat documentation, radio license, passports etc. organized with copies made for safe-keeping. In future articles we'll cover provisioning and the medical chest. For those sailors who'd rather not wait, those topics, and much more material on preparing for offshore passages is available in our updated book Cruising for Cowards!

Suggested Reading:

Preparing to Sail Offshore, Part One by Liza Copeland

Offshore Preparations, Part Two by Liza Copeland

Preparations for Sailing Offshore Part Three by Liza Copeland

Buying Guide: Battery Switches

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