Gear Report (posted November 2015)
After 7,150nm and one year of cruising on Strider, it’s time to assess some boat gear – what has worked and what hasn’t. We can’t cover everything, so we’ll stick to the stuff about which we have clear evidence or firm conviction.
First, gear that has worked well:
Our 33 Kg Rocna anchor helps us sleep at night. This is our second Rocna; we used the 25 Kg version on our previous boat. We also would be happy with a Spade, Manson Supreme, or one of the other “new generation” anchors. We carry 300 feet of 5/16” G4 chain connected with a 7/16” Crosby 209A alloy shackle, not a swivel. We attach our snubber(s) with a Victory chain hook or a rolling hitch.
We usually prefer anchoring to moorings, which can be poorly maintained. For example, in Prickly Bay, Grenada, a boat to windward of us broke its mooring pennant while the owner was ashore. It was saved from certain destruction on the rocks by fellow cruisers who scrambled aboard and set the anchor.
Our boom preventer has saved us during a couple of unplanned jibes. There are different ways to rig a preventer, but we largely follow the advice of John Harries at Attainable Adventure Cruising, one of our favorite sailing websites.
Our system consists of constrictor clutches at the cockpit winches, 1/2” nylon double-braid routed down the side decks to high-load blocks at the bow then running aft and tied to 3/8” dyneema pennants that are spliced to a dyneema strop around the boom. All of the gear is super-strong; we calculate that the bowline in the 1/2” nylon double-braid is the weak link. We can rig a preventer in seconds, and we generally leave it rigged for the entire passage, re-adjusting the tension whenever we trim the main sheet off the wind.
Our wind generator and solar panels satisfy nearly all of our electrical needs, about 100 amp-hours per day at anchor. The 140-watt rigid panel tilts fore-and-aft on the stern arch, allowing for proper sun angle throughout the day. The semi-flexible 125-watt Solbian panel attaches to the bimini cloth with velcro. With its fixed angle it produces only a little more than half the amp-hours of the rigid panel, but it is light and unobtrusive, and for offshore passages we can easily stow it under the mattress in the forward cabin. Each solar panel is regulated by its own Genasun MMPT charge controller. These simple units lack a display for volts and amps, but they are efficient and affordable. When we purchased Strider it came with an Eclectic Energy DT400, one of the heavier and pricier wind generators on the market. We replaced a bent blade and a broken nose cone, and since then it has been fully reliable. The DT400 is quiet; we often hear our neighbor’s wind generators above our own. How much power does it provide? It makes only a small contribution on most downwind passages or in light-air cruising grounds like Maine or Chesapeake Bay. On upwind passages or windy anchorages it can maintain the house batteries in a perpetual, fully charged state. More typically it provides a modest complement to the solar panels. On an “average” day the rigid panel might contribute 50 amp-hours of power while the flexible panel and the wind generator each contribute 25 amp-hrs.
Strider is equipped with simple electronics. At the helm we have three instruments: wind, depth, and boat speed, and a Simrad autopilot that only works in heading mode. Below-decks, our dated chart plotter is rarely powered up, aside from an occasional peek at the radar. This setup has been perfectly adequate. We haven’t felt the need for fancier electronics, because we perform 99% of our navigation with an iPad and the Navionics app. In U.S. waters we use the free NOAA raster charts, and we use Navionics digital charts for the Caribbean. Otherwise, our favorite navigation tools are the simplest: the windex at the top of the mast, and when approaching an anchorage the hand sketches in the cruising guides and a lookout at the bow. One caveat to our “simpler is better” approach – we wish we had installed an AIS transceiver instead of a “receive-only” unit – more on this in a later post.
For internet access we installed a wifi antenna and booster. Basically, Strider logs into a wifi access point within line of sight, and then our boat becomes an internet hotspot, allowing multiple family members to log into Strider with their devices. Such systems have become standard for live-aboard cruisers. We have the Bad Boy antenna with the optional Unleashed access point, and the installation was a piece of cake.
For personal computing we couldn’t be happier with our MacAir, because it is so energy efficient. The charger draws only 40 watts, and it recharges in minutes vs. hours. A single charge allows for hours of personal computing, checking GRIBs or internet surfing. The MacAir is also our family home theater, the four of us nestled cozily into the forward bunk. As a side benefit, a computer without a hard drive is less vulnerable to damage from movement and impact.
We wrote an earlier blog piece about Strider’s flexible sail plan, and after a few months of sailing offshore and through the eastern Caribbean we are still happy with this rig. On our recent passage from Grenada to St. Martin we used all three reefs in the main, and the jib and staysail saw equal service. Moving upwind in 20 knots the second reef and jib are comfortable and balanced. In 30 knots the third reef and staysail are equally so. We’re still working on tweaks to the reefing system, and we haven’t yet determined a good way to fully claw down the mainsail when sailing off the wind. And for sailing offshore in high latitudes we might swap our regular jib for one with a Yankee cut. However, we continue to like Strider’s overall sail plan for short-handed cruising, especially the dual headsails on roller furlers and a reacher on a continuous-line furler instead of a spinnaker.
We don’t claim great culinary insights, but a few items have been especially helpful in our galley. We love our Aeropress coffee maker, because it wastes no coffee or water (ergo less propane), the cleanup is easy, and the coffee tastes great. One of our best moves was leaving behind the pot lids and bringing flexible silicone lids. They’re easy to stow, and they form a tight seal on the pot, trapping the steam and creating a sort of “low-pressure” cooker. Meanwhile, everyone has their favorite staple, but ours is Whole Wheat Couscous. It contains more protein and fiber per serving than brown rice. Unlike pasta, it wastes no water, and it cooks in seconds. Blaire has discovered that you don’t even need to cook it – simply place the proper amounts of couscous, water, vegetables and spices in a tupperware, and serve 30 minutes later. Last summer we ordered 20 lbs of Rice Select brand couscous from Amazon and stored it in the bilge. It comes in large, plastic jars that can be reused as practical storage containers.
When it comes to food and drink, the big surprise has been the affordability of groceries throughout the Caribbean. We love the farmers’ markets, especially on the fertile islands of Dominica and Grenada. Our favorite fruit is Sour Sop, and for extra crunch on salads it’s hard to beat Christophene. Fruit juice is cheap and widely available, and the family favorite is passion fruit juice. Our favorite rum is English Harbour, from Antigua – smooth, balanced, and $9 a liter. The French islands’ supermarches are tops when it comes to fresh meat, bread, cheese, and wine, and the prices and quality are superior to just about anything back home. Sure, it’s hard to beat the price of American beef, but who cares when French chicken, pork tenderloin, and duck breasts are fresh and affordable?
Now, the gear that hasn’t worked so well:
An Inmarsat ISatphone Pro came with the boat, so we purchased some minutes and tried it out. The phone itself is well made, but we observed two limitations. First, the phone uses a geosynchronous satellite positioned over the equator, so while the signal becomes stronger as you push south in the Caribbean, the phone was all but useless in New England unless we were offshore, with an absolutely clear view of the souther horizon. Second, while we’ve had modest luck with voice phone calls, the phone simply doesn’t work for data. This is despite using the Red Port Optimizer and associated software, which simplify and compress the data to give the phone the best chance at success. We might have experienced more success using an external antenna, but for less money we were able to buy a new Globalstar GSP-1700 phone, dock, and external antenna. This kit has worked well, especially for downloading weather briefs and GRIB files via email: more about this in a future post.
A sailboat is a tough environment for mobile devices, so before our cruise we purchased OtterBox Preserver cases for two of the family phones. One of them failed catastrophically during a brief dunk in waste-deep water, killing an iPhone. The other simply fell apart from regular day-to-day use. As a comparison, we also bought two LifeProof Nuud cases, one for an iPhone and one for an iPad. They are still going strong, with no leaks.
Our Allures 44 was commissioned with a J Prop feathering propeller, an Italian design much like the Max Prop on our previous boat. After 1700 hours this prop suffered a serious failure. The front of the hub attaches to the sail drive in the traditional way, by sliding over a spline on the shaft. The front of the hub then drives the rest of the prop via pins that are mounted in a flexible, shock absorbing material. In this way, when you place the engine in gear, the splines and other components are not damaged by the prop being instantly accelerated to engine speed. Instead, the pins’ flexible mounts absorb some of the shock. However, after 1700 hours the pins tore out of the propeller and worked their way forward, through the front of the hub, and dropped between the prop and the sail drive zinc. Facing an expensive repair, we opted for a new Max Prop, which are more easily serviced in the United States and the English-speaking Caribbean.
After we purchased Strider we installed a new VHF radio because this was cheaper and easier than reprogramming the old radio’s MMSI number – the unique address used for digital calling and distress signals. We chose a Standard Horizon GX-2150 because it also serves as an AIS receiver. It performs this job well, displaying all boats within 10 miles that broadcast an AIS signal, and providing information to help us avoid collisions. However, we would not choose this equipment again. For one, the unit’s GPS-derived heading data is insufficiently smoothed, so calculations of the “closest point of approach” change rapidly as Strider moves with the wind and waves. This renders the proximity alert function all but useless, and the many false alarms prevent the off-watch crew from sleeping until he/she turns off the alerts. Otherwise, while the GX-2150 does what it promises, we’re now convinced that for just a little more money it makes sense to install a full AIS transceiver. There are two obvious benefits to broadcasting your own ship’s position, name, course, and speed. First, you are less likely to get run over. Second, when another vessel wants to hail you, they hail you by name! We are far more likely to respond to a vessel calling “Strider, Strider, Strider, this is the U.S.S. Teddy Roosevelt,” than “Sailboat headed 175 degrees at 16N and 62W, this is the large ship off your port bow….”
Gear on which the Verdict is Still Out
Some gear has proven effective but not as durable as we hoped. For example, a year ago I purchased Sperry deck shoes with Gripx3 treads. These shoes offer good support, they dry quickly, and they really grip the deck! However, like racing tires the soles wear easily, and after 9 months of sailing my treads were completely smooth. To be fair, I got over 4,000 miles of sailing from these shoes. On the other hand, this means that a circumnavigation would require 5 pairs of shoes, at $120 a pair, which seems impractical. Another example: we have a couple of Fenix HP-15 headlamps, and with a 500-lumen beam, wide throw, and a long-lasting 4xAA battery pack these lamps are fantastic for night watches or entering a dark anchorage. Unfortunately, one of them failed after getting dropped on the deck – or maybe it was the wave in the face – two common events on a sailboat. At $70 it’s not clear whether we should replace the HP-15 or simply use the smaller, cheaper, AAA-powered headlamps that are half the price.
Other gear has performed well so far, but because these items represent a significant investment of money and time to install, we will withhold judgment to see how they hold up for a second year. These include the Solbian flexible solar panel, the Vitrifrigio DT180 freezer/refrigerator, and the Spectra Ventura 150 watermaker.
Marine Heads (posted November 2015)
After purchasing Strider we installed Raritan PHII toilets in both heads, plumbed directly to plastic gravity-drain holding tanks, with new plumbing. The goal was simplicity, maintainability, and minimal odors. The Raritan toilets have powerful pumping action, moving air as well as liquid, which allows them to clear the waste out of the discharge hose and into the top of the holding tank. The 17-gallon holding tanks – made of polyethylene by Ronco in California – sit above and behind the toilets, where the medicine cabinets used to be. At the top of the tank we used 1” vents with no filter. The 1 1/2″ drain hoses go straight down to the thru-hull. The tanks empty quickly when you open the ball valve at the bottom of the tank. We leave the drains open offshore, and wave action flushes the tank when heeled to leeward. The overall result is minimal smell, clean tanks, and no hassling with Y valves or macerator pumps.
Each toilets’ raw water intake is via the thru-hull for the lavatory sink drain. When we leave the boat for an extended period, we close the sink drain thru-hull and fill the sink with fresh water. Then we pump fresh water through the toilet and into the holding tank, with a tiny amount of Raritan “CP” cleaner. This purges marine organisms from the hoses, and leaves the head fresh smelling until we return. We can winterize the system the same way, by pouring anti-freeze into the sink instead of fresh water.
The design has worked well, and we would do it this way again, but with a few caveats:
- The top of the forward holding tank is 4 1/2 feet about the base of the toilet, or 3’9” above the top of the pump piston, just a little too high. The pump works a little too hard to push all the liquid “over the top” and into the tank. The top of our aft holding tank is 9” lower, and this makes a big difference.
- The bottom of the aft holding tank is 27” above sea level with zero heel, and while normally sufficient, there is no question that the forward holding tank, with the bottom 33” above sea level, has a more powerful gravity “flush.” On a few occasions the aft tank has suffered from a clogged drain, usually after sitting at anchor for long periods. Fortunately, by plugging the vent and pumping the toilet once of twice, the clog immediately cleared, and a few hours of offshore sailing cleaned out the tank.
- We don’t yet know how the toilet pumps will hold up in the long run. We keep them lubricated with Super Lube, and this summer I replaced the gaskets and seals.
- Using the sink drains puts the toilets’ raw water intakes in relatively close proximity to the holding tank discharge. This means that with the holding tank drains open, technique is required to avoid sucking waste back into the pump. This is not a problem when underway, or with the holding tank drain closed. If you choose to leave the holding tank drain open at anchor, you can do the “pump and pause.”
Boat Projects (posted December, 2014)
Cruising on your own sailboat is a great privilege, but it’s not the same as vacationing. For one, without a regular job you need to exercise more thrift than during the typical family trip to Disney World. Also, cruising on your own boat means maintenance… and lots of it.
Strider has no brightwork, unlike Elena of London, so instead of varnishing Owen can take time for science class!
A boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money. The definition of cruising is fixing your boat in exotic locations. Maintaining a boat is like maintaining your home, but everything breaks twice as often and takes three times as long to repair. There is truth in these aphorisms, but for those who contemplate cruising themselves, or for friends who just want to know what we’ve been doing for the last six months, we can share some real-world examples.
Below is a list of maintenance projects we’ve completed since taking ownership of Strider last March. Some projects were driven by necessity, while others were preventative maintenance or upgrades. Most day-to-day maintenance, from changing filters and clearing clogged toilets to sundry small repairs, is not included on this list. At the bottom of this page we offer some general thoughts on maintaining your own boat.
by Global Marine Service, Ft Lauderdale
- Install forward holding tank with deck pump out, 1” vent, thru-hull fittings, valves, hoses
- Replace forward toilet with Raritan PHII manual toilet
- Create new propane locker in transom: new hose, regulator, remote control & alarm
- Name and homeport on transom
by City Boatyard, Charleston, SC
- Haul, drop centerboard, clean and bottom paint all, replace zincs
- Clean saildrive intake, change oil & lip seal
- Clean/lube/anti-foul propeller
- Remove aft toilet and Lectrasan waste treatment system. Replace with Raritan PHII manual toilet and holding tank setup (same as forward head)
- Replace refrigerator with Vitrifrigio two-drawer freezer/fridge. Reroute cooling air, condensation drain
- Build 2-door cabinet above fridge (new fridge ⅔ height of previous one)
by North Sails, Charleston, SC
- Unstep mast, inspect rigging and sails
- Replace standing rigging
- Replace worn torlon bearings in mainsail batten cars
- Step mast and tune rig
- Re-plumb toilets and holding tanks with raw water intake T’d from lav sink drains, all-new hose for intake and discharge
- Install Ventura 150 watermaker in bilge
- Replace potable water hose from tank to pump. Install water strainer before the pump, 10” carbon water filter after the pump
- Install water pressure accumulator
- Install shutoff valve for fresh water tank fill
- Install shutoff valve for stern shower
- Replace cockpit manual bilge pump
- Open and clean calcium deposits and silt from water tank. Reseal.
- Open and pump contaminants from bottom of diesel tank. Reseal.
- Anchor windlass – replace gypsy, repair spline, clean and lube, switch from 150 feet of 7/16” chain (grade 30) to 300 feet of 5/16” chain (grade 40)
- Preventer system: dyneema lines on boom, double braid lines routed via blocks on bow, ferrules at toe-rail amid-ship, and constrictor clutches at the cockpit winches
- Install safety gear: valise liferaft, Lifesling, Dan Buoy, jacklines, etc
- Replace lenses on three hatches, with thru-bolted latches vice glue-on ones
- Replace lazy jacks with dyneema / soft eye splices
- Rig dyneema bridle and straps for dinghy davits
- Replace reefing lines with ⅜” Endura braid. Replace jib and main sheets.
- Remove mainsheet traveller, reinforce deck coring, re-bed and bolt to deck
- Replace lifeline gates: ¼” dyneema spliced to new ferrules and pelican hooks
- Replace 100 watt solar panel with 140 watt panel and MMPT charger
- Install 125 watt flexible solar panel on bimini and MMPT charger
- Replace AGM batteries, battery boxes, straps
- Install VHF radio with DSC and AIS, with 2nd GPS receiver on arch
- Replace 5’ fiberglass VHF antenna at mast top with 3’ whip antenna (to fit under 65’ bridges)
- Replace windex at mast top and wind instrument at helm
- Remove alternator, get internal voltage regulator repaired by shop, reinstall
- Install WIFI antenna and WIFI router, with own power switch
- Install satphone external antenna, dock, and WIFI router for weather and GRIBs, with own switch
- Install lee cloths on two berths
- Install straps in the propane locker to hold propane tanks and gasoline jerry jugs
- Install 5# Halotron fire extinguisher. Move dry chemical extinguishers to better locations.
- Equip and set up Ditch Bag
- Install Hellafan in port cabin
- Replace bent Lewmar hatch frame on bow locker
- Remove wind generator, replace two blades, reinstall
- Replace broken steering cables
- Clean oysters and zebra muscles from raw water system: clean saildrive intake, replace fatigued water hose from saildrive to impeller, replace scored impeller cover.
by local shops
- Stitch velcro on bimini for flexible solar panel
- Restitch weak spots on dodger and mainsail cover, replace two zippers
- build wooden hatchboard with bug screen for improved ventilation
by Antigua Slipway
- Replace lifelines with uncovered 1×19
- Install heavy-duty pad eyes on corners of transom to attach Jordan drogue (via ¾” shackles)
- Replace missing rub cap for mid-ships cleat
pending work by Antigua Slipway
- Remove engine heat exchanger and flush in acid bath
- Haul out and replace depth transducer and bow thruster blade
- Repitch and lube prop, replace lower sail drive skirt, change zincs and sail drive oil
- Replace main sheet boom tangs with stronger ones
- Rebush gooseneck fitting and reassemble with new washers
No worries if your eyes glazed over after the 3rd bullet and you skipped to the end of the list. The real point is that owning a boat requires time and effort, and you cannot get around this. You either work hard on your boat, or you work hard at your day job so you can pay someone else to work on your boat. We’re still learning, of course, but after owning a couple of cruising boats and talking with fellow cruisers, we can make a few suggestions.
- There is no such thing as a “turn-key” vessel.We purchased both of our cruising boats when they were 4-7 years old. They were in excellent condition. Nevertheless, they both required substantial time and effort to maintain them by our standards.
- If you are intimidated by the above list, don’t even think about a “project boat.” For all the work we have done on our boats, we have never faced serious corrosion, osmosis, water-logged coring, etc. Sure there are “bargains” out there, but realize that it may actually be cheaper to buy a new boat, and it will save you considerable heartache.
- If you want to live on your own cruising boat you must develop your maintenance skills. Things will break when you’re far from port, and boatyards are expensive. Read books, get online, and get your hands dirty working on your engine, plumbing, rigging, electrical system, etc. You will need tools.
- Some jobs can be deferred or ignored. Marine electronics get cheaper and more capable with each year, so postpone that electronics upgrade as long as you can stand it. Other jobs become more costly if ignored. Take the time now to repair the stitching in your canvas, address electrolysis and galvanic corrosion, and maintain your engine.
- You can’t be an expert in all aspects of boat maintenance. Decide which types of jobs you will tackle and which jobs you will leave to the professionals. An experienced mechanic or rigger can actually save you time and money by doing the job correctly the first time.
- If you want something done correctly, do it yourself. Boatyards care most about the bottom line, and they routinely cut corners. If points 3 and 4 seem contradictory, it’s because they are. Live with it.
- If you start a project then finish it properly. The maritime environment (sun, salt, waves, and wind) is unforgiving of half-as#$ed maintenance, and you will soon find yourself doing the job over again. Besides, your maintenance list quickly becomes unmanageable if it’s crowded with tasks that are “sort of” complete.
- The maintenance list is never complete. Prioritize your list, tackle the jobs that cannot be ignored without jeopardizing the boat or the crew, and then go sailing.
- You won’t last long as a liveaboard cruiser if you view boat work as onerous. Remember that a bad day working on your boat is better than a great day at the office.
- Others in your life may not consider boat maintenance as important or rewarding as you do. Put your tools aside and spend time with friends and family.
A Flexible Sailing Rig for Cruising (10 Oct 2014)
In selecting a boat for our family adventure, one of our top priorities was a sailing rig that two people could manage in a wide range of conditions. Since mid-March we have sailed 2000 nautical miles on STRIDER, and the sail plan has proven even more flexible than we hoped. In addition to the mainsail with three reefs, STRIDER carries three headsails: 1) a large, downwind sail called a gennaker (pictured), which can be hoisted on a continuous-line furler on the bowsprit, 2) a jib on a roller-furler, 3) a smaller jib, called a staysail, on its own roller-furler aft of the main jib.
Reducing sail on STRIDER is simpler than our previous cruising boat. If it’s too windy for the jib we can use the staysail. Also, the mainsail reefs far more easily. Roller-bearing cars along the sail’s leading edge, or luff, allow us to reef and/or lower the sail without heading into the wind and waves. This is a real benefit offshore. In fact, under normal conditions reefing can be done by one-person, so the off-duty watch can remain in his or her bunk! Downwind we have found the jib pole even handier than expected. Not only does it allow us to sail with the jib and mainsail “wing-on-wing,” but for real downwind stability we can sail with no mainsail and twin headsails. These might be the jib on the pole to windward and the gennaker to leeward, if power is desired, or we can fly the jib on the pole to windward and the staysail to leeward. Both headsails can be partially reefed or furled while sailing downwind, even while on the pole.
On our recent passage from NYC to Delaware Bay, we began by reaching down the New Jersey coast in a light northeast breeze under the main and jib. We could have hoisted the gennaker for more speed, but with darkness approaching and the wind expected to build during the night, we left the big sail in the bow locker. During the night the wind strengthened more than forecast. At midnight we reefed the main, at 0200 a second reef, and at 0515 a third. At sunrise off Cape May we lowered the main, reaching under jib alone in 30-35 knots of wind. Conditions were gusty and the 8 foot seas steep and closely spaced, but with the centerboard up and the sail’s center of effort well forward, the helm was neutral and responsive. STRIDER was surfing beautifully. Entering Delaware Bay we needed to jibe to starboard and sail northwest up the channel, placing the apparent wind forward of the bow, so we furled the jib and deployed the staysail by itself. Despite the small sail area, we still made a respectable 6.5 knots in 30 knots of breeze with the wind 50-60 degreees off the bow. The boat was comfortable and the steering responsive as we dodged several large ships steaming down the bay. If we were racing we would have pressed more canvas, but we have learned when cruising to go easy on the boat and the crew, saving our strength for the long haul.
In the video STRIDER enters Delaware Bay under staysail. Megan is feeling a tad green after reading too long in her cabin. However, on this particular passage none of our intrepid crew threw up! Attribute this to experience, Stugeron tablets, and the Blaire’s and Colin’s learning to reef earlier (for which Owen and Megan offer their thanks)!