‘Tis the season when cruisers are preparing to head south for the winter, many of them for the first time, and on the East Coast and the West, they are making up their final To Do lists.
To Do lists have two sorts of items on them: Must Do’s and Wish To Do’s. As the days tick down to departure, it’s easy to get your priorities confused, knowing deep down what you should be spending time and money on, but allowing yourself to get distracted by sexier items from the wish list.
Ken and his fiancé Margaret are in just this position.
They had been dreaming about cruising for years, when they stumbled on a deal to buy the boat of their dreams, a Voyage 44 catamaran that had been struck by lightning. It was a little sooner in the plan than they’d figured, so they’ve been commuting back and forth between North Carolina, where they’re prepping the boat, and Houston, where they’re trying to wrap up their shore-side lives.
Like many guys, Ken loves the challenge of fixing up his own boat and outfitting it with the equipment of his choice. Like many women, Margaret wants the boat to be a new home – particularly since enduring a household being dismantled. Like many new cruisers, they are both discovering that everything takes longer than they thought. Time is getting short.
There are two questions Ken and Margaret need to ask themselves if they want to leave on schedule:
- Does it all have to be done NOW?
- And WHAT really DOES have to be done now?
The answer to the first question is, no, it doesn’t all have to be done now.
Although many things benefit from being planned for, purchased and installed before you leave, the truth is there’s a lot you can get along without. Ask yourself if you can survive – really SURVIVE – without it. You can save lots of money and time by doing without your first season and learning what matters. If your cruising plan is seasonal, you can come home with a new To Do list and start earlier before your next departure. If you’re continuing onward, much of what you’ve decided you do need can be purchased “down island” or shipped in, and projects can be completed along the way.
But the answer to “What really DOES have to be done NOW?” is more complex, so, of course, we asked the Admirals.
Almost everything the Admirals came up with has to do with onboard systems that keep you safe. Note the key word “system.” Every piece of each system must be working right before you can truly rely on it.
● For sailors, right at the top is rigging.
A careful rig check from top to bottom can save you from mortifying disaster. Look under those spreader boots! You can be millimeters away from losing your rig through procrastination. If you aren’t confident, hire a professional. Ensure all turnbuckles (including the life-lines) have cotter pins and rings, and check all running rigging – halyards, sheets and reefing lines – for chafe. Replace what needs replacing, and refresh yourself on how they work! Have one or two spare lines for the furler, and, catamarans, check your nets and tramps! This a good time to be sure your deck jackline plan works so your harnesses and tethers won’t snag; you have bought all that, right?!
● Check your sails for tears or slits, and replace cracked or missing sail slides and pins. It’s a lot easier to patch sails now in a loft, than later at sea, and it’s a huge disappointment to blow a sail out on your first passage. Make sure you have spare slides and sail tape and a sail sewing kit.
● For powerboaters, engine systems clearly are number one, and they are pretty close to the top for sailors, too.
Service your engine and transmission, and be sure your fuel system is running cleanly by checking filters after taking the boat out and letting her roll around a bit. Spend for a good Racor prefilter system, single or (ideally) dual, with plenty of filters, and pack on enough oil for several complete oil changes. Also ensure your engine alarms are functioning.
Make sure your hoses are sound and are all double-clamped with stainless hose clamps and that the sea strainers on engine intakes reseat well after you check them. Check your fresh and saltwater pumps, and be sure to have either spares or rebuild kits, especially belts and impellers. Examine your stuffing boxes and shaft seals, and be sure the prop shaft itself can’t back out.
● When you look at your bilge, keep in mind you won’t be just coastal sailing anymore. Spend for a high-capacity automatic bilge pump (ideally two!) and make sure it works on both tacks and won’t siphon back. Then add a high-water alarm set only an inch or two above the normal bilgewater level… and plan to sleep a whole lot easier. Check that all your thru-hulls work, and tape or wire emergency bungs to fit them within reach.
● Some boats have simple electrical systems and some more complex. Sitting at the dock or day sailing gives you little idea if your batteries are really up to snuff. Even traveling down the waterway, you run the engine so regularly you likely don’t notice if your batteries are weak. But once you get to the islands and sit at anchor in warmer waters, filling your fridge daily with warm fish and beer… well, it’s not a good time to discover your batteries don’t have another year left in them.
Most traveling cruisers rely on battery monitor/chargers like the Link 2000 to provide the data they need to stay on top of their electrical requirements. If you rely solely on your alternator to charge your batteries, carry a back up alternator, plus be sure you have a good ohm meter, wire terminals and crimper in your tool kit.
And with those tools, be sure to go out and check all your running lights. Changing them all out for LEDs is a tempting upgrade, but just making sure they all work is more essential.
● Finally, you don’t want to short yourself on your anchoring system.
Instead of hundreds of dollars on fancy fenders and covers, invest in at least two good, proven anchors (and probably a third, stern anchor) – one (if not two) sizes larger than officially recommended for your size boat. Plus plenty of chain. All chain is the choice of most cruisers these days, and, unless the Bahamas are your sole destination, you should be prepared to anchor in deep water (40’+) at ratios of at least 5 or 7:1 in storm conditions. That’s a lot of chain. Think of yourself on the foredeck in a bad squall while choosing a windlass that will be strong enough to do the job and easy to operate; then don’t stint on the installation.
● Notice that almost all of these recommendations include some test to be done away from the dock. Sail away for a weekend at least, and see how your systems perform. And don’t wait to the last minute to do it. While you are out, check your autopilot under load, your depth sounder, and get radio checks from somewhere distant for your VHF and SSB. Cook with your stove, run your fridge and freezer, use your toilets, and clean your bottom. Life is not good if these don’t work right.
This is the stuff that should top your Must Do list for departure.
They don’t seem that sexy while tied to the dock, but once you are floating free – trust me – their importance will loom up. And, Margaret, nothing will make you feel more at home on your boat than faith in her essential systems.
Contributors: Kathy Parsons, HALE KAI; Karyn Ennor, MAGIC CARPET; Ellen Sanpere, CAYENNE III; Mary Heckrotte, CAMRYKA; Sheri Schneider, PROCYON; Bev Feiges, CLOVERLEAF; Ken Bujnoch & Margaret Henry, ROCKING B
Photos: Thanks to Mary Heckrotte, CAMRYKA; Sherry McCampbell, Soggy Paws (www.svsoggypaws.com); Ken Bujnoch & Margaret Henry, ROCKING B; Kathy Parsons, HALE KAI; Bev Feiges, CLOVERLEAF (feiges.blogspot.com).
This article was published in the October 2010 issue of Latitudes and Attitudes.