You can’t have everything
The eternal and persistent question when outfitting a cruising boat is, always: “How Much is Enough?” Followed, of course, by the completely unanswerable question “How much will it cost?” I won’t try to answer the cost question, since it’s just too complicated, but I’d like to offer a few thoughts on the equipping side, since we’re nearing the end of that process now with Sionna.
So the question of the day is, what is the absolute minimum required equipment, facilities and supplies? What can’t you cruise without? And naturally, the true answer to that question is; “That Depends”.
Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say “It’s Personal”. When you come right down to it, what one crew feels is absolutely-stripped-down simple may seem, to others, to be ridiculously over-prepared.
As I hope I’ve mentioned in other posts, Nicki and I are great and avid fans of Lin & Larry Pardey, the “first family” of long-term, minimalist cruisers. If you’re not familiar, check out their current site at L&L Pardey and consider reading their writings, too. Great stuff. In over a dozen books, DVD’s, and countless presentations and articles, (and over 150,000 miles of engine-less cruising under sail), the Pardeys have been tireless, vocal advocates for their cruising mantra (and indeed their 50-year lifestyle): “Go Simple, Go Small, Go Now”. It was their insistence on simplifying their boat, and their example of what is possible on a minimalist budget, that convinced me that maybe the cruising dream I’d been harboring wasn’t an impossibility, after all.
“Maybe”, I thought, “We really COULD go…”
It is upon such fragile foundations that alternative lifestyles are built!
Let me just say, upfront, that we are not well-to-do financially. Also that we are not “poor”, at least in the way that I define poor. We live closer to the federal poverty line sometimes than I might wish, but we eat well and have reliable shelter, and vehicles to get us to work – because we must work when not cruising. There’s a small disability income from my previous career which helps level the income flow a bit, but in our world there is no wide-screen TV (actually we haven’t had a TV in 10 years, and I can’t imagine a need for one), no owned real estate, and no big new cars (ours are both 9-year-old sub-compacts, and well over 150,000 miles). Nicki is a fitness instructor, I’m a carpenter – a rather seasonal field in Maine. The only “toys” we allow ourselves are good shoes to protect Nicki’s feet, decent quality tools for my work and – being avid cooks and foodies – good knives and a Kitchen-aid mixer on the counter.
New-to-us Force 10 range
So that sets the stage for our perception of “Required Equipment” on our cruising home. Cost is always a concern, and of course our cruising plans determine the type of equipment we’ll need in the near future. The cost-effectiveness of on-board equipment is carefully weighed, and then balanced against the absolute cost to determine if it’s even possible. Then, finally, comes the “gut-check”.
If you’re not familiar with the gut-check concept, let me explain. We might look at a piece of equipment – say, radar – and decide that it’s cost-effectiveness is high; ie for the money, it would fulfill an important function well. In terms of total coast, the $2000 or so could be managed, though we would have to eliminate something else from the “want” list to swing it.
But the gut-check is a feeling. It’s a look inside my soul that says “Do we really NEED this, or do I just WANT to need it?” I was a pilot once. I love radar and all the information it can give you, but on our boat do we actually need it – and its maintenance expenses -given the type of sailing we’ll be doing?
No, we don’t. And here’s where we come to one of the Pardey’s most important rules of inexpensive cruising:
If it’s not installed, you don’t have to pay to fix it when (not “if”!) it breaks. So, no radar.
Ok, but what about refrigeration? Sionna came with a huge icebox, over 8 cubic feet, but like every factory-built boat I’ve ever seen, it was under-insulated and inefficient. We plan to cruise in the semi-tropics for the next few years, and part of our “staying healthy is cheaper than getting healthy” mindset demands lots of minimally processed foods, fresh fruit and vegetables, real dairy products, etc. (Please don’t ask me where rum and wine come into that equation!)
Because that’s how we wish to live, the ability to keep some of our provisions cold has significant gut-value to us, enough to justify the cost and upkeep of a small refrigerated space. It passes all three tests, (cost-effectiveness, total cost and the gut-check), so it stays. And if it makes a few ice cubes, that’ll be bonus.
To increase the feasibility factor, I added 2” of foam insulation to all inside surfaces of the cooler, reducing it’s volume to about 4.5 cubic feet, and installed an Isotherm self-pumping refrigeration system, which uses the water surrounding the boat to dissipate the heat removed from the fridge. Simple, few moving parts, easily installed, and replacement parts (should they be needed) easily available and installed by the user. Then I added a 100 watt solar panel to cover most of the power requirements of the fridge. Voila!
The next two years on Sionna will be mostly inshore or near-shore, as we travel down the Atlantic ICW (Intracoastal Waterway), cross Florida via the Okeechobee canal, and explore the Keys and Gulf Coast., then the Bahamas the next year. We won’t be crossing oceans (yet), and we won’t be months away from basic services and parts.
Still, we may do some night sailing off the coast during the trip (Atlantic ocean and Gulf of Mexico), and from the Bahamas there may be an overnight to farther Caribbean destinations at some point. Friends, there’s a lot of traffic out there in places.
Si-Tex SAS-300 AIS
Our first overnight passage last summer, from Maine to Cape Cod, turned into a marathon 30 hours of motoring in confused seas, fog and zero wind, crossing the shipping channels for both Portland, Maine and Boston, Mass. Were we nervous? Well yeah, we were. No way to see shipping beyond about 500 yards, and no way to hear them with the engine running. We had the VHF radio to announce our position, but that was it, and it felt pretty naked. It sure would have been nice to know if any of those big ones were out there.
So we’ve installed a dedicated AIS transponder (Automatic Identification System), which overlays it’s information on a GPS chart plotter display in the cockpit. For the price of most plain AIS systems, we got a small (5” x 9” screen) combined AIS/chart plotter with current electronic charts all the way to the Bahamas. Cost effective, affordable, and it’s giving me a warm, fuzzy feeling before we even get it in the water! Sometimes technology really does feel like a wonderful thing. We still won’t have a TV aboard, though.
One other thought about the cost of cruising. I’ll end with a list of all the things we’ll have aboard that we had to add, but keep in mind that ALL installation and routine maintenance labor is provided by Nicki and me. If we’d had to hire someone to do all this, at commercial going rates, we’d never leave. Really. I figure that would have added about $22,000 worth of labor to the process, and would have instantly made this whole cruising dream impossible for us. The choice is pretty clear: Deep pockets, or DIY.
Manual Windlass, saved from the project boat.
Ok, here’s the wrap-up. To take Sionna from a very comfortable weekend and short cruise sailboat to an extended-cruising home for two, we added/modified the following:
- Drifter light-air sail
- Storm jib & storm try-sail
- Additional anchors – we now carry four anchors of 3 different types (2 CQR plows of 35# and 25#; one 35# fisherman, one 22# Danforth style)
- Additional anchor rodes – we have three complete chain/nylon combination rodes and spares for another.
- Manual Anchor windlass (salvaged from our project boat)
- 10 docklines, two over 30′ long.
- A dinghy we can stow on deck for passages.
- 3 horse dinghy motor.
- AIS/chart plotter, plus paper chart backup. (Si-Tex SAS-300)
- Second GPS. (Lowrance Elite4m)
- Second chart plotter on Android tablet..
- Hand-held VHF radio (In addition to existing fixed VHF).
- Refrigeration (and additional insulation) (Isotherm 2055sp)
- Stereo system (USB, MP3, CD, AM/FM).
- All LED lighting.
- 100w solar panel with controller, expandable to 340watts. (Windy Nation)
- Propane, with control/safety system and 22# (4.8 gal) propane capacity.
- Gimballed stove – two-burner with oven/broiler. (Force 10)
- Small propane gas grill.
- Re-plumbed the entire fresh-water system, and rebuilt the port 75 gallon water tank so it won’t leak.
- Added spares for rigging, engine, filters, belts, etc.
- Added tools for boat maintenance/repairs and basic carpentry, in case I get a chance to work along the way.
So there’s our list of upgrades. What would you do? Would your list of “must-haves” be significantly different? Have we forgotten anything?