30 September 2009

I found a web site full of invaluable information, especially on how to communicate from a boat. The creators, Jeff and Karen, are the kind of cruisers you want to meet, so if you see them on their boat, aCapella, give them a hail. Meanwhile, take the time to find the web page, and save some time to take in all the information there is posted.

Take a look, you are bound to learn things about communication from a boat you never knew. And if you have dogs aboard, or want cruising information on the east coast, you will have found a home.

07 September 2009



Is there really such a thing as the perfect cruising boat? Yes, if you have a boat that fulfills your needs, and you love her, and you are not thinking about another boat, you have the perfect cruising boat---for you. Is there a boat built that would be perfect for everyone? Absolutely not! Couple of examples: Mary and Joe want to make that Great Circle Loop that everyone talks about. They want to buy a boat, ready to go, that will allow them to do this one long trip, and sell her afterwards. Of course they go to the used market, best source of a ready to go boat, at a price that will be easy to unload when the passage is over, since it will have already taken that big dip. They choose a boat that meets the depth, and most importantly, the height requirements. They don't need stabilizers, massive storage space for food, but the ability to keep warm and cold, and keep the bugs out is important. A turn of speed, while still being fuel efficient, meaning a light weight, well designed hull, would be a priority. They will always be in civilization, so they need only the most necessary spares, a dinghy can be their life raft, good dock lines and anchoring gear are still important.

Fred and Alice, on the other hand, want to cross an ocean; they want to be real passage makers. They carefully shop both the new and used market, since they plan to keep the boat for many years, and they don't mind taking that new boat hit. They want stout, safe, and comfortable, for all the varied conditions the ocean can throw at them. The boat must have some stabilization method; they must have massive storage for food, fuel, spares, and a good life raft. They will want room for extra people, since most insurance companies require you take at least three for an ocean crossing.
Then there is Hank and Sarah, who live near a big city and just want an affordable weekend cottage. They may never leave their marina, maybe an occasional picnic cruise so the kids can go swimming. If they are social, they need lots of entertaining space, if it is for a personal get away, just big enough for them will do. Only enough equipment to get from boat yard to marina, and some very short hops; anything more, including giant powerful engines, is a waste of money.
Different boats, for different blokes.

I know you have read all this before, but it needs to be repeated over and over again. Fit the boat to where you are going to cruise, and how you like to cruise. Every night at a marina, fuel always handy, restaurants and grocery stores all about, that's one kind of boat. If living at anchor in remote places is your dream, that's another kind of boat. Buy the boat that fits your needs now, and in the immediate future. If your plans are to retire in eight years, and cross the ocean at that time, but right now you are cruising the Chesapeake, where you live, then buy and enjoy that nice Chesapeake Bay boat that will get you about faster, so you can cover more territory, in the short time frames you have, while still working. When you start crossing oceans, full displacement, slow speed is the only way to go.

We call our boat a "perfect liveaboard cruising boat". Key word here is liveaboard. The boat is our only home, other than a few things left in storage at our son's home, she must carry all our clothes, books, gadgets and gillhickies that we feel are essential for comfort and pleasure. We still had to cull. Too much "stuff", can ruin any boat. When people ask Dave what their boat needs, he most always answers, "A dumpster". If you can't store it, and retrieve it easily, if your lockers are so jammed pack you don't know what is at the bottom of them, and you've got as big a boat as you can handle, get that dumpster.

We fall into the category of liveaboards who want to spend most of their time at anchor. We are mainly in warm climates, we are often away from shoreside amenities, and we figured our longest off shore passages would be one to three days. We had dreams of cruising the Med, but any ocean crossings would be done using one of the yacht transport companies. To sum it up: If you want to cruise long distances in short steps, keeping yourself within fairly reliable weather windows, and spending most of your time at anchor, do the following:
1. Get as large a boat as you can manage, both physically and financially. You pay dearly for the extra size, maybe not in purchase price, but in every other way. But the benefits are greater comfort underway and at anchor, and plenty of storage space if the boat is your only home. If guests are rare, have only one extra cabin that serves another purpose, such as an office, or hobby room, with something that converts into a bed.
2.Look carefully at how the boat ventilates, at anchor, and underway. If the main cabin is forward, where the best breeze will be, make sure the noise level is tolerable. If you are mostly going to be in a marina, this is a non-issue. Have an air conditioner, just making sure it runs quietly, and the extra electric costs are okay with the budget.
3. You will be much safer, (from the sun's damaging rays), and more comfortable when the spray is flying or its cold, if you can steer from inside. If she is a semi displacement boat she will lift her bow as the speed goes up; choose one with an enclosed upper station. 4. Having the labor saving devices a woman is used to, is as important to her, as your engine room is to you. Everybody will be happy there is a washer/dryer aboard, especially if you like having company. When our kids come, they travel light, and the machines are running constantly. I also love my built in vacuum, and having every thing in the galley I would want in a house ashore. One of the big annoyances, a chest type refrigerator and freezer, like I had on the sail boat, is a thing of the past, thank goodness. 5. Don't be afraid of a steel hull. It will give you a lot of peace of mind. I have hit the bricks twice, once when the new engine, not properly tuned, quit as we were coming around a tight corner in the New River, and I slammed into a concrete wall; once a rock reef in Maine, that I hit so hard, it lifted the bow. No damage to report. The new coatings are fantastic, but you do have to check for any bad spots, and fix what you find. With all her insulation, the boat is so quiet, and sits so well that I'm constantly fooled in windy periods, thinking the wind has settled as I get up each morning, only to see it is still blowing stink.
6.The boat is rigged so that one person can do any chore. Dave can easily drop and raise the dinghy from her nest on the upper deck. Raising and lowering the anchor, navigating, driving the boat, all these tasks can be done alone. It would make a fine boat for a single hander.Even the passarelle, a fancy name for a gang plank, can be raised and lowered by one person.

7. Make sure you can board the boat easily, whether from high docks, floating docks, the dinghy, or from the water. Steps, ladders, a passarelle, if you are going foreign, and lots of grab rails are essential. We have a variety of ways to get aboard. Along side a fixed dock with usual tidal range, we go out the middle or rear side openings using a folding ladder with grab rail on the dock, and a set of hanging steps on the boat, one or the other or both, depending on tidal range. With floating docks, we generally go out on the back deck and down the nice wide steps, onto the swim platform, and off. Everywhere I go, there are either banisters, or grab rails. I stress this, because I can't tell you how many boats I have been aboard that have stairwells with no room for a grab rail. That was number one reason for crossing so many boats off my list, the other big reason, not being able to see the back of the boat from the steering station. The swim platform is part of the hull, which makes getting aboard from the dinghy easy and safe. Picture the trouble you can get in when conditions are rough, and the bolted on swim platform wants to rise up and crush your dinghy under it. From the swim platform, with its outside shower, we can also enter directly into our shower, through a rear door. This not only keeps wet bodies from trailing through the boat, but makes unloading the groceries from the dinghy a snap, and it is vital to our ventilation.
8.If you are going out onto larger bodies of water, and your boat is slow, you will need stabilizers for comfort. Be sure the boat has them or can have them put aboard, or think of the newer, but possibly still pricey, gyroscopic method, which has to be the cat's meow. It works even at anchor.
9. Dave feels so much of our love affair with our two boats, was having the incredible luck of getting boats designed by great naval architects. Bill Lapworth didn't know how to design a slow sailboat, and Jim Krogen didn't know how to do an uncomfortable motor boat. Talk to any owner of a Lapworth or Krogen designed boat, and you will see what we mean. So look at the designer, with some idea of what he was trying to achieve, and does this fit with what you are trying to achieve.

10. If you plan to anchor, look hard at the anchors and anchoring gear. No such thing as too heavy, no such thing as too much chain, but be sure the windlass can handle it. Don't forget all those dock lines and fenders for marina times, and at least one extra long floating line for towing or tying to shore.

11. You want all the latest gear when t comes to chartplotters, (the plural is deliberate), depth sounders, (ditto deliberate), radar, autopilot, and radios. A radio at each steering station, a portable VHF, and one in the dinghy, although the portable will work for this, and don't forget the Single Side Band radio. Cell phones and at least one that is unlocked, so you can buy local SIM cards if you go foreign. I suggest you look at www.activecaptain.com web site, for every thing about communications. One of our latest additions, well worth the price is a rear mounted video cam. I'm so grateful for it every time I back into a dock.

Once you own the boat, the list of things you need may overwhelm you, and I have hit only the major ones, trying to give you an idea of how to look at the boat and how much more you are going to have to spend, if the necessary stuff isn't there, or is out of date, or inadequate. Don't think the builder, or the guy who commissioned the boat really knew that much about what works and what doesn't, or was thinking about how you are going to use the boat. Get educated yourself.

Back to the starting premise, there is no perfect cruising boat, everything is a compromise, but do the best you can to buy what is perfect for how you are going to use it, and what you can comfortably afford. Dave adds, "Leave your ego at home."



So we are on our dream cruise, we are seeing our "newer world " in the Mediterranean, but let's face it, certain elements pertain to all cruisers everywhere, what I call the nitty gritty. If you are on an owner operated boat, the same tasks face you, shopping, cooking, cleaning, fixing and fussing, that face you what ever your boat and where ever you cruise. The big difference is, doing them in another language, another culture, and always in another strange port. We tend to do only the immediately important things on days we are passage making, or on days we go off touring, or when we have guests aboard. Sooner or later, we must pause and play catch-up, such as we are doing here in Malta. It is all part of the cruising package. If you are a boat owner, you know how things fail. If you are thinking of becoming a boat owner, be prepared to find fun in the fixing, or get a boat with a captain, or learn to utilize the shore support, in the form of specific boat yards, or agents, who will find the help you need, and see that the jobs get done.
Using an agent is new for us and in a country where English is the second language, like Malta, maybe not as essential. But oh how much he, Darius Goodwin, took the burden of organizing, of hours we would have spent on the phone, or running here and there by foot, bus or taxi, away from us. We got his name from a cruiser we met in Italy, who explained, that for a price, usually a percentage of what you spend, the agent will save you a lot of time, and a lot of hustling. How right he was. We called Darius at RLR Ltd., while still in Sicily, for information on how and where to ship spare parts. He said DHL was the best in Malta, and they were hugely efficient. The parts arrived before we did, almost overnight. He arranged for berthing, and was in the harbor by dinghy to lead us to our spot along the wall on Manoel Island, when we arrived. He then whisked Dave off to customs, helped with the clearing, delivered Dave back to the boat, and made a date in the morning to go through our list of what we wanted to accomplish. He arranged our fueling, by tanker truck right at our slip, that next day, duty free, with the customs man standing by, and took both of us on our shopping forays, me to an excellent grocery store, and Dave for pumps, fittings, nuts and bolts. We could have left the next day, certainly a tremendous time savings, but we took two extra days, one for fixing the stabilizer fin with the broken fitting, and one for a tour of Malta, which he also arranged. Tomorrow he will deliver our jerry cans of gas for the dinghy, saving Dave some heavy carrying, clear us out, and we will be on our way, quickest, easiest turnaround we've ever had. With the great savings in fuel prices, about a quarter of what we would have paid in Italy for the thousand gallons we needed, well worth the passage down here.
So now we have discovered a way to simplify our lives when time is short, or we don't want to struggle with a foreign language, and I am sure we will use the services of agents in the future. There are agents in Italy who own or control a lot of the marina space, and also have men who will help you find what you need from taxis to spares. Using their services will allow you to reserve space in marinas that are always tight, you will know ahead of time that you have the space, and you don't have to make all the phone calls, or faxes yourself. I am thinking specifically of J. Luise and Sons of Naples, and next time we pass through middle Italy, I would use their services. Then we could probably have had space at Sannazzaro Marina, instead of rocking and rolling at anchor outside. They also have an office at Porto Touristico de Roma. Not necessary for all, certainly not necessary if the budget is tight and the time frame is not, but it sure worked for us.
As an addendum, without an agent in Athens, we never would have got space in a well located marina, when our generator failed. We didn't need his help for the fixing, but he was Johnny on the spot when we needed a diver to find our anchor when another yacht tore it loose. We also used Gino Marine for all our arrangements in Turkey, from clearing in, berthing, to getting plane tickets home, (over the phone while we were still in Greece), to arraigning tours, and doing cosmetics. We have since discovered that agents, maybe called by another name, are there to help you in ports in the U.S. also. If you are a stranger, in a strange place, and pressed for time, and uncertain as to where to go for what you need, getting an agent can be very good solution.

Late summer, 2003