25 January 2011




It took a long time for us to realize that running our boat at normal cruising speed, seven to nine knots, in shallow water, under nine feet, not only caused a distinct rumbling sound, serving as an excellent depth sounder, but caused the back of the boat to sink, so our swim platform submerged. We found it was common knowledge among tug boat captains, but it was a slow learning process for us.

For those of you who bring an anchor into a hawse pipe, and the anchor must be brought up and face the right direction to house it, rather than try to lean over with a long pole poking at it to turn it about, just back up as you bring it aboard, and it will automatically turn facing the way you need it.

Here’s how to clean your anchor quickly, when it wants to bring a big sample of the bottom aboard with it. When it comes off the bottom, and has come up a few feet, give it a quick drop. This assumes you are in clear water where you can see what is happening, and you are not moving. If any thing remains on the anchor, backing will help clean it, without banging it on the hull. Of course you must have a wash down on the chain as it comes aboard, and it still pays to stand by with a hose in hand. Best of all, if your boat didn’t come with an enclosure that keeps the dirty water from running down the deck, you can often build your own, and cut some scuppers in the toe rails at the low point of the blocked area, so the dirty water runs overboard.

Don’t mix metals in your twelve volt wiring, such as using a stainless washer on your battery terminal bolts. Use a copper washer to match the copper wiring. If possible, use copper or bronze bolts on the battery terminal. This is really important with your major twelve volt wiring, not so much with the minor wires, although you may lose some power. Check for the extra heat generated, with your infrared thermometer.

Buy an infrared thermometer, if you don’t have one. Any good hardware store has them. They have multiple uses, such as measuring the changes in temperatures in your water and oil in your engine, and your exhaust temperatures. Remember the water temperature in your engine will change, as you go from area to area with sea temperature changes.

Get all the manuals for all your equipment. Know who made the components. Most equipment you buy, from your engines to your watermakers are assembled of other manufactures equipment, not built by the name of the company on the item. When you need a replacement part, it can be quicker and always cheaper to buy from the manufacturer of it, or a major parts supplier such as Grainger, rather than the company who assembled the item. Be sure you have aboard a Grainger catalog, a West Marine catalog, and a Defender catalog.

With very few exceptions, never anchor with two anchors. The exceptions are anchoring in a tidal sluice way, where you place one anchor upstream and one down stream, or if in a heavy gusting situation where your boat is being batted from one side and then the other, and the motion is miserable. This happened to us just once in thirty two years. Last exception is a very tight anchorage, where those around you have two anchors out. Best is to avoid these places, the risk is too great. Most times when we see someone anchored with two anchors, we know he, or his anchors, are not to be trusted, and we move away.

Get some means of communicating with your partner that is hands free, to be used when anchoring or going into a slip. We bought the combination microphone and ear phone set, the first ones at FAO Schwartz, the second set at an SSCA Gam. The two sets were the same equipment, but the first ones were half the price. Both have proved invaluable. Best part of the second set is the soft case that came with it, which keeps the off switch from being moved to on accidentally. Doesn’t help if we just forget to turn them off

It is important to have your name on your boat so it can be read, by either a boat along side of you or astern, if you want other boats to communicate with you. This is really necessary in passing situations. It doesn’t help if it is on the stern and then you put your dinghy blocking it. It doesn’t help to have these pretty varnished name boards with the lettering in gold, only okay for someone strolling by your boat while it’s tied to a dock. Forget fancy lettering, just get that name big and bold, two places, on the stern and somewhere on the side of your boat. The test is, can it be read by anyone a decent distance off.

Next important thing is to have your radio on and where you can hear it while you are traveling. All this is really vital when you are traveling in close quarters like on the waterway, and it might save your boat someday when someone is trying to warn you of your proximity to danger. This happened years ago off Long island in the Bahamas when John McKie from his perch overlooking an eastward reef could not reach the boat heading for it. There is no excuse these days not to be able to communicate right from the cockpit, but I can’t believe the boats who still do not respond to calls.

Last resort to communicate your intentions in a passing situation is to use the horn. I can almost guarantee that when I do, like give a one toot, meaning I am putting my bow to starboard, the boat in front of me will move to starboard himself. Learn your passing signals and signal back to show you understand. I hate to use horn signals because of that, I hate going past someone at full tilt, but if I cannot get their attention, I have no choice but to pick the side I want, maintain a speed that gets me past as quickly as possible, and hope they don’t do something incredibly stupid. If you want a slow pass, you have to slow down yourself, and you have to be able to hear the request.

I have said this before, but it’s been a number of years. If you want to really sail your sail boat, you must have a downwind pole for those wonderful downwind days. If you can’t wing out your jib, or really effectively pole out that downwind sail, you will be rolling around with just a main or just a jib, not making enough speed to get where you want to go. Sails set on both sides of the boat keep you from rolling and keep you moving. If you want to sail upwind, you must get a well cut sail, use new technology like full battens, and learn how to set your sails. Get some sail boat racer, or a sail maker to go out with you and help you get the maximum potential from your boat, for those lovely light wind days. Know how to reduce sail on those days she’s really honking, so you’ve got the speed but can still be comfortable. You are not just a trawler with a high antenna. if you paid all that extra money for a sailing rig, learn how to use it. Too much effort? Save the money you would spend on a sailing rig, and buy a trawler, more space, more comfort, and the extra money buys you fuel.

If you really lust to live aboard for long stretches, away from marinas, make sure the other part of the crew shares your enthusiasm, and they have what it takes to keep them comfortable. They must be able to go to bed at night knowing their chance of dragging is all but nil. Twice in ten years is once too often. Keep them warm and dry, keep them out of extreme weather unless they are really up to adventure, let the one least comfortable make the decisions of when you go, and where you go. Both people must have the tools they need to make their jobs easier. A well equipped galley for the cook, the latest in navigation tools for the navigator, everything the chief engineer needs to keep things running, ways for everyone to communicate, room for the fun stuff, like books, music, and sports equipment. I’m learning life goes on without TV, since ours died, and maybe even better. The boat must have power, who wants to live without lights, refrigeration, or hot water for long periods of time? Figure out what each person must have or can learn to live without before you commit to long term cruising. Sometimes one person must have their time away from the boat, or they don’t want to make the long passages; you would be surprised how many boats are out there cruising for years, but making the accommodations so each stays within their comfort zone.

We have learned that equipment keeps improving. We all know that it is hard to keep up with the advances in computers and cell phones. The same is true of so much of our major equipment. I wish we had never spent the money we did trying to maintain our old windlass, and having the two years of aggravations we had in the process. At its best the old one was half the tool the new one is. Same was true of our old generator; years of putting up with soot and smell, and repeated failures to find all the money spent trying to keep the old one going might as well have gone immediately into replacing it. The only time we were smart was when we listened to someone older and wiser tell us we didn’t have the time to be messing around with an old main engine, and we replaced it after the first big failure. We’ve had ten years and about 40,000 miles of trouble free running. We are about to replace our autopilot, probably designed 15 to 20 years ago. It’s beginning to have some faults, and we know a new one has got to be so much better. Beside, getting parts for older equipment no longer made only works for antique restorers.

Get rid of everything you aren’t using, or are carrying because someday, you might need it and maybe it will work. Usually it won’t. Nothing makes living easier in tight spaces as getting rid of the clutter. How many small boats do we see carrying a small hard dinghy, the one they never use, and a small inflatable they do use. Better one good inflatable, and one good storage method- out of the water. Unless you really make long offshore passages, you don’t need extra sails. Keep the ones you have well maintained, check them out with a sailmaker every year, treat them right. Give the clothes you haven’t worn in years to someone who needs them. Don’t keep foodstuffs you aren’t using around for long periods of time. It isn’t that they get bad, though some do, but they lose their food value, just like old medicines can lose their efficacy. As Dave always says when asked by someone what their needs, “A dumptser.”

The learning process never ends, I am sure a month from now or a year from now, I could add a host of other things, which I will try to do, if I can remember.