Thursday, December 27, 2012

Thoughts on Cruising Equipment for Pacific Coast

I wrote this post while underway to Cabo San Lucas. While I was preparing for this trip, I read countless blogs and articles and books about what kind of boat equipment is necessary, but I never found a "middle of the road" breakdown of what was most important and what was optional. There are some people who rant about how one must keep it simple and swear by having practically nothing (like the Pardy's who literally crap in a bucket), and there are others who rant about how important it is to have everything including backups for your drogues and EPIRB's mounted to your forehead. So this is my "middle of the road" list based on my experience going down the Pacific coast of North America:

Equipment one should not leave without (in order of importance):

1. Radar -- I never used radar on Puget Sound. There wasn't much need for it. However during night passages, and in the fog down the Northern section of the coast, it was absolutely indispensable. Radar is the only reliable way to see when we cannot use our eyes. Our radar is a separate 12 year old Furuno system (Furuno 1622) that came with the boat. If I had to do it over again, I think I would go for a new HD radar system. Do not attempt an overnight passage down the coast without a reliable radar system, and of course, know how to use it.

2. A reliable engine -- We decided at the very last possible moment before leaving Seattle to get a new engine (a Yanmar 4jh5e), and boy are we happy we did. We put over 330 hours on the engine in just three months! It turns out that good sailing conditions are rare going down the Pacific coast. Either there is too much wind, or there isn't enough. Mostly there isn't enough and getting to the destination before the sun goes down requires assistance from the engine about 9 times out of 10. Our old engine would have been a huge pain and a constant worry. In addition, three out of the four other boats we cruised down Baja with had the exact same engine block, just different versions of it so we are all able to share spare parts.

3. Chartplotter with AIS -- On Rhythm, we use a little Garmin touch screen chartplotter capable of displaying AIS targets. The chartplotter is a Garmin 740s and although it has a small screen, we love the touch screen which makes it easy and intuitive to use.

4. AIS -- Being able to record the location, speed and direction of other ships from 10, 20 and even 50 miles out is a big stress reliever. Although we only receive AIS on Rhythm, we are now considering broadcasting a signal because the cost has come down enough to justify installing a transmitter. We believe all registered vessels going out in the ocean should transmit AIS. It would certainly make overnight passages safer.

5. Autopilot -- I can't imagine hand steering for 50 - 70 hours straight (our typical long passage length). The thought of not having an autopilot makes me want to cry. It needs to be strong and reliable as well. An autopilot that can't steer in heavy weather is as good as no auto pilot.

6. Life raft -- We never had to use ours, but in those moments when one starts thinkimg about the what if scenarios (what if the wind continues to build, what if that thing in the water is an unmarked rock, etc.), it was comforting to know we had a brand new raft ready to go.

7. Charlie's Charts for the West Coast of the US -- An excellent guidebook describing all of the anchorages and ports down the coast. There is no way we would have been able to know which ports to pull into and which ones we should pass by without this resource. It also came in handy when we encountered heavy weather and need a "place of refuge" as the book calls them. It was a crappy anchorage but I was extremely happy to throw the hook down the for the night and I would have never known about it without Charlie's Charts.

Equipment one should seriously consider (in order of our preference):

1. LED lights -- We like to have a bright interior on Rhtyhm and because the dark mahogany wood really soaks up the light, we have extra bright LED lights on board. We also don't think twice about turning them on because they use so little power. We found that Dr. LED lights didn't have the right "warm white" color, but the LunaSea and Imtra lights do.

2. VHF remote access mic/speaker -- It is very handy to send out a 25 watt signal from the top of the mast right from the cockpit. It's also very handy to hear what's going on over the radio from the cockpit. For whatever reason, most boats have the VHF mounted inside the boat where nobody can hear it from outside the boat, so a little remote mic solves this problem.

3. Battery monitor -- We have a little unit made by Victron than was purchased through Boat Electric in Seattle. It is extremely helpful to know how many amps are going in or going out of your battery bank, how full the bank is in a percentage, and how many hours you have left at the current rate of depletion.

4. Stereo with Bluetooth and good speakers -- We have a little Sony car stereo I purchased from an Internet retailer for $100 that has Bluetooth which connects to our iPhones and iPad without wires. I also installed 5.25" speakers (from a new company called Helix from Germany) that sound phenomenal inside the boat, and some smaller Fusion water resistant marine speakers for the cockpit. We listen to books on tape and music during passages which has been great since it's hard to do just about anything else but sit there.

5. Satellite phone -- There are many anchorages without cell reception and we found it comforting that we could still make an emergency call, or receive emergency calls. We actually used it twice; once when we canceled our US cell phone plans and were headed to Mexico when we suddenly needed to call an engine mechanic and arrange to meet them at the public dock in San Diego, and another time when we were anchored and it was my dad's birthday. We also have a single side band radio (our boat came with one), but never use it. Maybe we are from a different generation... The sat phone is easy and much cheaper than a good SSB setup. Maybe we will get on the cruiser nets more and the ssb might bubble to one of these lists, but for now I would say an SSB isn't needed at all, and not even in the nice to have category.

6. Mexican cell phones and the Banda Ancha -- We canceled our US cell phones and got some cheap pre-paid Mexican Telcel phones, and we also purchased a Banda Ancha which is an excellent 3G wireless USB modem that works on our Mac's and in any port which a cell signal (which is most ports). Pretty nice for downloading weather on

7. Honda 2000 generator -- So sweet to charge the batteries and have 110 volt whenever we want (day, night, no wind, wind storm, any condition) without running the engine. This unit is quiet, fuel efficient, and super compact. So glad we have one and we use it almost daily when anchoring.

8. Three way valve for the head -- One way goes to the holding tank, another drains the holding tank, and the last one pumps direct overboard. It's nice to have options when dealing with crap.

9. Freezer -- Not only does a freezer come in handy for keeping meats and vegetables, it's important to freeze fish that you catch directly after you pull the guts out and chop it up because it kills the bacteria. On Rhythm, we didn't have a built-in freezer, so we found a great spot in one of our top opening cabinets for this portable freezer.


10. iPad -- Kathy purchased an iPad for me while we were in San Francisco at the flagship Apple store. I love it sooooo much! We play music from it, play games together on it, read books, watch movies, watch lecture series from universities on iTunesU to keep our brains going, and lastly, use it for navigation. The Navionics app is WAY more accurate than the Garmin BlueChart charts and they even have detail of marinas in Mexico with the dock letters so we know exactly where to go when we get a slip assignment over the VHF. We also connect our iPad to a small bluetooth GPS from Dual.

11. Solar Power - Silent, no maintenance power. Can't beat it. We have barely enough to keep up with our fridge and freezer if we aren't on the boat so that we may leave it for a few days without our food going bad. The more solar power one can accommodate, the better.

Equipment that shouldn't have to be mentioned, but just to cover all the bases I will:

-Galley with a propane burning stove/oven-Electric refrigerator
-VHF radio
-Hand held spotlight
-Battery charger/inverter
-Wind indicator
-Wind instrument (very helpful to know how much the wind is to help make decisions about sail plans)
-Hot water tank heated by engine
-Shower/faucet with cold and hot water in cockpit or stern step
-Spare halyards
-Storm jib (preferably hank-on and one can use a spare halyard to hank it onto if there is no spare stay)
-Floating ditch bag with water, food, emergency supplies and a handheld VHF
-Fans inside the boat
-75 gallons or more of fresh water, or a water maker, for two people
-75 gallons of diesel, either in tanks or tanks and jerry cans strapped to the side of the boat. We never used more than about 50 gallons between fuel stations, but it was good to have an extra 50 just in case (we carry about 100 gallons).
-Propane solenoid and fume detector
-Carbon monoxide detectors
-Spare engine parts such as fuel filters, belt, oil filters, impellers
-Shop manual for the engine
-An oversized anchor (we have a 45 lb. CQR) with at least 300 feet of rhode, all chain if possible. We have 150' of chain and 150' of rope rhode. We have never deployed more than 125' of chain, but it's nice to know we have extra.
-Spare anchor/stern anchor -- we had to use this once and it saved us from going up on a reef during a sudden wind storm at night
-Depth sounder
-I'm sure there is more, but this covers most of the obvious stuff

1 comment:

  1. GREAT video, Tim! You indeed are The Movie Man. Definitely keep it up. :-)

    Can't wait to see you guys again...