Our ten-year anniversary has, understandably, sparked a little nostalgia and reflection. The other evening while sitting along the fence in the boatyard, looking at Kate still up on the hard and enjoying our ritual sundowner beers, we got to chatting about the gear and equipment that we’ve come to rely on and all the “stuff” that didn’t make the cut.
So, here in no particular order, is our “Top Ten” list of gear we were glad we bought and would unflinchingly recommend to anyone going offshore sailing for a while. Remember this is just our two cents worth, nothing more. Take ‘em or leave ‘em.
Hands down the best large investment in equipment that we made as soon as we bought the boat. We might be a little biased here as we have never had an electric auto-pilot on Kate but if I had a nickel for every person who has complained about their auto-pilot… Save from that time we lost the vane over board in Vanuatu and had to jury rig something to get us the 1200NM to Honiara so we could pick up the new part (TBT coming soon), our Hydrovane has performed without a hiccup for the past 10 years. Since it never requires power we don’t have to make the dangerous ‘nav lights or self-steering’ decision while on passage (and if we did it would be lights, hands-down, every time). From light winds to +40kt ‘Larry’ is always happy as out back.
Some people might wanna sail the world without cold beer, but not us! Having good, efficient refrigeration is invaluable. In this instance bigger isn’t always better, in fact it can be a real downfall when talking about a boat fridge. We’ve functioned very comfortably with only 40L of cold storage for months (that’s about the size of a standard esky for you land folks) however, it does need to be power efficient, well insulated and easy to clean. I wrote all about fridges, how they work and how to keep them running smoothly in my BWS column.
A WATERMAKER –
This will no doubt spark debate but stay out here a while and you begin to realize that depending on the rain or the water supply of some small island nation for your fresh water is no longer feasible or responsible. The weather patterns are changing globally; we are experiencing more droughts, higher sea levels and unpredictable seasons. Having a watermaker on board doesn’t mean that you can use water with abandon and avoid being mindful of global resources- we gladly collect rain water whenever we can. However, it does mean that you can provide for yourself, and possibly others, no matter where you sail. It doesn’t have to break the bank, you can DIY a nice little set up very affordably, Steve did.
SOLAR PANELS & WIND GENERATOR –
We set off with just a wind generator, but it was less than a year before we installed solar panels too. The two really function as a team; the solar panels doing the grunt work during those long, hot tropical days in a calm anchorage; the wind gen working tirelessly all night and day while sailing and in anchorages next to tall islands or in a valley that creates a wind tunnel (oh yes, there will be lots of those). We love our solar panels, but just last week we both commented how low our batteries have been recently because we have entered the windless and rainy season in the Philippines.
A RELIABLE WINDLASS & SUITABLE GROUND TACKLE –
Unless you enjoy a good upper body workout via manually pumping the anchor winch or don’t mind the back-breaking task of pulling up 50M+ of chain hand-over-hand, invest in a good windlass. And make sure you buy good chain and the right size anchor to go with it. If you don’t invest in high-quality chain and you end up having to ship some in to some far-flung island it will cost you, big time. I won’t get into the great anchor debate, there is enough opinions on that already, but do make sure you carry a couple, maybe even different styles. A wise man once told me “Better looking at it than looking for it.”
A SUITABLE DINGHY –
The old inflatable tender is by far the most popular choice, but I say suitable because where you go and how you plan on using your dinghy should reflect on what style of boat you choose. If you only shuttle back and forth to the dinghy dock, no surf landings required, then a small inflatable with a small outboard could suit. Like to scuba dive or spearfish ? and you might want something a little bigger with a hard bottom and more HP so the boat is more stable, resistant to punctures and can plane, loaded up. Like to explore long distance in your dinghy, sail or row ashore, then maybe a rigid plastic, aluminum or timber boat is for you. We recently switched from an inflatable to foldable rigid Port-a-bote and haven’t looked back (more on that decision coming up). Regardless of what you choose you should be able to stow it safely and be able to lift it – on a halyard/davit AND up a beach/over coral.
A FIXED NAVIGATION SYSTEM & BACK UPS –
By fixed navigation system we mean one that is purpose built for the marine environment and hard wired into the boat. Popular manufacturers include Raymarine, B&G and Furuno. Usually part and parcel to the system is a radar, depth sounder, speed log and anemometer (wind doohickey). It is common these days for people to leave the dock with an iPad or two as their main nav system; great for a little coastal cruising but potentially problematic when you don’t have access to unlimited power, cell signal and shops that can fix things when they inevitably break. We started using Open CPN on a tablet a few years ago in the Solomon’s and it was a great tool that allowed us to compare different charts and Google maps photos to the incomplete charts on our built-in chart plotter. Together all these sources painted a complete picture and we navigated some poorly charted waters safely. However, on a black, rainy night in the middle of the ocean it is the old chart plotter that we always turn to. Don’t forget paper charts…if you can still find ‘em.
SEWING MACHINE –
Mine happens to be a Sailrite LSZ-1, a portable machine with a walking foot and a zigzag stitch. Steve pawned it off as a bday present to me only a month or so after moving on board, romantic I know, but I couldn’t have been more excited. Not only has this sturdy little machine made all our interior and exterior canvas, but it has gotten us out of some serious sticky situations. Like the time in Niue (haven’t heard of that tiny, sparsely populated island smack bang in the middle of the South Pacific?) when we ripped our mainsail in half above the third reef, and I was able repair it well enough using my Sailrite to safely sail another 1500NM to Fiji where we had to order a new sail. It has also repaired sails, made dinghy chaps, cockpit cushions and a catamaran trampolines for other sailors. Handy and will win you friends.
SATELLITE PHONE –
A sat phone is part of our safety plan- a plan that has always included a life raft, EPRIB, SART, ditch bag and PFD’s/tethers. We have never used our phone to connect to the internet – both too expensive for us and we actually enjoy being at sea and offline- however, it has let us stay connected with family and friends. We don’t call home often, or for very long, but it does wonders for crew morale to be able to wish everyone a Happy Christmas when you unexpectedly spend Xmas at sea or to get a text saying your best friend had a baby or hear that someone you love is doing well post-surgery. And when the first marina that you’ve been remotely close to in over 5 years doesn’t pick up the VHF you can just call and confirm that they actually have room for you and that you will be enjoying a hot shower and a good night sleep.
PRESSURE COOKER –
I hesitate to add this to the list as it is usually included in every “stuff you MUST buy” list. And really, it’s not essential. If I am honest, I don’t use my pressure cooker for everyday meals; we aren’t meat-everyday-eaters and PC’s can easily overcook delicate veggies. Also, one pot wonders get really, really monotonous. But I do use my pressure cooker every time we are on passage, for almost every hot meal we eat. It safe, lock the lid in place and no hot mess to fly about the cabin, and if conditions are rough enough that standing over a sink of dirty dishes is gag-worthy then just lock the lid on the dirty pot, maybe even with the dirty bowls inside, and deal with it in the morning. More about pressure cooking and a super delish recipe for Curry Chicken Cassoulet here.