In my last two posts, I took a look at how one can improve a boat in preparation of going offshore. There are always boat projects, but when you consider taking a boat outside of protected waters, it makes sense to take a more detailed look at vessel systems. Now I am going to look at potential areas to examine that are common to both trawlers and sailboats, that might need your attention.
But before I dive into this, I want to insert a comment offered by delivery captain, Jerry Taylor, after my last post. He said that before every delivery departure, he and his wife, Wendy, spend up to a full day tightening every hose clamp on the boat, replacing any that are rusty or that break when tightened (which happens). This is in the same vein as going through the boat's electrical system and making sure all connections are tight. This is great advice. And he adds that "going through the hose clamp drill, this also is an excellent time to eyeball and lay hands on a lot of the important equipment." Thanks Jerry, for passing this information on!
I introduced searching for single points of failure in a previous post. It is certainly not limited to fuel systems, although that gets a lot of attention because it is so critical on a single engine trawler. But there are other examples of single points of failure. Take the boat's freshwater system. If your boat uses a single electric water pump to deliver fresh water throughout the boat, how would you get access to fresh water if that pump quit or shorted out? You might carry a spare water pump, which is a good idea. But a foot or manual hand pump in the galley also might be a good workaround. Again, the point is to make sure you can carry on when a critical component stops working.
Look at your battery installations, especially how they are secured. If you have an older boat with nylon straps that depend on brackets secured by self-tapping screws, will they be strong enough when the boat is thrown around? Probably not. Have you ever unscrewed them to see how long and in what condition they are in? Are the house batteries captive in a box or fiddled framework of metal, wood, or fiberglass to keep them from moving?
A trawler was lost in Chesapeake Bay (not in the ocean) when rough weather got a battery loose and it broke off some plumbing, sinking the boat. This is an easy thing to keep from happening. Metal straps, substantial boxes, and other solutions are easily installed to prevent this. You don't want your batteries to move at all in any direction. You want batteries low enough to keep the weight low, but not so low as to be standing in bilge water if water comes in.
Where are your tanks' vents located? When you head out of protected waters, are they vulnerable to breaking waves or water on deck? Vents on the side of the hull, as they are on my Hunt Harrier, are fine for protected waters, but may be trouble at sea. I would think carefully about moving any vulnerable vents to other locations.
How do you empty your holding tanks at sea? On Spitfire, our PDQ 41 power catamaran, the only way to empty the guest head holding tank was using an electric Jabsco macerator pump, notorious for not being able to prime well (despite the manufacturer's claims). When the pump stops working, how will you be able to empty a full holding tank? This is another single point of failure. Carrying a spare pump is one solution, but the pump is still a poor choice for this application. Unfortunately, it was not possible to create a gravity drain on this tank installation. So a much better solution was to replace that Jabsco pump with a more expensive yet utterly reliable Sealand diaphragm pump. The Sealand pump is super reliable and can be cleaned or serviced easily.
Spare parts are a subject that everyone addresses as they prepare for a long cruise. Depending on where you are headed and for how long, this spares list can range from extra hoses and belts to complete water pumps, starter motor, spare alternator, and freezer compressor. On an older boat, a lot of gear just wears out from age and use, especially if the boat is then subjected to prolonged use for the first time. On the successful Nordhavn Atlantic Rally years back, some of the older boats experienced fin stabilizer problems. Everyone grumbled about these systems, especially the Naiad stabilizers. I flew to the Azores from Portugal seated next to a technician from Naiad, who was headed to Horta to sort out these issues. He said that some of these boats had 10 or more years of local, seasonal use, and had likely not been serviced sufficiently to now run 24/7 for weeks on end. These fin stabilizers were having issues because seals and other wearing components were not up to the task and probably should have been replaced before crossing an ocean. The same would be true on an older sailboat, if the mast and rigging had never before been subjected (or in a long time) to the forces of nonstop sailing in the ocean.
Another issue to understand is that there might be certain maintenance routines and schedules on systems you may not even know about if you are not the original owner. Often we carry enough hose clamps, wires, and other stuff that allows us to fix some problem with what is in the tool bag or parts locker. But keep this in mind: Steve D'Antonio brought along two extra light bulbs for the navigation lights on our 30-foot Willard trip to Bermuda. And we needed both of them to replace burned out running lights on that trip, which was a big surprise. Another reason to switch to LEDs.
Are there single points of failure in your daily routine? If your glass French Press carafe breaks, will you survive without coffee for the duration of the trip, or can you jury rig another way to make coffee? If your left your only corkscrew on the beach at the last cruisers' sundowner event, will a McGyver-like crew member be able to jury rig some other tools to uncork a bottle for the crew's evening glass of wine? Think about all of the other "softer" elements of the cruising life and imagine what would happen if you lost something you take for granted and assume will always be there for you. I once broke a pair of scissors and suddenly it seemed I needed scissors a lot. If I only had one camera and it got wet or dropped, I would be most distressed. Do you have just one pair of sunglasses? What about your stuff, what's absolutely necessary to you?
Making the boat work well under way is even more important than when you are at a dock. And the process of getting the boat ready for offshore can help relieve some of the anxiety and stress if you are new to this. Knowing you took the time to identify and eliminate potential problems in your systems should give you confidence so you can better chill and enjoy it.
Cruising is all about having fun and adventure and I hope these posts get you thinking about taking your coastal cruiser up a notch. There are lots of projects that raise your boat's overall capability, and generally makes it safer no matter if you are planning to join a race or just extended cruising. But it also is important to not become obsessed with all that can go wrong. After all, this is supposed to be a pleasurable experience.
As Jerry Taylor hinted at the beginning, knowing you have walked through the various systems, and made sure everything is tight and secure, from engine mounts to hose clamps to electrical connections, there should be some satisfying comfort from that. If weather or conditions become a bit challenging, you'll know the boat has the ability to take it in stride.
The first time we were in horrible conditions in our new boat at the mouth of the Potomac River, where wind and tides contradict in notoriously ugly wave conditions, we learned the boat could handle much more than I would ever choose to be in by choice. And that boost in confidence in our new boat made all the difference for future cruising.
Once a sailor experiences his or her first gale, it is a known experience and it never seems quite as bad. You've been there, done that.
Put in another reef and continue on.