Saturday, January 1, 2005

The Good and the Bad - Equipment for your cruise

Please keep in mind that these are Kristen's and my personal thoughts on what we like and what we don't like. We tend to be somewhat different from other cruiser's as we like a lot of amenities that others do without, but we won't apologize for that. This is definitely a work in progress. We've added notes for some items but still have yet to fill in the blanks for others. We still have to completely work on the tool section, but I figured that we'd post what we have so far and if you have any questions about anything let us know.

Good buys

Good anchor snubber - When on the hook in a rolly anchorage or in high winds, having a strong snubber with a strong attachment is important. We've seen many variations, but the one that seems the most common is an attachment device, such as a hook, to the chain, with heavy line coming through the chocks on both the port and starboard acting as a bridle. Our snubber is two 25 foot 5/8" dock lines that have shackles on the end, and they connect to a chain claw. The claw, verses a hook, holds the outside of the link so it shouldn't deform the link under heavy pressure. I actually wish we got longer lines for our snubber, as it's a great tool for minimizing roll in a rolly anchorage. If you put the claw or hook on your chain, tie one line from the bridle to your bow and then the other end to your midship cleat or your stern cleat on the same side, as the roll hits the boat the anchor grabs hold and stops it from rolling to one side. It can turn a very rolly anchorage into a beautiful one that nobody else wants to visit.

Handheld GPS with anchor alarm and bracket by bed - We have a Garmin Oregon 400c (the "c" designation means it's preloaded with all of the coastal US and Bahamas charts) which triples as a backup GPS, a land GPS (we bought the land maps for it too) and an anchor alarm. I have a bracket from RAM Mounts that I mounted right next to my head in our bunk. We can set a "Distance from anchor" alarm that will go off if we get too far from the spot we put it (i.e. the anchor is dragging along the bottom), and it also shows a track of where we are and where we've been. As long as we are on the "black track", we know we've been there before and we're OK. In addition, the Garmin has the Bahamas Explorer charts built in, and they are, by far, the best charts you will ever get for the Bahamas. We will often navigate using the Garmin instead of our larger Raymarine chartplotter because of its accuracy.

Handheld depth meter - Allows us to scout out anchorages and channels to make sure we can make it through them with Pelican. If/when you ground, you can use it to sound out an escape path.

Big RIB with big engine - With 4 of us, we can still get up on a plane, anchor far from crowded areas and still get there fast. We can also carry 5 kids and 4 adults in it. Don't ask :). We have an AB 10 foot RIB with double hull and bow locker and a 20HP outboard. Yes, they are big and heavy, but we've gotten used to putting them back on the boat and we love the space and the speed.

Rocna Anchor - Man oh man... 3kt currents with 20kt+ winds and it holds solid. Scoured rock/sand bottom, 2 to 1 scope and no hard set and it holds solid (See the No Name Harbor blog entry). It's a great anchor.

Air conditioning - Many people think we're not true cruisers because we got air conditioning. I'd like to see how happy they are when the bugs come out, it's 80 degrees outside, and they have to close up their boat tight to keep them out. At marinas, we're very comfortable. We always hear - "You'll get used to the heat!" - and we have, but it's also nice to have crisp, dry and cold air on board. Also, when you have to do a one or more night passage and you've been motoring all day due to no wind, the ONLY way you are getting the kids to sleep is if you cool the cabin. Kids without sleep = terrible second day of passage for you.

Solar Panels - With our two 65W solar panels we can leave our fridge, depth meter, wifi amplifier, cell phone and various other electronics going and STILL have an amp or two an hour left to charge our batteries.

Sensibulbs - Hmmm... do you like light on your boat? Our old lights took 1 to 1.2 amps each. Our Sensibulbs take 0.1-0.2 amps each, are just about the same brightness and fit in the same fixtures. We can turn on every light on the boat and use less power than two of our old lights.

LED Anchor Light - We always forget to turn off our anchor light. Like the Sensibulbs, the anchor light only uses 0.2 amps of power, so we can leave it on all day if we forget and not run down our batteries. We have an LED anchor light now, but we're probably going to replace it with an Orca Green tricolor. Bow and stern lights mounted at deck level are hard to see by ships in larger seas, so having a masthead tricolor is a critical safety item.

Outdoor Hanging light - A lot of boats don't bother to look up for anchor lights on top of masts when running through an anchorage. We bought a Davis Mega-Lite Utility Lite that we put up above our bimini, hung off the back of our boom. It draws very little power and can be seen from a few thousand feet away, so it's an extra measure of protection.

Wireless amplifier - In cities and even less populated areas there is often wifi available, but your choices are greatly reduced if you don't have an antenna mounted high on your mast. When most people can only see two or three, or even no wireless access points, we can often see 20-25 different ones. The likelihood of finding free Wifi is much higher.

SSB/Chris Parker - While many people say you can get away with a shortwave receiver and listen to the weather forecasts, with an SSB and weather router (in our case Chris Parker) you can find out specifics. For example, each morning we can ask our router - "We're going from Bimini to Nassau across the banks. What are the wind and waves going to be like?" It cost us $299 for Chris's service and we find it indispensable. The SSB is expensive, but it also allows you to participate in various cruising nets. We check in on the Cruiseheimer net every few days so someone knows where we are. Also, when offshore, you can still communicate with other boats or contact the Coast Guard (or other regional authorities) if necessary. When we went from Nassau to Charleston we were in communications every 6 hours with two other boats within 100 miles of us. If there was a problem, they would know.

SPOT - Our SPOT is what gives us the ability to show y'all where we are. It has a built in GPS and satellite transmitter that uploads our position to SPOT command central for your viewing pleasure. We can also trigger "We're OK" and "We need help ASAP" e-mails, and it has a 911 button that will alert the folks at SPOT's 24x7 command bunker that we have an emergency. They will then contact the appropriate authorities to get help on its way to us. Not bad for a $150 device and a $129/year subscription. I think they are actually giving away the subscription when you buy the unit now. It's great to keep the parents happy!

Rosepoint Navigation Coastal Explorer - This is Microsoft Windows based software that allows us to plan our courses for our passages and then upload them to our Chartplotter (a fancy name for a larger screen with a GPS and maps in it). I can do lots of "what-ifs" on routes, estimate how long it will take us to get places at different speeds, look at weather, tides and currents and lots lots more, all from the comfort of our couch. I looked at a lot of software, and Coastal Explorer had the most bang for the buck. Maptech sells Coastal Explorer too, but they rename it "Chart Navigator Pro". The newest version integrates AIS (on our "to-buy" list) and Radar (if you get a dome for it).

Satellite Radio - What can I say? We have to have our Margaritaville playing while on passage, and satellite radio makes it so we have unlimited music all the time.

Satellite Weather - We originally thought that this was a waste of money, but once we reached rainy season it became indispensable. With it, we know when storms are coming, from what direction, and how strong they are. We can watch them live at any time of day and night.

Cable to go from computer to headset jack of stereo - This is a simple but good one. When we're watching movies and the engine is going, we can hook our laptop up to our stereo and "Pump up the volume!"

Good buys, still to provide description for:

Bag/Pouches from Lowes
Spare bulbs for flashlight
Spare regulator for grill
Anything you don't buy a spare for WILL break
Satellite phone if you want email while in the islands
Explorer Charts (GPS CAN fail - ours is spotty at times)
Fish ID Book
Rigging bait and tackle
Lots and lots of lures, swivels and snap swivels
Black and Decker PHV1800 vacuum/dustbuster
Full enclosure
Waterproof Camera
Lots of warranty's on electronic equipment
Gear wrench set (separate post on toolkit)
Caulk (comes in handy for lots of projects!)
Replacements for any electrical connectors on deck
Shrink tubing - awesome stuff
Memory foam on bunk
Prescription snorkel mask
Mail forwarding with scanning
TWO handheld VHF's for when you separate
Second dinghy and engine, for when the first one fails or for the kids to use.
Hatch covers - greatly reduces heat inside
Curtains for privacy
Chubby cubby
Cockpit cushions
VERY cushy interior cushions
Spear and Hawain Sling
Long spring lines
Extra long and heavy spare lines

Things that suck or you don't need

Tickle stick (need spear)
Cell phone amplifier
Board for charts
Chart tube
Don't need a big library if you're not picky about what you read - trade at most marinas
Don't need lots of clothing - clean clothes for shore days, but you can re-wear the rest day after day

Things I wish we got

Wind generator
Waterproof logbook
Dish drying rack
External mounted satellite phone antenna
Dinghy Davits
Masthead Tricolor


Gear wrenches
Good multimeter (clip on type)
Will list all good and helpful tools here