Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Some Equipment Essentials

Swing Set Laying In Elizabeth Harbour From Stocking Island, Across From Georgetown, Great Exuma

As we go steaming into the second quarter of our second year as full time liveaboard cruisers, I thought I’d forgo the philosophy of my last post and focus on the nuts and bolts of our liveaboard existence and pass judgement of some of the operating and equipment systems on Swing Set, and what I think are essential, or perhaps, not so essential, items that I think are good things to have on a boat if you embark on such an endeavor similar to ours.
  In no particular order, more likely as they come to mind:
  The Air-X wind generators are getting a thumbs up. Certainly if coastal cruising will be a large part of your cruising ground, where ocean breezes abound, a wind generator or two may be worth the money, I have decided finally that it is the case for us.
  I can tell a big difference in our Westerbeke diesel generator use when we get a string of calm days, like we had for two or three days in a row recently. Keeping air conditioner use out of the equation, if there is no wind, we need to run the diesel generator at least four hours per day to provide enough charging for the eleven batteries we have onboard. Our Norcold AC/DC refrigerator is the biggest draw on our power, but our big Mac desktop computer is a big current user that we didn’t consider. The T.V., and even house stereo, if you like watts, (big sound) will drain those batteries down too. I don’t want to get bogged down on power management in this blog, just suffice it to say that I’m a fan of auxiliary power generation, be it solar or wind.
  The watermaker gets a big thumbs up if you will be cruising in clean salt water. Not all areas along the Florida coast are places I’d make water, but if you stay in the U.S.A., we can probably find water easily, just be careful about getting water at condo complexes where there is nosy old folks who have nothing else to do but guard their precious water supply, whether you get permission from someone else or not.
  Our Katadyn Power Survivor 80 is a 12 volt unit and the 3.5 gallon per hour advertised output more than keeps up with our needs, at least if I keep the water leaks in the plumbing to a minimum.
  Our power windlass with 25 feet of chain and a 45 pound Delta anchor has been flawless, if I am careful about where I stick the hook. The little float I deploy at the anchor rode/chain splice keeps the rode off of the bottom where the sand and coral can wear on it. The half inch line is plenty strong, and will do fine if you don’t run over it.
  Extra, heavy anchors, we have two, along with plenty of line, is handy to have. We learned that lesson while waiting out Hurricane Isaac last year above the last lock and dam on the Tenn-Tom. Held us so well, one of the anchors didn’t want to leave. It’s still there.
  We haven’t felt a need for a lower helm station. We would always want shade for any helm station, though. We don’t run in the cold, and don’t intend to, but I have jackets and a coat around here somewhere if it gets chilly. I have a couple of space heaters too, to put at our feet if we need them, but again, if we are somewhere where it gets that cold, we are lost.
  Replacing our microwave oven with a convection microwave was the best thing for the galley, by far. We can bake and grill in it, making our Magna propane grill seem superfluous at times, but do know that any oven inside the boat will increase the heat inside. A propane grill outside for warm days is just the ticket.
  Back to power management again; an inverter is necessary. Not so much so you can run your AC equipment on the hook (you never have enough battery supply to run air conditioners or cooking devices off the batteries for very long), but an inverter lets you run AC powered devices while you are underway. Great for making coffee and breakfast underway on an early start. This alone is worth the money for an inverter and the battery bank required to run it.
  I wouldn’t have anything but AGM batteries. We have eleven batteries (Group 31’s, we don’t have room for 8D’s) and I don’t want the maintenance of checking fluids on all those batteries once a month, or more, with lead acid type batteries. Battery technology is improving all the time, and we’ll be on the lookout for better ones as they come along. They are our lifeline to living aboard on the hook.
  Building our parts room/office by gutting our second stateroom, was a huge success. We have a place for tools and spare parts galore. I have been able to fix and fabricate many items on the boat that break or need to be improved with just things I’ve had along with us. I know there are times when we have to order a part or two, but you can’t have everything along that you need, but if you can’t find the part, or the tools to replace it without tearing through seat bottoms and drawers, then you won’t enjoy fixing anything. As it is, the ease at which I can find my parts and tools make repairs tolerable.
  The office, and desk, complete with scanner and printer, full size desktop computer, and a drawer for hard files, make publishing this blog a treat, and it also streamlines the administration of our “household”. I may also add that with only two people, one stateroom is plenty. Guests need to find hotel rooms. This boat is already loaded to the hilt.
  Our Bora 12 volt fans are a life saver. We have four, and I’d like at least two more. We’ll get them when we get back in the States. We never have them on unless we are in the area where they are needed, but in our stateroom at night during the summer, we couldn’t endure the heat without them. The one focused on our dinette was broke for a while earlier this year, but started working again once we got to The Bahamas. Good thing, I would have had to find a replacement had it not began working again.
  The dinghy. Can’t do this without a good dinghy. One that has some speed to it, too. The davits to hold our dinghy have been an Achilles heel, of sorts, we are on our second repair. But I think I have the problems solved. We also replaced the galvanized cable and winches with something a little more suited to the salt environment, and I don’t know how many generations of improvement that my system of strapping down the dinghy while underway has entailed, but again, I think I have a good system in place finally. I don’t want to be out there in twelve foot seas to really test it though.
  We like our Kindles, and we like to read. If we didn’t like reading things would get plenty boring. Life is boring, even in paradise, so you can’t drink beer all day, or wax the boat or fight rust all the time, even though it would appear to some that we do both.
  We also like to cook, and we have lots of room for stores. We’d like freezer space to be greater, but I’d say we are doing just fine with what we have. Eating out at every meal will break the bank, so will going to bars every night. Again, it would seem that we spend plenty of time in bars, but we don’t really go out all that much, and when we do, we have a limit as to how much we spend. If you are rich and don’t need a budget, good for you, but this blog is more for us retired folks on a budget. The rich folks have a captain and a crew to take care of all this stuff, they don’t need to read my blog.
  Our boat has easy access to most everything. Our cockpit is even with the water, so getting in and out of the boat is easy after a swim, or just coming back with supplies in the dinghy. We have a big sliding salon door and can walk right into the boat without climbing, or stooping. There are very few stairs inside of the boat too, but enough to trip on if we aren’t careful, but we also have plenty of handholds throughout. The stairs to the bridge are wide and not too steep, again, handholds are sufficient. I think Sea Ray got it right when they designed the stairs to the bridge on our little boat.
  I had begun the think that a larger engine room would be on our “must have” list if we ever started shopping for another boat, but I have decided that with the ease of which our salon floor opens up to expose most areas in our engine room in which I need to access items for general maintenance, I think what we have is fine. I especially like it if we are at a dock and plugged in somewhere. I can run our air conditioning and have my  work area cool while I struggle and cuss at the stuff I am working on. (But not too much, you know, with the ease at which I can access my tools and all.)
  Dual Racor fuel filters on each engine, and an oil change pump. Can’t say enough about the virtues of each. Need ‘em.
  Our course, a way to get Internet is very high on our list, but if you’ve been reading our blog regularly, we still struggle with it, primarily here in The Bahamas, but we are still fine tuning our system in that regard.
  T.V.’s and DVD players are also nice, but we haven’t found the need for a satellite T.V. receiver. (Books, remember?)
  Fancy electronic gear at the helm is nice, but if you get an older boat and it has working electronics, use them until they fail. We use some of our original seventeen year old gear and it does fine. We never saw the need for AIS, but we might get it when we need to replace a radio. Autopilot is something we’ve been told we needed, but again, we limit our time at the helm and don’t think we need to spend the money on one. We have navigated our boat primarily with an iPad, loaded with Gamin Bluechart Mobile, since our departure months ago from St. Louis, MO. A small Garmin GPS unit is at the helm for backup. Perfect.
  Our lives wouldn’t be the same, and we might have not gotten this far, without our pet. In our case it’s a dog. A small dog, one that can do her business indoors and doesn’t need to be taken to the beach, or wherever, in the rain in the middle of the night. Some people only take their dogs to do their business once a day. This is cruel. I wonder how they could manage it. I couldn’t.
  Holly is our buddy. I said “our buddy”. She like both of us equally, and is a great “person” to talk to. Even greater because she doesn’t talk back. People would think we were bat-shit nuts the way we carry on with our little dog, and we don’t care. We don’t foist her on others, but we usually find a way to have her with us a majority of the time. Simply put, we’d give up this boat before we’d give her up.
  Not really lastly, because I’m sure I left some things out, but a good mate is the most important ingredient to have on a live aboard vessel. I see lots of men single handing it, but I think it must be lonely. Not sure I could do it. Rosie and I share responsibilities, each of us has our strong points. I usually declare that I’m doing all the thinking and navigating, and therefore have the most responsibility, but in addition to all the mundane chores that Rosie has to deal with, she also goes to great lengths to keep me happy. And that, my friends, is the hardest job of all.


  1. One of your best posts yet since you left St. Charles! You are living the dream! Be safe.

  2. I published this blog with a nagging feeling that I left something out, and it came to me this morning. One thing we don't need, or have so far found a reason to have, is a vehicle, whether it be a car or even bicycles. This may be a good topic for my next post.

  3. Your "nuts and bolts" posts are good reading. The last paragraph about a good mate was a good way to end the discussion and a good point to ponder for those considering such an endeavor.

  4. really enjoy the mechanical aspect of things. even in paradise things do break. helps to appreciate how many different hats you wear to keep things going and safe...from mechanic to navigator to bar patron to fisherman (well maybe not so much) to book critic to effectively dealing with the variety of personalities you come in contact many considerations! and i do appreciate the value of a good mate! well said! thanks

    mike and lisa
    "she's a keeper"
    Piasa harbor
    godfrey IL

  5. Good info for those of us still looking at this lifestyle. Thumbs up on your last paragraph!