March 2015 – Salty John : The Blog

As I’ve said earlier, a major difference between weekend sailing and setting off to cruise the wide blue yonder is the requirement for self sufficiency. You’ll need to look at your systems and gear in a different light when faced with a lack of ready access to shore side facilities.

In particular you’ll need to carefully consider fresh water supply, electricity generation, maintenance and repair, sun protection, anchoring systems and safety gear.

DC electrical system: The considerations here are exactly the same as for your fresh water system – storage and supply; battery capacity and charging capability.

The biggest single user of electricity on a small cruising boat is refrigeration. If you have no desire for cold beer and crisp veggies you can get by with limited battery capacity supported by the standard alternator on your engine. Running an hour every couple of days should keep your electronics and lighting going nicely. Add a couple of solar panels and you’ll be truly independent.

If you intend to cruise in a warm climate and want to take with you a modicum of luxury – ice, cold drinks, fresh veg, butter and the like, you’ll need to beef up your power generation and storage systems. Throw in a water maker and extensive electronic navigation and communication systems and you’ll need to get really serious about making and storing amps.

So, calculate your daily consumption realistically and provide yourself with deep cycle battery capacity of at least four times this figure. Batteries should not be discharged on a regular basis to more than half their rated capacity, and you’ll want to give yourself a two day cushion so four times consumption isn’t excessive.

A typical small cruiser with a fridge would need around 100 amp-hours per day, half of that for refrigeration, so a 400 amp hour battery bank would be appropriate. A larger boat with water maker, fridge and freezer and extensive electronics will want considerably more, typically 600 to 800 amp hours.

Many boats have a separate engine starting battery and this is not a bad thing if you remember to keep it charged and you can spare the space. Having fuel in the tank and flat batteries is a frustrating situation. On Adriana I had no engine starting battery preferring two 200 amp hour banks for everything. On occasion I ran both banks almost flat but, fortunately, my Yanmar diesel would, with the decompression levers operated, rotate fast enough on the few residual amps to fire up and save the day. Had it failed to do so I might well have invested in a dedicated starting battery.

Having sufficient storage capacity is one thing, now you have to keep it topped up and a diversified charging capability has great merit. Most boats will have a means of converting fossil fuel to amps – some use their engine, larger boats tend to use a diesel generator properly plumbed-in and sound proofed; smaller boats might carry a petrol generator. If you mainly use the engine as your charging source, as we did for three years on Adriana, you’ll want to consider a high capacity alternator and a smart charger to make the process more efficient and minimise running time. Having to run the engine for a couple of hours a day can become quite intrusive.

Most sailors also take advantage of wind and sun – solar panels and wind generators, and occasionally water generators. Solar panels need careful thought regarding location and mounting methods (tilt-ability is good) but can provide noiseless, pollution free charging at practical rates. Wind generators can be cumbersome and noisy to neighbouring boats but in a good breeze can get the amps pouring into those battery banks. I’ve no experience with water generators – they are more useful to boats that are constantly underway rather than to my own stop and start nomadic lifestyle so I’ve never been tempted to try one.

I once saw a pedal powered generator, perhaps an option for the fitness fanatics among us.

Technology will continue to provide us with better and better DC systems for our boats because we have the same problems as do electric cars – power storage and replenishment. Lighter more powerful batteries and rapid charging systems are what we need. Fuel cells are already with us; their price will fall as demand increases. More efficient and more durable solar panels will become available and will, I suspect, increasingly replace wind generators as the preferred green choice for charging.

A major difference between weekend sailing and setting off to cruise the wide blue yonder is the requirement for self sufficiency. You’ll need to look at your systems and gear in a different light when faced with a lack of ready access to shore side facilities.

In particular you’ll need to carefully consider fresh water supply, electricity generation, maintenance and repair, sun protection, anchoring systems and safety gear.

Let’s take a look at the fresh water supply: You’ll need enough fresh water to sustain life and to maintain an acceptable level of hygiene when away from the dockside tap for considerable periods. Two sides to this equation – storage and supply. You need enough tank capacity to meet your requirements between opportunities to refill.

We’re not talking here of provisioning for a single long passage such as a transatlantic or a non-stop round the world race – we’re looking at the needs of living on the hook away from marinas for reasonable periods in relative comfort and respectability.

How much water? In the UK the average person uses an astonishing 150 litres (33 gallons) a day of fresh water so it’s obvious that something has to change when you go to sea in a small boat. We each need 2 litres (0.5 gallons) a day to drink, the rest is squandered on washing, laundry and cooking. You can’t afford to squander anything on a small boat, so you’ll need to modify your lifestyle if you’re a habitual waster. For instance, running the tap whilst cleaning your teeth is a sure sign of a newbie to the cruising life – waste not, want not is the mantra of the cruising sailor. A shower takes about 7 litres a minute, that’s 35 litres (8 gallons) if you can keep it down to 5 minutes a go; if you wash in salt water and only rinse in fresh you can probably keep it down to 5 litres for a complete shower.

Allowing for an adjusted lifestyle and some laundry and cooking you’ll need 10 litres (2 gallons) per person per day when cruising. A couple of weeks supply is the minimum you’d want to consider if you aren’t going to be constantly looking for a shore side tap or chasing rain clouds so a cruising couple will require minimum water tankage of 280 litres (60 gallons) which is about what we had on Adriana (32’ LOA). Twice that would have been more comfortable and that’s what I’d aim for. Small cruising boats such as the Nicholson 32, Sadler 32, Vancouver 27 and the like don’t have that sort of capacity and you’ll need to look at supplementary storage – bladder tanks is one way, and 5 gallon containers on deck is another. (Actually you’ll need containers anyway, even if you only use them to carry water from shore to the boat).

To summarise, a crew of two will want 600 litres (130 gallons) of water storage and a crew of four will want 1200 litres (260 gallons).

Water storage is one thing, supply is the next problem. The available sources are the dockside tap, rain and the sea.

Obviously, if you are going into a dock for any reason, don’t leave without having topped up your tanks. In some parts of the world water is scarce and expensive; don’t be surprised if you have to pay for it or, worse, find it unavailable. We once arrived in a parched South Caicos with dry tanks and were gifted 5 gallons of drinking water by the proprietor of the small marina there – he said it was too precious to sell. Without his generosity we would have been in trouble.

Rain is an unreliable source but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be ready to collect as much as you can when the opportunity presents itself. You can collect a lot of water in a tropical downpour if you’ve thought out the system ahead of time. On Adriana, water running down the scuppers was diverted into the open tank inlet, after allowing a few minutes to clear the salt off the deck. We would also create a gutter with the mainsail cover slung under the boom and put a bucket at the gooseneck to gather the water that poured off it. Many a time we’ve filled our tank in a single squall and had wonderful deck showers into the bargain. That others in the anchorage are also running around on deck feverishly lathering their naked bodies in some semi-erotic rain dance could be considered a bonus.

By all means carry a solar still for emergencies but a reverse osmosis water maker is, at the present time, the only practical way of desalinating sea water at a practical rate. I’ve often considered installing one but have always been put off because the complexity and maintenance regime offends my KISS philosophy, but for others it might well be an answer. You wouldn’t want to risk minimising your water tank capacity in the confident hope of never having your water maker fail, but as long as it’s fully functional you can have a veritable aquatic orgy. We met a couple with a domestic washing machine installed on their aft deck, supported by the output from a huge water maker.

To keep your water safe it’s a good idea to treat your tank with a tablespoon of bleach to 130 litres (30 gallons) of water. Having your precious water supply turn foul is not something you want to contemplate. If you’re fussy about water taste store your drinking water separately or buy it in bottles.

In Part 2 I’m going to be considering self sufficiency in your electrical supply. Keeping your water maker going is just one reason for keeping a steady flow of amps available.

I’m not going to risk getting into a discourse on which brand of anchor is the best, that’s a very easy way to alienate a large chunk of the boating population. Besides, I’ve cruised far and wide with two CQRs and a Danforth in total safety, so I have no experience with the so-called new generation anchors, all smoothly fabricated, shiny and pointy and which get everyone so hot under the collar on boating forums. But I will stick my toe in the water on the subject of what to attach your anchor to and the use of that anchoring essential, the snubber.

I recommend that at least the primary anchor be deployed on an all-chain rode with a manual or electric windlass to handle it. It’s unequivocal – all chain is the only way to fly for long term cruising where anchoring is a way of life.

Many weekenders and some cruising boats use a rope rode with a chain leader. This introduces the spectre of a parting rope-to-chain splice and chafe or laceration on rocks, coral, or bow-roller. In Big Major’s Spot, Bahamas, during a hefty blow a neighbouring boat was nearly lost when his nylon rode chafed through in a frighteningly short time.

Chain self-stows, avoiding a snake’s honeymoon of soggy nylon on the foredeck which must then be coaxed down the naval pipe. An all-chain rode never leaves the windlass, giving complete control. Another point in favour of chain is the reduced scope required and the attendant smaller swinging circle.

So, what are the perceived advantages of rope/chain combinations? The most significant is weight. With chain it’s important to arrange stowage as low and as far aft as possible. Selecting the right chain for the job is important; high test chain is lighter and more flexible than proof coil for a given breaking strength.

Nylon rope is cheaper than chain. This is an important and undeniable advantage of nylon over chain. The second anchor on Adriana was carried on 30 feet of chain and 300 feet of nylon. This was a compromise born of the need to minimise weight in the anchor locker and maximise weight in my wallet. But I wouldn’t want to rely on rope for my main anchor, that’s an economy too far.

Nylon rode is quieter than chain; it doesn’t crash on the bow-roller in surging conditions. To gain this advantage for chain, a snubber is used. Ah-ha, I knew I’d get there in the end!

The snubber is a length of nylon or polyester three-strand line that takes the anchor load from the chain to a deck cleat or Samson post, absorbing the shocks and leaving the chain hanging in a loose bight, resting lightly and relatively noiselessly in the bow roller.

The snubber is attached to the chain by a chain hook of some sort – there are a range of proprietary variations available – or a rolling hitch. After a few months we dispensed with our clunky chain hook in favour of the rolling hitch – we found this more positive than the chain hook and more deck and toe friendly. The rolling hitch is particularly suited to this purpose, it doesn’t tighten under load and so won’t jam and become difficult to undo.

The snubber for a 35 to 40 foot cruising boat would be typically 12mm diameter and at least 12m long. If you choose a line that’s too heavy you won’t get enough of the beneficial stretch into the system, which is why old halyards and sheets aren’t really suitable for this purpose, they tend to be low stretch. The snubber is attached to the chain and a strong point on deck and then the chain is run out until the snubber comes up taught, then a few more feet to give a nice healthy loop of chain and you’re set. Should the snubber chafe through the chain retakes the load.

A snubber is also useful in anchorages where the swell comes from a different direction to the wind, curving around a headland, perhaps. The boat, lying to the wind, may take the swell on the beam and roll uncomfortably. In this case, lead the snubber line all the way aft to a cleat or sheet-winch on the side away from the swell. Then, as you let out more anchor chain, the boat will turn her head toward the swell as the anchor lead point moves aft. This bridle arrangement can mean a good night’s sleep in an otherwise impossibly rolly anchorage.

An essential thing is the snubber.

When running wiring and cables from source to destination there will almost always be bulkheads, superstructure and decks in the way. How you get your cables through these obstructions is quite important if you want to avoid abrasion and keep a watertight joint.

To take cables through a deck or superstructure you may want to look at the stainless steel Cableport, a wonderful Swedish design that’s standard equipment on many top quality boats. It’s a polished stainless steel entry port that takes electrical and communication cables through the deck via a 49mm shrouded opening. It can take 6 cables up to Ø12mm, or more of smaller diameter.

The Cableport has the benefit of excellent waterproof integrity, a low profile to avoid snagging lines, and ‘step-on-ability’.

Deck plugs are notoriously corrosion prone and need meticulous maintenance but, if you’re up for the maintenance, they can be convenient. There’s a wide range of deck glands available – single cable or multi cable, plastic or metal; you’ll probably want the type through which you can pass a 19mm diameter PL259 connector, especially if you drop the mast each season and don’t want to remake the connection every time.

For many internal hurdles a simple hole with adequate abrasion protection will do the job but in some special cases, such as an antenna cable run from under the mast to the radio, you might want to combine a connection with the bulkhead passage. For this a good choice is the PL363 connector with two PL259 plugs. The one in the picture is a 1.75” connector fitted with two large stainless nuts.

Have a look at for details of the Cableport and a range of vhf cable connectors.

Adriana had a batten-less, roach-less, headboard-less main for our first three-year adventure. It was the antithesis of the sail in the picture which is designed for speed without regard to cost, longevity or maintenance.

For tweaking the last ounce of performance out of a mainsail it needs the roach to add sail area high up, to stabilise airflow over the head of the sail and to minimise tip vortices. I didn’t think much about that when I had my sail built.

My rationale was that I could afford to lose some mainsail area because Adriana tended towards too much weather helm, I wanted to keep things simple and low maintenance, and being able to drop the main off the wind without battens catching on the spreaders was a good thing. And if it was a design good enough for Lin and Larry Pardey it was good enough for me.

It was a lovely sail to handle, ten ounce soft Dacron, and it fulfilled all my expectations. My imaginary ideal cruising boat has in-mast furling which precludes horizontal battens so in a way it’ll be like going back to the future.

Some time ago I wrote an article about running aground, here’s the whole thing:

And here are the main points:

1. Recognise that you’re aground as soon as possible and stop forward motion. The only direction in which you know for sure there is deep water is that from which you have come.

2. If motoring, go into reverse immediately. If sailing, get the sails down, check for lines in the water and start the engine, then go into reverse. Be aware that your rudder is vulnerable when backing up in shallow water.

3. If this fails, limit the damage by getting an anchor out to windward. If possible orient the boat to provide the most protection from wind and waves.

4. Reduce draft by heeling the boat. A very effective method is by pulling on a masthead halyard. Another method is putting weight onto the end of the swung out boom; a crew member or a flooded dinghy being the main candidates. Motor or tow the boat off into deeper water.

5. Seek assistance from the professionals, or hail a passing Good Samaritan.

6. Running your engine in shallow water and when aground churns up the bottom: Check your raw water intake strainer; if it is filled with sand and mud check your raw water pump impellor for damage.

Dinghy baler

I once bought a proprietary dinghy baler, a blue plastic one. I lost it almost immediately. When its replacement also went walkabout I made my own from a milk carton; it lasted for four years. I’ve made several since.

Balers are easy to make, definitely not rocket science, as you can see from the picture.
I prefer to use milk cartons because the material is relatively soft and conforms to dips and depressions in the fabric base of the dinghy. For a big boat bilge or hard floor dinghy you might choose a fruit juice carton which is made of sturdier material. There may be other suitable containers from which to fashion your baler – look under the sink, see what you can find.

Have fun!