Fitting out for a multi-year cruise (published April 2017)
My dream of cruising long term actually started as a child standing on the south shore of Long Island looking out over the ocean and dreaming of the explorers I was reading about in history class at school. Explorers like, Magellan, Vasco De Gama, Balboa, Henry Hudson, Cook, Cabot, Hernando de Soto, Leif Erickson, Ponce de Leon and of course Columbus just to name a few. I would sit on that shore for hours dreaming about what it must have been like for them to voyage off into the unknown chasing a dream of sorts. I read up on them way beyond what was taught in the classroom, going to the local library and signing out books as often as I could. I wanted to know everything, not only about their actual voyages but their lives and decisions that led them up to the point of deciding they would go explore the unknown. I knew then and there while reading all of this that my day would come. I would follow in their footsteps one day and sail off into the unknown on my own vessel.
From that moment on right on up to today I have been a sailor. I started out on Lasers and Sunfish, then moved on to NACRA cats and larger (22 feet) monohulls. This took place over many years. In my mid 30s I bought my first “big” vessel, a 30 foot Catalina. I was living in Portland, Oregon at the time. Ten years and several stops later I was living in Punta Gorda, Florida which is still my home base.
In 1998 I bought what was my dream boat, a brand new Hunter Passage 450, and started making serious plans and lifestyle changes that would bring me to that childhood goal of leaving shore for an extended period and go “exploring”. The years passed always aiming towards my goal and the vessel started aging, although expertly maintained. In 2011 I met the woman of my dreams who loved my dream/goal of leaving and going cruising. We set a date for late 2014-early 2015 which would put Honeymoon Forever at the ripe age of about 16 to 17 years old. At that point we started to seriously upgrade, refit and outfit SV Honeymoon Forever to go offshore cruising for an extended period of time. The following is a list of the changes made to the vessel prior to departing. (not in any particular order). I should also mention that we (my lovely wife Vivi) and I had two main goals when planning for this adventure. 1) Safety and 2) Comfort. We approached the outfitting with those two goals in mind.
1) Electronics Upgrade The first thing I took a hard look at was my electronics. I still had the original set-up from when I purchased and outfitted the vessel in 1998, and as we all know how fast technology changes, I started doing my homework and making decisions on what I wanted and needed out of my electronics. I have always been a fan of Garmin products and the original electronics were Garmin. Time to move into the 21st century, so out with the old in with the new. We replaced the old GPS chartplotter with a new Garmin 7212 GPSMAP with BlueChart g2 Vision and XM Satellite Weather, I coupled that with a Garmin 20/40 Radar system, a Garmin GDL 30/30A Marine Weather Satellite Receiver, a new Garmin Sonar Transducer and a Garmin GMS 10 Network Port Expander to tie everything together. This now gives us complete visibility above water and below water. And the “3D Fish View” on the g2 Vision underwater is very, very cool!
2) The AutoPilot I have had since day one the Autohelm (now Raymarine) ST7000. It has worked flawlessly since the original installation. As dependable as sunrise and sunset. I saw no need to replace it. Although I did locate and buy a few spare parts for it as a backup if things should go wrong.
3) New VHF Marine Radio with MMSI & AIS Communications with authorities, ports and other vessels is an absolute necessity as well as a legal requirement for a vessel our size. For a few hundred dollars the level of comfort and security we derive from upgrading our old VHF to our new Standard Horizon VHF with MMSI and AIS is well worth the cost. In addition to the hard mounted unit we have two portable handheld iCom units and a handheld portable Cobra VHF in our ditch bag. (more on that later).
4) WaterMaker The need to make water when cruising is indisputable from several different viewpoints. One being availability, two being cost and three being purity and drinkability. We plan on spending a lot of time on the hook and fresh clean water is the elixir of life. For this purpose we installed a Pro Watermaker 500 system. This system is capable of producing over 20 gallons of water per hour or 500 plus gallons per day. That’s a lot of water—even by my lovely wife’s showering standards! I was able to install this myself and any able bodied owner/captain should be able to do so as well. I chose the 110v motor as opposed to the 12v system. Every vessel owner I talked to that uses a 12v watermaker system told me they have to run the genset to keep up with the power draw while operating their watermaker. With that being the case, if I am going to run the genset anyway I might as well have the more powerful pump via the 110v system and produce my water faster.
5) SSB We had thought long and hard about a SSB radio system. We decided we just needed a receiver and not a two-way communicative device. After doing my homework the decision was made to purchase a Grundig Satellit 750. This unit has the option of an internal antenna and an external antenna. I installed a SSB antenna as well. This device has paid for itself already in getting real time, accurate weather information.
6) Solar panels and controller Our main cruising ground is going to be the Caribbean—sun central. Solar just makes sense. So after more homework I decided on a Grape Solar System. These are purchased through Home Depot and are so simple to install it’s amazing. I got three 150 watt panels for a total of 450 watts, a Controller, all the plug and play cables and a 2000 Watt Sine Wave Inverter all for under $1,500 USD!! A great value and a simple install once you decide how and where you want to mount them on your vessel. I absolutely love these solar panels and the amount of power they produce.
7) Wind generator and controller The thought process here is similar to the solar panels. With the steady trade winds throughout the Caribbean you’d be crazy not to have this source of producing power while out cruising. I went with a 400 Watt Sunforce Wind Turbine. There are many, many models and brands to choose from. I don’t recommend one over the other I’m just mentioning the one I bought. I purchased it from Defender Marine for under $500 USD. Obviously you will require a mounting tower and a controller for this as well. All purchased separately. As with the solar panels, I cannot say enough positive things about this option.
8) Replaced isinglass We have complete wrap around the cockpit isinglass on our vessel with removable panels. It is something I had designed and made many years ago after a trip from Florida to the Northeast. I replaced all of the panels with UV Protected / tinted isinglass. They needed an upgrade and I felt this was the best way to go. I also had several panels made with screens for those times and places where we wanted the breeze but not the bugs.
9) Both ACs gone over We are fortunate enough to have 2 ACs on our vessel. It was on my must have list many years ago when outfitting and ordering the vessel. In SW Florida you need AC! There is one forward and one aft. I had both of them gone over by a licensed tech and recharged to maximum performance. Even though we will spend a lot of time on the hook and will not use the AC it is great to have on those times when we will check into a marina for a while.
10) Upgraded Bilge Pumps This sounds like a small item, but it is often overlooked by cruisers until it becomes an issue. I upgraded the main salon bilge pump to a very high GPM model with automatic floater switch. I also installed a back-up in the forward part of the bilge.
11) Upgraded Alternator With as much time as we were planning to be on the hook we knew there would be days of no wind and either rainy or overcast skies which would and could render the wind and solar options useless. So I replaced the existing 80 Watt alternator, to a high output more efficient Balmar unit with the external Computerized Regulator. Thereby maximizing my power generation every time the engine is run.
12) Ditch Bag A necessary evil. You hate the idea of ever having to use one but know it is the right thing to do by putting one together. I won’t list everything we have in ours but the list covers everything from EPIRB to fishing gear, from VHF to solar blankets, from nutrition Bars to portable GPS and all points logical inbetween. Our ditch bag sits right under our companionway steps in plain view and is bright green with reflective tape strips on all sides.
13) Serviced our EPIRB An often overlooked item to do but a major requirement to be done before heading offshore.
14) In-Boom Roller Furling Main This was our major project and investment for the journey. I handle all of the sail work and my wife handles other aspects of our cruising. We have a large main and the mast rises just about 65 feet above the waterline. Even with our existing electric winch for the mainsail it was a lot of work bringing it up and down, flaking just right into the lazy jacks and putting on the sail cover. The worst was reefing it in, in heavy weather. So the decision was made to install a roller furling main. I did not want an in-mast model as I have read and heard of too many horror stories about them jamming and getting hung up at the worst of times. That left me with the in-boom option and after consulting the two experts in rigging and canvas that I know of, Greg Knighton and Rick Pantell, they convinced me that this was the way I should go. After researching my options I chose Furlboom. They were based in Australia for 30 years before moving to the USA in 2014 and have a fantastic reputation. It took about two months from the time the agreement was made until the install was complete and the test sails and subsequent tweaking of the system were completed. It is by FAR the single best upgrade I ever did or will ever do. The ease of raising and lowering the main in all kinds of weather is simply amazing. The sail is fully battened with six horizontal battens so I lost nothing in the way of boat speed and sailability.
15) Wi-fi Booster My wife Virginia and I still actively “work”. We both run our own separate small businesses which require us to be in regular contact with our respective clients. To this end, connectivity to the internet was a must for us. The answer for this we found in a Wi-Fi Booster made by Wirie. It is a small, self-contained, easy to install and relatively inexpensive solution to our connectivity needs. There are many other brands and companies out there that make these items and after trying a few of them and wasting money we chose the Wirie. It has served us well in every country and every port of call we have been to so far.
16) Review and Upgrade of Ground Tackle our home base is Southwest Florida where the waters are shallow and the bottom is more often than not muddy. So holding was never an issue no matter what kind of anchor we put out. We carried two, a traditional Danforth and a CQR style. We were going to be sailing and cruising to locations with all different types of bottoms and holding ability so a review was in order. After much research and many conversations with cruisers I decided on a 55 pound ROCNA anchor. This is attached to 200 feet of 3/8” BBB chain and 200 feet of 1/2” rode. When that anchor drops, it hooks! Period. It goes without saying that we need a windlass for this type of set-up. The Danforth and CRQ are now back up anchors , which have never been used since installing the ROCNA.
Well that’s it. It seems like a lot of work and a lot of upgrades to undertake but in reality it was not because it was all done over a long period of time. The cost and work was spread out over the course of the 18 months that we were in our “planning” stage for our cruising adventure. There are many, many additional small things that were done to add to our comfort and safety. Those items are always personal touches and have no real bearing on the operations of the vessel as you will find when preparing your vessel for your own blue water sailing adventure. Fair Winds, Blue Skies. Safety first.
Robert and Virginia Scott continue to cruise aboard their Hunter Passage 450, SV Honeymoon Forever.