Before we started our Atlantic Circle, we refitted ARGO with some additional equipment improving the safety and/or the comfort of our boat. Sometimes, it is eye-watering how much you spend on equipment. And there is a lot of ‚stupid money‘ – expenses which makes no difference, neither to safety nor to comfort. Never trust a cruiser, who pretends never-ever had run aground, or have never-ever wasted money on equipment with no or little use.
It is day #80 of our Atlantic Circle, and ARGO and her crew have sailed more than 2.600sm only this year. This blogpost is about the 16 items, that make us safer, feel comfortable and make cruising much easier to us.
The list is subjective and fits to our boat, our plan and what is important to us. In the best case, this list make you think and serves as an impulse for you to rethink your costly refit wish list.
1 – AIS (Automatic Identification System)
AIS gives us visibility of to the surrounding traffic, beyond the horizon, up to 75nm. And they can see us: AIS is obligatory for all commercial vessels including fishers. AIS is more and more common on pleasure crafts. All ships with AIS are displayed on our chart plotters (Raymarine E 80), all non-AIS vessels of significant size we can detect with radar. At night, we set a geofence on our chart plotter of three miles around ARGO. When another ship enters this circle, an acoustic alarm goes off. The system calculates for each echo a ‚Closest Point of Approach‘ (CPA) and a ‚Time to CPA‘ (TCPA). At a glance we can see the risk of a collision and can take action. Our Garmin AIS 600 is priceless in any weather condition for our peace-of-mind. Still, prices are at around 1.000€ including installation by an expert.
2 – Electric toilet
Our toilet is high on the list since it is always in use: Toilets on boats work differently than at home, because they sit below the water line. One need to pump out the wee and the poo (plus a good portion of addition water in order to keep the odor in check). In this regard, a manual toilet is not foolproof. It requires diligent pumping which not everybody can do, let alone heavy weather. An Sanimarin electric toilet is foolproof and convenient. This French manufacturer assembles durable industrial components, especially the shredder. Many cruisers return to manual toilets because of reliability issues. We don’t had any issues so far. The price is between 650 and 950€, the installation is easy and straighforward.
3 – 33kg ROCNA anchor
The key variable expenses of a cruiser are Diesel and marinas. Anchoring out spares you a something between 20 and 100€ per night. ARGO came with a 22kg DELTA anchor. We experienced three incidents of anchor dragging – every single one made our neck hair stand up.
With the new anchor, this is time is over. A ROCNA comes with a massive roller bar to shovel the 1,5sqm flunk into the ground (watch the video!). Plus, 33kg is one size bigger than recommended by the manufacturer. Our ground tackle gear, which is essential to avoid marinas, now consists of 70m of 10mm chain, 70m of 7.000kg breaking-load high-tech rope, the new ROCNA, the old 22kg DELTA and a handy foldable FORTRESS. We should be safe in an anchorage in any conditions. Cost of the ROCNA is 800€, plus some welding to adjust the bow roller.
4 – Ocean Brake
In bad weather, when all options are blown away and there is nobody to bail us out, we rely on the Ocean Brake: the lifebelt and airbag go a cruiser. In the rating of all crew members it is consistently ranked #3 or #4. The Ocean Brake is a Jordan-Serial-Drogue, custom build in the UK. It prevents a yacht from pitch-poling (sticking the nose into the wave ahead) and capsizing in big waves, which will lead to the loss of the mast for sure, if not worse. John Harris of ACC is pretty clear and quotes scientific research: don’t waste time in discussion of storm tactics – the safest strategy in a survival storm is to deploy a Jordan-Serial-Drogue.
Our JSD consists of a 22mm 200m Polypropylen line, with 132 cones attached of about 40cm each. The drogue is deployed over the stern and attached to the back of the boat. We have installed special attachment points with a breaking load of 8.000kg each. This should be sufficient to slow ARGO down to 1,5-2kn in any weather condition. The Ocean Brake comes for about 1.700€ plus two attachment points for 100€ each in material plus installation.
5 – Code Zero
Winds less than 10kn are a challenge for most cruising boats. They are simply too heavy for the sails they carry. In light conditions, some cruisers just sit and wait for the next breeze. Most run the engine and burn fuel. We got a 140sqm head sail, which is called (for marketing reasons, I guess) ‚Code Zero‘. It is easy to set and easy to furl. The fun part: this sail creates its own wind, like windsurfers and kites do. As the boat slightly accelerates, the fair wind increases. Which adds to the apparent wind that drives a sailboat. It sounds esoteric, but it works. We got this sail used and paid a lower price.
6 – 3rd reef, baby stay with stay sail and runners
The ARGO carries a single 23m mast, which is a lot for a boat. For winds in the 40kn and above we added a deep 3rd reef to the main sail. This makes a storm trial sail and a second track on the mast unnecessary = less complexity. There is a great video by Skip Novak, who tested both, a storm try and a deep reef. (He even has a fourth reef, but he is sailing in the ‚Roaring Forties‘ around Cape Horn, not so close to the equator like us.)
Our mast is stabilized with a baby stay that is attached at the 3rd spreaders. Similarly, we got runners attached, which we only deploy in wind above 30kn and big waves. They nicely stop “pumping” of the mast in rough waves. On the baby stay we can set a hank-on storm jib, which is sheeted over the standard Genoa tracks – also here no addition equipment required. The 3rd reef was about 300€, the rest already was rigged when we bought ARGO.
7 -Balmar 180A high output alternator plus intelligent regulator
Energy is one of the key concern on cruising boats. The demand is between 1.000W and 10.000W a day, without upper limit. Thus, most have solar panels, many have wind generators, some have diesel generators, a few have hydro generators. All of these generation methods have advantages and disadvantages. All generate something between 200 and 600W with the exception of a diesel generator with roughly 9.000W.
ARGO consumes 1.500 to 3.000W a day, depending wether we are sailing or on anchor.
Most of the marine engines are equipped with automotive alternators, which are designed for only to charge a single starter battery and supply electricity to operate the car. But boats have big battery banks. Automotive alternators ruin large battery banks on the long run for various reasons. We had this (expensive) experience already.
Now we have refitted a BALMAR high-output alternator with 2.160W. In combination with the solar panels, this provides us more electricity then we need, provided that we run the engine while traveling an hour a day at minimum. The alternator takes about 5hp from the engine, thus we got plenty 70hp left to move the boat.
The alternator comes from BALMAR with a new belt pulley set, a 3-cm flat belt, a belt tensioner and a programmable regulator. The regulator ensures, that the alternator generates only the energy that the house bank can absorb in the very moment. It prevents batteries from getting ‚cooked’ (i.e. overcharged), but it can also ‚pump‘ 2.160W (or 180A @12V)) into a large battery bank of a boater. Our daily consumption we can recharge within an hour. The BALMAR alternator set is industrial quality, produced in the USA and cost about 1.800-2.000€. BALMARs installation manuals are very good and . Any questions you can clarify with BALMARs customer service. If you have a plan for wiring, fusing, and the other charging devices on your boat, installation is straightforward.
8 – Solar panel 12 A, foldable
Solar panels are just a great invention. Once installed and setup, they only require removal of dust and they produce the so highly appreciated energy on a cruising boat. Ours sit on the Bimini and produce 200W or 16A during daylight hours (roughly 1.600W). They are regulated by a MPPT controller, which does the same as the Balmar regulator: charge batteries when they are not full and stop charging once they are full. We got the panels four years ago, today you can get this output for 400€ plus MPPT regulator for about 300€, plus cables, plugs and installation.
9 – Person-over-Board AIS/DSC
The single most life-threatening risk for cruisers is: falling over board. Most important is prevention, and we do this on ARGO by being tethered and not leaving the cockpit (in the dark or bad weather). On ARGO all sheets, halyards and winches are setup to operate the rigging out of the cockpit.
To all life vests we made two additions, which we love: we spliced in a floating 2m Dyneema line and we added a DSC/AIS transmitter. If a persons falls into the water, the life vests inflate and device gets activated automatically: The DSC parts sends digital telegrams to the surrounding traffic and the coastal radio stations that include: the MMSI of the boat, the GPS position, and a status „Person-over-Board“.
This works impressively reliable, as we tested ourselves on the Spanish Coast. We can see the POB on our chart plotter, and the devices even emits light flashes. Once we have found the POB, we can attach the person with the line to one of our halyards and lift the person back on deck. Tested! Cost for both about 300€ per PFD.
10 – WALDER boom break
The boom, the metal thing attached to the main sail, can easily kill in an accidental jibe. We have permanently rigged a WALDER boom break. This is controlled via rope tension over a winch. In a jibe, we can manage the speed with which the boom is changing sides – AWESOME! This is both, safety and comfort. Cost is about 400€, plus attachment points on deck and a decent piece of rope.
11 – GORI Folding propeller
The dragging of a propeller is annoying since it can slow down a cruiser by 1,5kn. If your average speed is 6kn you go with a fixed propeller may be only 4,5kn – you need 25% more time for the same distance. An average speed around 4,5kn in not acceptable, neither to me and nor to my crew. Others might feel differently – it is only #10 on this list. The GORI has a special feature – overdrive. Basically it is a second gear, that allows us to run the engine at 2.000 rpm and achieve a speed of 7,5kn – in flat calm conditions. The engine consumes then 3,5l an hour. GORI is another expensive toy, it cost about 2.000€. But we love it. Because we love to cruise fast when required.
12 – Dinghi AB Ultralight 9’
The dinghy is the family car for a cruiser. All cruisers need it to get off the boat when on anchor, to get our grocery shopping done, to support maneuvering (e.g. setting a FORTRESS stern anchor). All cruisers want to have the biggest one. But we have only limited space for storage. Davids are perfect for storing a dinghy but … – its like putting a roof box on really good looking car, like a 911, Saab 9000 Turbo, SEAT Leon 3 doors or a Karman. ARGO has a nice flush deck with plenty of space to store it. But still, we need to lift the dinghy on and off the deck rigg the baby stag on the foredeck for bad conditions. Our compromise: we decided for a 2,85m light-weight aluminum Rigid-Inflatable-Boat (RIB) of a good quality with a light-weight engine. In normal conditions we carry 4 adults, 3 kids and a dog… great! Cost is 3.500€ for the RIB and 1.200€ for the engine. Chaps (textile covers) would make our family tender perfect.
14 – Washing machine
Doing laundry in a marina is almost a guarantee for hassle and disappointment. Either is the price ridiculous or the result frustrating. Thus, we wanted to have a washing machine on ARGO. We got a standard household a top-loader ENDESIT 3,5kg, that fits into one of the aft cabins. Strong bolts to the wall and to the floor keep the machine in place in rough weather. We run the washing machine in every harbor or in the anchorage. Cost 450€ plus tubing. Great bang for the buck.
15 – Watermaker
ARGO is equipped with 400l of fresh water tanks. This is enough for us for 5-7 days family cruise. We can do longer passages or time in an anchorage, but then we need to manage our water consumption thoroughly. An own water maker increases comfort for our crew tremendously. Plus, we can avoid marinas, which are one of the main cost drivers for cruisers.
A 60l/h water maker from a renown brand, such as Spectra, Katadyn or Schenker, cost around 8.000€, plus installation. This is shameless expensive, it is hard to understand, why. Since all parts, like pumps and the membrane, are nowadays commodities, interchangeable and should not cost very much. The price of such a water maker is just too high for us.
Finally we got a ParkerHanifin industrial water maker for 60% of the normal price. We decided for this water maker since ParkerHanifin uses industrial components and supplies the leading global manufacturers of ‚plastic-fantastic production boats‘ as well as yards of commercial ships. The installation is straight forward as well operations, and so far we are happy with the product so far. We run the water maker from the alternator of our engine.
16 – Dual-use iPad Pro 17”
If we would need to replace our chart plotters we would not buy any replacement chart plotters. There is barely any function on a chart plotter nowadays that cannot be emulated on an iPad. We run navigation, weather forecast, anchor alarm and all the other functions you can have on an iPad. This is truly dual use – during sailing and during anchoring. We can even manage all the websites and social networks on the device. And store many Netflix, Prime etc. videos offline.
17 – Sailrite LSZ-1
Having a sewing machine on board gives us a higher degree of self-sufficiency. So far, we got the machine out at every 3rd stop for smaller repairs. The Sailrite is the #1 machine amongst cruisers, and is probably a kind of useful status symbol. In the corporate world your wear an expensive wrist watch – in the cruising world you have a Sailrite on board. This is probably due to the product quality, but also to the sensitive marketing of the manufacturing company. Sailrite produces tons of DIY videos on YouTube, where they explain in the very details the how-to, the required materials and tools. We are still in the process of learning how to use the machine, but we love it already. The LSZ-1 cost you around 1.000€.
18 – Honda EU20i petrol generator
In case we need more energy or 220V in the anchorage, we run the petrol generator. For instance for the washing machine, the Sailrite or power tools. We put the generator on the foredeck and run it. The tank of 4,5l are good for 8 to 12h, depending on the load. Ahh… and the generator is good to fire up the sound system for the party on the beach.
The generator is rated at 8,5A/220V/2.000W. The Japanese quality and reliability plus very low fuel consumption make this little generator invisible but indispensable on our list of most-loved-equipment.
19 – Miscellaneous welding projects
According to the already mentioned John Harris, No #4 skill-not-to-learn is welding. I admire John a lot: we gave all our welding to a specialist. He did welding in a great quality.
- chain-plates for the attachment of our Ocean Brake.
- a new fixation bolt for our ROCNA anchor on the bow roller.
- enforcing our Bimini to take on solar panels.
- a spline tool for clutch repair of our Saildrive SD 50.
- rails for our cupboards, so books don’t fall of while heeling. We have won space for about 200 books.
A good welder is involved in any refit project. All the the projects had to be finished before we could leave the dock. To have a good welder on hand is critical for cruisers.
20 – … to come, but probably our deep freezer
This is an ongoing project to be finalized before the crossing. To be updated…
Find your ‘stupid money’
Spending money on boat is big and inevitable. Opinions on what makes sense and what is ‚stupid money‘ are manyfold and one can easily get lost. Because equipping a boat is a complex topic.
Here is an exercise, that we practice quite often: The next time you are in the marina you might go around the boats and look once again on the boats that might be familiar to you. Find out, what is from your background ‚stupid money‘, so you can learn from others. Why to have all these antennas? Is the tender the right size? What is with these four different POB devices?
There is no right or wrong, there is just multiple individual ways of equipping a ocean going vessel. But some on some boats you can see that the crew REALLY knows what they are doing and what do they need for cruising.
When we have been in the search for a boat, and comparing the boats equipment and maintenance levels, one of the prospective sellers told us: „To make it easy, I count ‚boat units‘. It is always a thousand, doesn’t matter which currency. 1.000EUR, 1.000USD, 1.000 GBP…“.
A ‚boat unit‘ makes it much easier to detect ‚stupid money‘ on boats. Within a couple of minutes one can add up the cost of equipment. Not spending money on things that are unnecessary, not required, superfluous makes cruising attainable.