“Thru-hulls? Oh, hush! Nothing goes through my hull.” You gotta love Mitch! And every other new boat owner out there who is in that particular stage of boat-buying grief: Denial. When he thinks he is the only person in the world who just bought a boat that can’t sink. As Phillip and I are preparing our boat for the big, blue water passages ahead, I have a much greater appreciation now for all of the gear, supplies, and spares we need to carry aboard not only to make our boat comfortable and well-stocked so Phillip and I enjoy the passage, but more so the safety gear and supplies we must pack to keep her and the two of us SAFE. And by that we mean supplies that both: 1) ensure the boat is prepared to handle rough conditions, inadvertent collisions, fire, power shortage, or one of any other hundred equipment or engine failures that can happen out there; and 2) in the very unlikely, but possible, situation where Phillip and I need to ditch or distance ourselves from the boat, that ensure we, too, are prepared to do that as safely as possible.
While these are not the things you want to think about when planning for a voyage (i.e., a potential emergency), it is something you need to prepare for. And, the more I have truly opened my eyes to cruising this past year and pushed myself to learn and master the more difficult tasks such as navigation, steering, docking, weather planning, and emergency response, I see the need more than ever for the safety gear we carry aboard. I am also noticing that each time Phillip and I set off for another 4-5 day (or even 30-day) offshore run, we learn a few more lessons and add a few more very handy items to our safety gear and spares list. I will share below the new spare items we have added to the list this year as a result of our experiences in sailing from Florida to France with the esteemed Captain Yannick on his 46’ catamaran and mine and Phillip’s longest-ever five-day offshore passage to Cuba, both in 2016. And, since our Holiday Book Giveaway #3 will be a signed copy of my third sailing book, None Such Like It (of the tale of our Amateur-Kretschmer-like experience delivering Mitch’s Nonsuch across the Gulf of Mexico), I’ve included a fun excerpt from the book below from our efforts to fully prepare Mitch’s boat to safely handle an offshore passage. Enjoy and good luck on the trivia!
None Such Like It, Chapter Two: DENIAL
Having gone through the process of trying to outfit a new-to-us boat for a pretty extensive offshore passage on the Niagara, Phillip and I knew, if we were going to be making this trip with Mitch, that that we needed to start making lists early. It’s amazing the things you remember to bring the second time around. Before Mitch even went down to Ft. Myers, Phillip and I jotted down critical safety equipment, spare parts and other items that would be needed for the boat and crew to safely make the passage from Ft. Myers to Pensacola so Mitch could verify whether any of the items were already on the boat while he was there for the survey/sea trial. We sent Mitch with our rudimentary checklist and told him to inventory the items, note what was missing and what might need to be replaced, replenished or re-certified before we headed offshore in the Nonsuch.
LIST FOR MITCH
The house batteries─What’s the situation?
How big of a bank?
Starting battery and house? 2 bank?
Charged by the alternator?
Power cord, battery charger, etc.?
Is there an autopilot?
What safety gear does the boat have?
Check expiration dates on all of those
First aid kit
Emergency underwater epoxy kit
Does the boat have a 12 volt (cigarette lighter) charger?
What spares are on board?
What fluids are on board?
Is there a repair kit for the sail?
Cotter pins, etc.
Make sure the head functions
Does the boat have a life raft?
Do all sea cocks function just fine?
How many and where─identify and try all
Dock lines, fenders, etc.?
Make a list of what tools are on board
Make a list of galley supplies on board dishes-wise─pots, pans, silverware, etc.
What’s the bilge pump situation?
How many bilge pumps?
Are they wired together or separately?
Check for manual bilge pumps─how many?
Check for emergency tiller, make sure it works
Make sure there’s wooden plugs, nerf balls, whatever for plugging holes
How many and expiration date
Smoke alarms, CO2?
How many and where?
Radio and VHF─check them
Reef the sails during the sea trial─learn the procedure
While Mitch really was taking it all like a champ, checking and double-checking the list with us, I knew he was having trouble understanding the real need for some of these things.
“Nerf balls,” Mitch screeched at me over the phone one day while he was getting ready to make the trip down to Ft. Myers, and I figured that was a reasonable question if he didn’t know that that magically-squishy material, an accidental invention by NASA I’m sure, is wickedly effective at stopping leaks. But, figuring when it comes to Mitch is where I went wrong. Turns out he knew they could be used to stop leaks, he just didn’t expect any leaks.
“Yeah, Mitch. You can use them to plug a leak.”
A moment of silence and then: “But, isn’t that what the sea-cocks are for?” Mitch asked, sincerely curious. “Water starts to come in, you just close them, right? That’s what they do?”
I was glad he couldn’t see my face because I could not hide a smile. That’s when I knew it. He had reached stage two. Mitch was knee-deep in denial. I knew because I had been there. When Phillip and I were looking at our Niagara for the first time, I kept looking around the interior for a good bulkhead wall to mount a television on. Yes, a television. When I finally showed Phillip the “perfect place” I had found for it—the wall between the saloon and our separate shower stall—I only found one slight hold-up.
“We’ll just need to take this lantern out,” I told Phillip, all Bambi-like.
“We’ll need the lantern,” Phillip told me flatly. When my blank stare back didn’t convey understanding, he tried another route. “How are you going to power the T.V.?” which was met by an even blanker stare (if that’s possible). Then Phillip tried to walk me out of my denial, into the land of the knowing. “Honey, we have to run wires and power it. We need the lantern for light and warmth. I don’t think I want a T.V. on the boat.”
It turned out he didn’t. Neither did I when I finally understood what we were truly buying and outfitting—a completely self-sufficient mobile home where we had to engineer a way to generate every bit of light, power, refrigeration and energy needed. I’ll be honest, it baffled me when I first learned the two-prong AC outlets on the boat simply would not work when you’re on anchor. They’re such a tease! I thought they would always magically have power at any and all times, just like they do on land. In Innocent Annie Land, boats out on the blue are still connected to the grid.
I was up to my eyeballs in denial. Like me, Mitch was now refusing to believe he had just bought a complete mobile home that sat, at all times, half-dunked in water with the ability to sink.
“You’ll want the nerf balls, Mitch, trust me. The sea cocks don’t always work.”
But that didn’t really frighten him either. I truly believe Mitch felt he had purchased the only boat in the world upon which sea-cocks never seized up, because he maintained his stance, renouncing all things possible.
“Well, what about the spares? How many of those impellers and fuel filters and zinc things do I really need?”
“However many make you feel comfortable,” I told him, thinking a little fear and weight on his shoulders might help give him a little bit of a reality check. Pssh! He thrust it off like a rain-soaked jacket.
“Oh, nothing’s gonna break twice.”
After a while I kind of admired Mitch’s euphoric “can do” attitude—as in “my boat can do anything.” It was actually nice to not have the significant worry and responsibility of making the trip on our own boat. For Phillip and me, the fact that we were embarking on this journey on Mitch’s boat made it less stressful and more pure fun. It was also exciting for us to think back through that mental process of rigging out a boat for the first time on an offshore passage. It’s a little frightening, a little exhilarating, certainly a fun prospect for adventure. I remembered when Phillip and I wrapped up our own survey/sea-trial and reached that point where it was really happening, we were really about to buy a boat and we were really about to sail her out into the Gulf of Mexico.
Wow, that photo was taken April 12, 2013, the first day Phillip and I ever sailed on our boat. Can you believe that? Time doesn’t just fly, she soars! Because she does, it makes me even more grateful to know we spend most of our days on the boat, on the water, in the sunshine, soaking it all up, even as it’s soaring by. Phillip and I have been busting our hump this summer and fall getting our boat ready for another offshore adventure this winter and I believe she (and we) are more ready than we’ve ever been. And I also believe that our “ready” benchmark will continue to notch higher and higher with each passage we make because we always seem to face a new situation (in addition to the ones we’ve faced before) that teaches us a lesson and prompts us to add something new to the safety/spares list.
Fuel filters. You can never have enough fuel filters. We changed our primary just last week and are bringing 5 spares! We also changed the oil, transmission fluid and coolant and stocked up on extra fluids.
In addition to all of the safety items we usually carry (EPIRB, hydro-static life vests, jack lines, life raft, handheld VHF, handheld GPS, Delorme, Weems & Plath SOS light, flares, compasses, first aid, not to mention our dozens upon dozens of engine spares (oh heck, here’s a detailed inventory list from our Cuba voyage HERE if you want to see everything), Phillip and I have added the following to the list this year, just … in … case:
A spare raw water pump for the engine: It is our old re-built Sherwood which we replaced this year with a new Johnson one (because the Sherwood often leaked around the two seals that separate the oil side from the water side). After seeing the struggles Yannick faced with his raw water pump on the starboard engine across the Atlantic, we thought a complete spare pump would be a good idea.
A spare alternator for the engine: We recently found the old one our previous owner, Jack, had taken off our Westerbeke 27 when he replaced it with a higher-output one. We had it checked by B&M Starter and Alternator here in Pensacola, who verified it runs great. So, just in case our alternator goes kaput and there is not enough sunshine to allow the solar panels to power our battery bank, we have a spare alternator we can put on the engine to ensure we have continued power for radio transmission and the bilge pumps in case of an emergency. Speaking of bilge pumps …
Two spare bilge pumps: While our boat technically already has four (a 500 gph one in the forward bilge, a 1,000 gph in the center bilge, which sits under our sump box that has a 500 gph pump, as well as our manual bilge pump that is operated from the cockpit), we thought it never hurts to have more. So, we purchased a back-up 500 gph and 1,000 gph to replace the pumps in our forward and center bilge areas if need be.
A spare carburetor for the outboard: Okay, so this isn’t technically a safety item. The dinghy is more of a luxury, but if a failed carburetor would stop us from being able to see and feed the Swimming Pigs, or get to a killer kite-surfing spot, or even just get to shore so we can be served drinks by a chesty bartender who smells like coconut rum, I might consider that an emergency ; ).
Phillip was a grease monkey this week, rebuilding both the raw water pump and the spare carburetor.
Now, since we’re having so much fun talking about spares and packing safely for an offshore voyage, even those where Phillip and I are merely helping to deliver a boat as opposed to sailing on our own, I decided to base our book giveaway trivia this time on a very important spare that we certainly could have used on the Atlantic-crossing. This one is for all my diehard YouTube fans out there.
What was the first and foremost spare Brandon said we should have carried on our Atlantic-crossing on Yannick’s catamaran, a system which did ultimately fail us and forced us to pull in for repairs in the Azores?
When you need one of these, none such like it will do! First follower to answer correctly gets a signed copy of None Such Like It. And … GO! And, if any of you do not know the answer because you haven’t yet seen our two-hour YouTube movie on the Atlantic Crossing, then you’re in for a holiday treat. Pop some corn and call it Movie Night!
Hope you all are enjoying the holiday season. Phillip and I are excited to take you along vicariously on our holiday cruise! ’Tis the season … to go to the Bahamas Mon! Ha!