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Cruising essentials: what are the things you don't know you'll need? Cruising expert Nancy Knudsen tells us about some of the gear she wishes she'd started with when setting out for long-range cruising.

The sailing boat that's perfect for a weekend cruise will require a little rethinking For coastal cruising for three months; and that will also be very different from what's required for sailing for to the remote islands of the Philippines or for a circumnavigation. But there are some essentials that I 'wouldn't leave home without when bluewater cruising:


Statistically, a cruising boat will spend a maximum of 20 percent of its time at sea, so the choice of anchor and how you deploy it can make or break your peace of mind while cruising. We bought a Spade, but there are many other brands on the market--the Manson Supreme, the Rockna, the Ultra to name just a few. From the moment we saw the light and changed over from our CQR, we slept at anchor confidently and peacefully. Not once in all the years since our purchase of that Spade have we ever dragged.

All the weight in the New Generation anchor is concentrated in the point and the clever shape means that the harder it blows the deeper the anchor penetrates. Deep weed is no problem either, because that lethal point keeps heading down and down until it strikes good holding.

Even though we continued to employ all the other tricks to make sure we anchored securely--heavy gear, good scope (never less than 5:1), snubber, anchor alarm and anchor buddy--the Spade made so much difference it felt as though we were anchored to a two-tonne concrete block.



We examined all the options and installed a wind generator and solar panels on the davits. But sometimes there's no sun and sometimes a storm threatens or the wind is already too strong to operate your wind generator safely. The trailing generator, however, that little black twirling shark on a thirty-metre line off the back of the boat was the unexpected star of power generation, and never let us down. At six knots it gave us six amps an hour, twenty-four hours a day in all weather. But remember (and I do, with embarrassment) that if you are sailing in water that is less than twenty metres deep and the wind lightens, the little black shark is likely to anchor you to the bottom. On one memorable night it took me a while to work out why my boat was sailing in circles at two knots ... I still wonder what the nearby fishermen thought of my lights flicking from green to red to green to green to red to green ...



You'll never regret joining the dodger to a very strong bimini cover to make a fully enclosed cockpit--or going for a redesign. No matter how much you love sun, when you are sailing short-handed, which is the case with most cruising sailors, you'll spend a minimum of 12 hours a day on watch, and that's at least six hours of sun. And it's not only the sun. Going into wind on a blustery night will put salt water in your eyes, and hour after hour of that is not amusing--and that's even if it's not raining. But this measure is not just for comfort. When you have only two working crew it's a safety measure to keep them in good health and spirits. A prudent skipper will keep in mind that an emergency can happen at any time at sea, and you don't want a tired or weary crew to manage it.


Or boarding ladder that you can reach and commission from the water: A swim board has many uses apart from the obvious hedonistic one of easily slipping into and out of the water while at anchor. It's great for doing dirty jobs that you don't want done on the deck--scaling fish, cleaning the barbecue just for starters. However there's another reason. The statistics show that there are many sailors lost who fall overboard and go missing in relatively calm waters and sometimes even at anchor. Whenever I read of another tragic incident, I can't help wondering whether he (it's usually a he) might have reached the boat but couldn't get back on board from the sea. Can you get back on board your boat, without help, from a calm sea?


The old 'Ball and string' method is excellent for testing depth, but no good in a current.

If we had had a hand-held electronic depth sounder on board we might have avoided one of the most dangerous incidents of my sailing career. Arriving in a remote port for which we did not have detailed charts, we could not raise anyone by VHF. As it turned out, there was no one in the port who owned one. There was one tiny harbour with a very small entrance, and the rest of the anchorage was too deep (40 metres) to anchor a sailing boat, and. when we arrived, deserted. The current through the tiny entrance was too strong for the 'ball and string' method of determining depth. Approaching the narrow entrance in the boat we found the bottom was shoaling so quickly I backed off and we anchored instead on a sand spit--but that's another story. Had we had a hand-held electron depth sounder we could easily have dinghied in to test the depth in the entrance. Arriving in any unknown anchorage, this little electronic gem is also handy for all sorts of less life-threatening purposes.



This might sound controversial and your marine electrician won't agree, but once you've left home where you can call for help easily and are in strange ports where the marine help is less than adequate, the simpler the systems are, the better. We started our cruising File with very smart gel batteries and a super-duper management system until a badly connected crimp blew the system (think about soldering all your crimps for safety). Replacing some of the gel batteries proved a major job. A truck battery that you can get anywhere in the world is the answer--they're cheap, reliable, and every mechanic in the world knows how they work.


We thought that a multiple purpose sail (MPS) would be just perfect for downwind sailing, to complement our twin-winged yankee and staysail. We were wrong. Most long-range cruisers are, like us, sailing shorthanded, which means that each crew sails single handed, allowing the other to sleep.

Moreover the longer you cruise the less important it seems to sail fast--maybe for avoiding an impending storm, or getting in before dark. An MPS may give you a knot or two extra in speed, but it took two of us to put it up and down--and, particularly when used as a spinnaker, demands attentiveness most of the time.

On the other hand a Code Zero is a spinnaker-weight sail on a light furler hoisted on the spinnaker halyard. It can be unfurled in light winds and furled again quickly when conditions threaten--without involving the other crewmember.



We left home with a watermaker. It took up a huge amount of storage space on the yacht, had cost the previous owner a small fortune, but had only a modest output of water. With all the other expensive gear we were putting on the boat, spending around another $10,000 on a better watermaker was something we thought we could do without.

It was months later when we discovered, courtesy of a roving sailor, that we could have, for a mere $2000 or thereabouts, made our own watermaker with an output of 100 litres an hour.

An important added advantage of this was that this DIY watermaker did not have to be constructed in one unit, but its parts could be apportioned around the boat in convenient small locations. Follow the diagram shown or Google for other versions.


This natty tittle hook is named after the place where it was invented, the Mediterranean, but it is useful anywhere at all where you are likely to have your anchor tangled with another boat's. The first time our anchor became tangled with another it was a comedy of errors that amused everyone in the anchorage--if only we'd had a Med Hook!

Two lines are attached to the hook, one for lowering it in the hook position, and another for tripping it so that it releases the chain it has been carrying. It is particularly handy in crowded anchorages where another boat has laid their anchor over yours and then gone touring for a few days. When you want to leave, you simply slip the Med Hook down the other boat's chain, lift the chain while you retrieve your own anchor, and then use the trip line to release the chain. You'll never have to wake the crew of another boat again when you want to leave early in the morning!



What a boon this little beauty was when added to our boat.

Best operated with a foot pump (don't forget to carry a spare pump) it gives an unlimited supply of water to either swab the decks (eliminating the need to pull buckets up from the ocean), cook vegetables, rinse the plates or a wide range of other minor tasks where it doesn't matter if the water is salty or not.

Don't leave home without one!
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Author:Knudsen, Nancy
Publication:Offshore Yachting
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Oct 1, 2012
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