Monday, January 23, 2012

Top 5 Cruising Tips from a Cruiser

I have been following a fellow cruiser on the net for the last 10 years as he sailed around the world on his 32' steel sloop.  The entries he posts from the trip are shoot from the hip, no punches pulled accounts of his feelings about his lot in life and some the hassles he experiences while visiting countries far from home.  His name is Lauri and you can read about his travels here.

With all his experience, I felt he would be a good candidate for some advice on cruising.  Here are his top 5 suggestions:

Hmm… five most important aspects of my trip…. That’s a tough one! Volumes has been written, most authors coming up with a few hundred important aspects.  I have a love-hate relationship with advice. I have asked for and listened to the advice of thousands of captains over the years. Some of it has been good, a lot of it has been either bad or unsuitable for my circumstances or otherwise not to my liking. It’s difficult to separate the “absolute truths” from the personal preferences. It’s safe to say: “your yacht must be water tight”  but it would be stupid to say: “you must go to Vanuatu”. 

Here’s my five things. It’s a pick of the day. My pick.
1.       A vessel that is heavy displacement, solid built, capable of making trouble free contact with the bottom. (It doesn’t have to be steel, an older, heavier built GRP will do). I like a long keel for directional stability, because it makes a yacht more sea kindly in heavy weather and helps her run downwind without putting too much strain on the helm. My preference is always for aft cabin / centre cockpit.  I like simplicity rather than complexity. With modern electronics, many stand-alone systems are better than one integrated system. An increasing amount of cruising problems arise form sophisticated, integrated systems.
2.       Self-steering. I shall never again underestimate the importance of self-steering in long-term, long-distance cruising. I would like to have three: A light weight electric for low power consumption in mild conditions, a heavy duty electric for difficult conditions and a wind vane as a power-free power-ful passage maker. I only had one when I left Australia. In Finland Annina insisted on the most expensive, fixed autopilot. That was the best item I had ever bought. On a passage, one needs to sleep, cook, eat, wash, keep a watch, possibly make minor running repairs, read charts, talk on the radio, perhaps retrieve weather info and so on and so on. 100% reliable self-steering of some sort, any sort,  is a must. (Aliisa’s wind vane never worked properly, which is a pity, as we often had to run the engine to keep the batteries topped up during cloudy passages with the big autopilot.
3.        One odd thing that comes to mind relates to freedom to come and go. Many yachts made arrangements for family / friends to join them on a leg or a cruising holiday on a group of islands etc. Nine times out of ten this caused problems; yachts were “forced” to head out in bad weather simply to make a flight on an island 100 miles away. People missed destinations they genuinely wanted to see because they had committed themselves to be in a particular port at a particular time. I never did that and I was much happier for it. The back bone of comfortable cruising for me is the freedom to come and go and stay according to the whims of the crew, the captain or the weather. Here, appointment often means dis-appointment.
4.       Electricity. I personally would not like to go cruising without a fridge. In our next boat I’d like to have a small freezer too. A PC is a must and in today’s world to be online is to exist. This all takes electricity.  During my cruising I noticed that diesel generators were one of the main causes of headaches for many people.  Aliisa did very well with 4 large solar panels over the years but as the use of laptops and internet became more common, the need for more power became a problem. We added a wind generator and I was very pleased with it. (5 or 6 blade wind gens make a lot less noise than the 3-bladers). In the next boat I will have two D400 wind generators and 1KW of solar. I will not have a diesel generator, but I may carry a small 4-stroke (Honda?) petrol genset for emergencies. Whatever the configuration in a given boat, my opinion is that only wind and solar will make you truly self-sufficient. And that means freedom to seek any out-of way bay for an anchorage for any length of time.
5.       Advice. I’ve listened to a lot of advice in my years. I have a love-hate relationship with advice. It’s tempting  to tell others what they “should do”. Yet, the best advice I can think of is: “don’t listen to other people’s advice”. We not only live in a rapidly changing world, but also one man’s paradise is another one’s shit hole. Guides (and other cruisers) are full of personal opinions and experiences, often very different from yours. It’s good to be safety conscious, but beware that people who tell you NOT to go somewhere have almost never gone there themselves! I feel that ignoring advice and not reading cruising guides helped me maintain my freedom to choose what I felt I wanted to explore. Sometimes the place was great, sometimes not, but either case was often contrary to other people’s opinions or even experiences. Whenever anyone tells you that “you must” do something, be it about a particular installation or equipment on board or a particular cruising area or destination, always ask them “WHY?”
I have been totally shocked about the amount of false / irrelevant / misleading / out dated / biased / incorrect information in printed cruising guides. I doubt I will ever buy one again. The only exception is what I call “hard-core” information on rocks, bays and anchorages. Mostly this is visible on your charts anyway, but some guides are good at pointing out safe anchorages. The best and almost the only useful guides I’ve seen are “100 Magic Miles” covering the Whitsunday islands in Australia and Eric Bauhaus’ Panama Cruising Guide, with charts and satellite images of all important areas.
One of the best items on board – one I loved to use and would not go without – was the old SSB/Ham radio. While the cruiser’s chit-chat is often full of the same bullshit you hear in yacht clubs world over, the information you get from another cruiser on location is at least up-to-date, even if it is coloured by his/her own personal experience.
I hope that was enough. There are a million things to consider, but you are already an accomplished cruiser. Cruising the world is not necessarily that much different from cruising your home coast. People are generally friendly, services and stuff is generally available and the boat will be an ongoing project throughout the cruising life anyway. I would always avoid waiting until “everything is ready for departure”. Everything will NEVER be ready for departure. Only the captain needs to be ready. 

Click on the pic to see a lager view of the map.

Thanks Lauri, that is some great stuff.  Hope to see you in the high seas!

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