Thoughts on Boat Gear

I was recently asked for some advice by a new owner of a Hallberg Rassy 42, who was interested in the equipment on Alba and what we like and don't like.  This prompted this article, which is a set of my thoughts on boat gear:

DISLIKES:  I've racked my brains about this and there's not a lot to dislike on a HR42F.  It's a good size for two people - although I would like it to be 8 foot longer to give us slightly faster passage time and more space below for our infrequent visitors.  Oh, and Glenys would like a washing machine.

SOLAR POWER:  We have two 185W 35V solar panels that feed through a Blue Skies 3024i MPPT regulator.  It's a very sophisticated regulator and I trust it to maintain the correct charging voltages on our 6 * 110 Ah domestic batteries.  In the tropics the solar panels pump out 15-20 Amps during the day.  

WIND POWER:  We also have a KISS wind generator, which is good addition for charging on windy nights.  The wind generator is unregulated, so I've put a dump resistor on the Blue Skies regulator that theoretically prevents the batteries from going above 14.4V.  I have had damaged batteries because of over charging, so I tend to turn the wind generator off if the batteries are getting full.

GENERATOR: We have a Panda Fischer 6.5 hp 220V generator which we use for occasional battery charging, but mostly to run our 220V watermaker and our Dive Compressor.  I have a Love/Hate relationship with our generator and I've written some notes on Fault Finding A Generator.

ENGINE: The main engine (a TMD22) has two 60Amp alternators that are run in parallel through diodes.  I was thinking of beefing up one of the alternators to 120A and putting in a smart regulator and removing the diodes, but the solar panels are so good that we never run the engine to charge the batteries, so I'm not too fussed about the alternators.

STERN ARCH.  We added a stern arch in which we designed and had made in Trinidad.  It holds our solar panels, wind generator, antennas, outboards, an outboard hoist, a fish cleaning table, fishing rod holders, etc.  It also has davits to lift the dinghy out of the water, when we're sailing and at night.  (If we're sailing overnight we always put the dinghy on the front deck.)  IMHO, davits are essential.  We put a lot of effort into the design of the arch to make it attractive as well as functional and I have written some Stern Arch Design Notes.

WATERMAKER:  We have an Echotec 220V water maker which produces 170 litres per hour...  It's a very simple but rugged bit of kit.  We have to manually turn valves to grt it to work, but it's been much more reliable than the more sophisticated automastic ones.  We run it every three days for an hour to give us plenty of water

FRIDGES.  We have two fridges - one in the galley, which has a small shoebox-sized freezer compartment and another one behind the chart table seat.  The galley one is used exclusively for food, while the other one is used for drinks  - mostly beer, milk, orange juice and bottles of water. The drinks fridge could be used as a freezer, but I think that it is inadequately insulated and too big.  If we wanted a freezer then I'd construct a smaller liner box and add 6 inches more insulation around it.  The fridges are Isotherm Compact Classics, which run off 12V with the condensers being water cooled via two Hull Skin Fittings.  The main problem that I've had with the fridges is small leaks through the fast-fit screwed connectors that fit teh modular system together.  Over the years, I've had the connectors replaced with solid copper tubing. 

STAYSAIL.  The previous owner added a permanent inner forestay with roller reefing.  The sheets come back to two additional winches.  We love the staysail.  Beating upwind, we can sail faster and point higher without additional heeling.  If the wind is over 25 knots, we roll away the genoa and just use the staysail - the centre of pressure is closer to the mast and lower than a heavily reefed genoa, allowing it to operate upto 35 knots without reefing.  Running downwind, we pole the genoa out to the windward side and have either the main or the staysail out to the leeward side.  If I bought another boat it would have to have a staysail.

RUNNING BACKSTAY.  We removed the wire running-backstays and the cumbersome blocks, which had to be walked from the shrouds and fixed to the aft toe rail.  Each running backstay has been replaced with Dyneema, which runs through a large block at the stern of the boat and then onto the windward Staysail winch.  We then have a small 5mm line running through a block on the coach roof, which allows us to set and stow the runners from the cockpit.

DINGHY.   We have a AB 9.5AL  RIB.  This will take a 15hp outboard and just fits upside-down on our foredeck, between the mast and the inner forestay.  In trade wind weather, it is essential to have a RIB with large tubes and a raised bow.  20-25 knot winds raise big wind waves in an anchorage and without large tubes you will get wet.  We originally had a 9ft Caribe, which was excellent, but the tubes perished and, because there was nothing else available in Tahiti, we bought a smaller tube dinghy.  It was a disaster and was quickly replaced by our AB when we arrived in New Zealand.  

Some cruisers make do with small dinghies and small outboards, but we love our two-stroke 15 hp Mariner, which zips us about in all conditions and will plane with the two of us with dive gear.  It's very stable and you feel like you are in a boat, not perched on top of a toy.  We often go out a mile to dive in unprotected waters.  If I was buying a new outboard I would buy a Yamaha Enduro 15hp (2-stroke).  Being the fisherman's favourite choice, Yamaha parts can be found in remote places all over the world

BIMINI.  We have a bimini that is always in place.  It was originally designed to fold away, but after various modifications it won't fold away anymore, so we leave it in place all the time.  It's a bit flimsy and is held in place by four 5mm ropes.  However, it has survived many 40 knot gales.  Originally the Bimini was made from Royal Blue Sunbrella, but we found that on really hot days the dark colour absorbs heat and radiates it down into the cockpit, so we changed to a very light grey material which is better, but gets dirty quickly. The original Bimini had a clear plastic window above the steering wheel to allow the helmsman to easily see the shape of the main sail.  This was a waste of time - the window crazed in the sunlight and who ever stands behind the wheel?  

We have a set of panels that we zip onto the sides and the back to give us protection from the sun and the rain, both at anchor and at sea.  When at anchor, we always attach our Uber-scoop, which is a large piece of sunbrella that zips onto the back of the bimini and stretches to clips on the aft coach-roof.  This give the aft cabin hatch protection from rain and more importantly, funnels air down through the hatch into the aft cabin.

BOOM AWNING.  When it gets really hot and sunny, the single layer of material on the Bimini is inadequate - the Bimini radiates heat down into the cockpit.  We made a huge awning out of white sunbrella, which is draped over the full length of the boom.  It is tied around the mast at the front and to the aft end of the boom and held down by pieces of 3mm cord tied to the guard rails.  It makes a significant difference to the temperature in the cockpit and down below.

AFT CABIN.  Our boat has two berths with a seat in between.  We modified the woodwork, so that we can insert a filler piece that turns the two beds into one huge king sized bed.

ELECTRIC FANS.  When living in the tropics you need fans.  We have six fans mounted on the walls and two fans that are on movable stands.  We even sometimes use the fans when we're sitting in the cockpit when there's no wind. The best fans that we have found are Caframo Ultimate Cabin Fan - they generate way more breeze than the Hella Turbo Fan.

GROUND TACKLE.  We have a 25kg ROCNA and I wouldn't have anything else.  We cruised for four years on Glencora and three years on Alba with a 60lb CQR.  It was okay, but required skill and coaxing in many situations.  Most times the Rocna slams in.  The only time we have problems is where the sea bed is soft mud, so we straighten out the chain in tick-over and then leave the anchor to "settle" for half an hour before digging it in properly (at 2,000 rpm in reverse).  I had to have the pulpit modified slightly, so that the large hoop on the anchor was clear of the pulpit. (Perhaps the newer Rocna Vulcan would fit without modification.)

We have 60 metres of 3/8" chain onto which I have spliced 40 metres of 8 braid nylon rope. This is fine for depths up to 20 metres - 3:1 scope is okay when the water is 20 metres deep.  At shallower depths, I always try to use 5:1 scope.  When the water is deeper than 20 metres, we use the rope as well, but I don't sleep soundly.  The anchor locker is almost full with this chain.  If I buy new chain, then I will probably buy 80 metres of 5/16" high tensile chain, which will give a bit more latitude in deeper anchorages.