I was recently asked by a friend who's preparing to cruise what equipment and supplies we had found useful and what we would leave behind now that we've been cruising for 6 months. I decided to do a post on that because I thought some other people might also want to know, so here goes. Warning: it's a long post. If you don't feel like wading through it all at once, there's a link in the sidebar so you can refer back to it. Most of the items we have reviewed before, and I've linked to the reviews, the rest I just linked to amazon or a similar site for reference. I have no association with, or benefit from, any of the vendors.
Best of Show
Without any question, the best thing we decided to do was to use our iPads for primary navigation. We have two of the 3G gen 2 models, both of which are loaded with Garmin Bluechart and Navionics. You have to have the 3G model, because that's the only one that has a standalone GPS in it. The Navionics has worked well in the States, but you need the Garmin here in the Bahamas because the Explorer charts are much more accurate here. Navionics does ok in the Abacos, but the farther south you go the worse it gets, so I'm told, although we don't have personal experience with that.
There are certain things we like about Navionics, and certain things we like about Garmin so we tend to keep them both loaded and compare back and forth while sailing. The Navionics tracking is better and can integrate with Google Earth so we can post it on this blog. It has a projected course line option which we can't seem to find in Garmin so we assume it's not there, although if anyone knows how to get it on there please speak up. It also has a better measuring function to measure the distance to a destination and a better route plan. The one thing it does badly is to keep a track over midnight. There is a bug in the software and they are aware of it and are fixing it but it will be a while till they release the fix.
The Garmin charts seem to be more up to date and as a result the depths and obstructions seem more accurate. In addition, it integrates with Active Captain when you're offline, so we can see all the information that provides which is extremely valuable. We use Active Captain all the time for bridge info, anchorage info, tides and currents. One really irritating thing about Garmin is that if you have the measuring pins on the screen you can't use any of the Active Captain data. The pins lock the screen. We keep one iPad in the cockpit and the other one on the 12V charger so that it's ready if we need it. The batteries in the iPads last a very long time. We have done a 14 hour day, checking the charts periodically, and have not come close to running out of charge on them.
First Place goes to the communication headsets we bought, the Simultalk24G. I've done a review on these on our review tab, but I'll highlight here. Having headsets on board our boat has been one of the best decisions we made. Since installing the dodger, and with the dinghy on our foredeck, I can't see or hear Tim at all while anchoring. If we were to use hand signals, he would have to stand up between each signal in order for me to see him. With the headsets, we can have a casual conversation about anchoring sites, how far I need to steer the boat and in what direction, when to go into and out of gear and how much power, when to stop the boat, and when to back on the anchor and how much. Anchoring is a calm, professional accomplishment. We wear them while docking and I am able to tell Tim how far he is from the dock, if there's any obstructions, how he's doing with the wind, etc. And picking up a mooring? A non-event. We can pull right up to it and he can hold it there while I secure the painter because I'm able to walk him right to it, all in conversational tones. We've also used them when navigating down the ICW in heavy fog, with me on the foredeck and him at the helm. That strategy saved us a serious accident once where a fishing boat was anchored right in the middle of the temporary channel.
There are things I don't like about the particular headsets we chose. The actual headset piece is awkward and a bit uncomfortable and the base unit tends to fall off of your waistband at the most inconvenient times. I bought them because cruisers were complaining about the aviation style “marriage saver” headsets because the antenna was getting stuck on the forestay and getting knocked into the drink. In addition, the Simultalk units were a fraction of the price, are lightweight, and still allow you to hear your surrounding noise. They work well even in high winds, due to a sturdy foam mouthpiece. The ports do need to be sprayed with contact cleaner periodically because of the salt air, but we haven't had any other issues with corrosion. We keep them in a ziploc bag when we're not using them. As of now the company doesn't have a 12V charger for them so we have to remember to plug them in when we're running the generator, but it's a minor issue.
The things we've found to be highly useful so far in general:
Spotlights. We have 2 on board, a Black and Decker pistol grip one that goes to 700 feet and can recharge on 12V or 110, and a Stanley pistol grip one that floats that goes to 350 feet. They both serve their different purposes. The Stanley one ends up in the dinghy most of the time since it's waterproof and floats. Some kind of spotlight is a must have.
Handheld VHF. We have an Icom IC-M24 that is waterproof and floats. It's very convenient to have a base VHF radio to keep on 16 and the handheld to use for bridges. We also use it if one of us is going to shore and the other is staying on the boat. We leave the base VHF on 69 or some other working channel and then if the person on shore needs to contact we have a mean of doing it in places where there is often not cell service.
VHF base unit with DSC and AIS. This is a given so I almost didn't list it. We have a Standard Horizon GX2150 that we bought at the boat show in October. The AIS is mostly useful when we're doing overnight passages to contact cruise ships and cargo ships to make sure they see us. We don't have a transmitting AIS, only receiving, so we set the alarm for whatever distance we're comfortable with and then call the ship directly on the VHF. We also have a Ram3 remote mic in the cockpit that has the AIS display on it so we don't have to go below in a seaway.
Delorme InReach. We thought long and hard about whether we wanted a Spot or the Delorme InReach and decided on the InReach because of several reasons. First of all, it has 2-way texting so it's an emergency contact for us in the even that we're offshore beyond cell service. We don't have an SSB or a satellite phone so the InReach works well for us. It has the same tracking and message capability that the Spot has at an affordable subscription plan. It also has a screen on it so you can use it standalone, or it pairs with your smartphone via Bluetooth so you can type texts on your phone screen.
Binoculars. We have a very nice set of Bushnell 10X50 that were gifted to us. It doesn't much matter what brand you have but they must we able to stand the motion of the boat and still focus, and be easily adjusted to your vision, as well as shock protected for the inevitable drop they will take. We use them constantly. We use them for marker spotting, for bridge openings, for wildlife spotting, for anchorage locating, for looking at boat names. They have a permanent place in the cockpit.
Dry Bags. We have an Attwood dry bag and like it well, but if I was going to do it again I would get one that has the backpack straps, not the shoulder strap like ours. I don't think the brand matters much. They all seem to do the same thing. Everything in a dinghy gets wet so you need some sort of protection for computers, wallets, phones, etc.
iPad Silicone Skins. I bought the iottie waterproof skins just as an experiment because they were cheap and we just simply couldn't afford 2 life cases right now. These skins are amazing. They fit like a tight glove and then have a reusable tape that closes it. There's a moisture sensitive sticker that goes on the back of your iPad to let you know if it's leaking. Supposedly you can actually take these underwater but it's not something I'm willing to try. We just use them to protect the iPads from water and rain in the cockpit. They're also slightly sticky on surfaces so the iPads don't slide. Can't beat them for the money. A package has 2 skins, 4 tapes, and 4 leak detectors.
Waterproof boxes. We have the Outdoor Products plastic waterproof boxes to put cameras, phones, prescriptions, etc., in. They work well enough that I've put my camera inside with the video running and lowered it into the water to take underwater videos. I can't afford an underwater camera at the moment so this has worked well. They're also great for carrying things in the dinghy.
Collapsible tub. I have a collapsible tub that I originally bought for the galley but it has taken up residence in the head as our wash tub. Great for baths, for washing clothes, or anything else that requires a good plastic tub. The great thing about this tub is that it collapses into about 2”. I will be buying a second one of these for the galley because I've found that we can extend our water tanks by several days if we use the rinse water to flush the toilets. We already use the head gray water from the sink to flush, but the galley uses way more.
Collapsible galley stuff. They make a bunch of it and I will be buying tons more. I have a set of collapsible silicone funnels, half of which are in the galley and the rest in the tool bin. They collapse to about 3/4” thick and you can cut the ends if you need a bigger hole on one. They don't rust and they store easy. I also have a collapsible colander that's rectangle and has sliding arms on it that allow me to rest it across my sink. Great for washing and draining vegetables and fruit. I also have a collapsible silicone drip coffee maker that is wonderfully useful. Tim drinks regular and I drink decaf so it's much more efficient for us. Washes easily, stores compactly, and doesn't rust.
Silicone bakeware. I only have one piece so far, a 12-cup muffin tin but I love it so much that I'll be buying more. The muffin tin in particular is a wise use of silicone because you can fold it into the sink to wash it and fold it into the small dish drainer to dry. I also fold it into the cupboard so it stores better. I didn't buy more because I had never used it before and was wary. It browns just as well as steel, doesn't stick as much, and washes easy.
½ Gallon Teakettle. I gave my teakettle to my daughter and bought a smaller, ½ gallon variety that would fit on the boat better. Teakettles are great on a boat because they heat the water without steaming into the boat. Humidity and condensation being the problem that they are on a boat, it's important to try to keep as much steam out of the boat as possible. This is why so many people use pressure cookers on board, although I haven't gotten there yet. We also use the teakettle to heat water for our tub baths in our collapsible tub. We used to heat our water heater every day with the generator and then realized it was wasting an incredible amount of both power and water since we rarely used more than 3 gallons between us and it took most of a gallon to get the hot water from the heater to the head.
White men's tube socks. Yes, tube socks. They are the best for protecting wine and liquor bottles in cabinets. Just slip one over each bottle and stack them in a cupboard. They also work for any glass jars you might have in the pantry or real glass glasses that you might have brought on board.
Large Ziplocs. We have an assortment of Ziplocs on board. I know they're not politically correct, and you have to be very careful to dispose of them properly, but they are imminently useful on a sailboat. We have the vacuum ones to keep linens and pillows and winter clothes and shoes in. We also keep our automatic pfds in one when at anchor for long periods. We use the gallon size for keeping extra flour in and books, and bread and cookies...the quart ones we use for transporting our wallets and phones back and forth to shore and for laundry quarters and...well you get the idea. We have lots of Ziplocs on board.
At-a-glance Logbook. We were turned onto this idea by a friend. The one we use is an 8.5x11 spiral bound At-a-glance brand professional appointments book. It has tabbed sections for each month and in each section it has a month at a glance, and daily columns divided hourly. At the back is a planning section divided by month which we use for our water, diesel, gasoline, and pumpout logs. We love this as a log book. It's so easy to keep and so easy to go back and find things so we tend to use it regularly.
Microfiber cloths. I bought 2 of the really large packs of these at Costco before we left. They are fantastic! We use some for the shop, for cleaning stainless, for cleaning floors, for waxing the boat. Some I keep clean for galley and head use. It's good if you can get two colors so you can color code them and not cross the head ones with the galley ones. They hand wash easily, don't stain much, and dry fast.
Rolly Cart. Again, I don't think it much matters what brand you use on this one. We are using an old luggage cart that folds flat. I see a lot of people with the ones from West Marine with the milk crate style box on it, but I don't think they would work for us because we often tote larger, oddly shaped items on ours like a 5 gallon gas can or bags of laundry. We use ours when grocery shopping all the time. We'll certainly be replacing ours this summer with something a bit more sturdy, but we're not sure what yet.
Keen sandals. We love the waterproof models of the Keens. They are comfortable and don't mold and have good grips for the deck as well as hard toes. We have a shoes on deck rule on this boat because, while it might not seem like a big injury, a broken toe reduces our sailing crew to 1, and there are many things on this boat on which to break a toe.
Parchment paper. I use this all the time in the galley. I never carry less than 2 rolls of it. I use it on my cookie sheet which allows me to have only one sheet and to change out the batches of cookies easily by sliding the paper off to the cooling rack and then sliding the next one on. Also keeps the cookies from burning on the bottom. I also use it to make pizza on. I get the dough ready on the paper and then slide the paper onto my pizza stone.
Seal-tite locking storage containers. I bought these from Aldi on one of their weekly specials. They come in three nesting sizes with 4 locking tabs on the lid and happen to fit my pantry perfectly. They are completely waterproof and I have never had bugs in anything stored in one. I keep all my pasta, sugar, pancake mix, etc. in these. Sadly I don't see them offered anywhere else although I hear the Lock-n-lock work about the same.
Cast Iron Grill Pan. We don't have a barbeque grill on the back of our boat. Anyone who has seen our boat in person understands why. The stern is too narrow and is already cluttered up with the bimini mounts, the outboard engine mount for the dinghy outboard, and the wind vane. As a result we bought a cast iron grilling skillet with the ridges in the bottom and the ridged press. You preheat it on the stove and when it's good and hot you add your oiled meat. For some meats like bacon, you preheat the press lid with the bottom, and then put the meat between the two. It cooks meat just as well as a BBQ and we don't have to worry about an additional propane source or plumbing. The only difficult thing about it, other than it's extremely heavy, is that you have to have a dedicated brush to clean it that will get between the grooves, although I have used balled up foil with great success.
Recipes. We live in a digital world, used to grabbing our smartphones to look up the latest Cooking Illustrated or Food Network recipe for something. But, on a boat, you often just don't have connectivity and paper copies of your favorites are essential and a comprehensive general cookbook is a good idea.
Things I bought that we either didn't like, didn't find useful, or broke:
To be truthful, we haven't had many things that we brought that we feel we shouldn't have, but here's the list.
We bought a used SSB from a friend that we'll never install and will be selling, just in case you know someone that wants one. Don't get me wrong, it's a very high quality ICOM unit and we got a very fair price for it, but we just don't have the time, space, money, or energy to install it. It would be very costly and disrupt large parts of the boat, and we just don't need it. We intend to buy a small, portable shortwave radio from an electronics store so we can listen to Chris Parker and download weather faxes with the new HFWeatherFax app on the iPad.
We bought a built-in stereo unit that has a receiver with outlets for USB and iPods and so forth and 2 speakers. We find that we listen to Pandora while in the States and to our music on our iPads when not, so we will never install this stereo. It's still brand new in the box and it's for sale. We will be replacing it with a good set of bluetooth speakers fror the iPads. Any takers?
I bought one of those waterproof pouches on a lanyard that you put your smartphone in and put it around your neck for the dinghy ride. I can't even remember what brand it was, but the zipper pulled away from the side the very first time I used it so it went in the trash. Ziplocs work better and are cheaper.
We bought a spinnaker for the boat early on before we had much experience sailing it and we will never use it. This boat is very tender due to the tall rig being matched to the shoal draft (whose idea was that???) so it is very easily over canvassed. It's also incredibly difficult and not very safe to do a sail change on the crowded, narrow deck of this boat. Our 130° genoa is adequate to get the boat sailing 7 knots downwind. The same goes for the reacher we have stored down below. This boat came with 7 sails and we will be leaving most of them behind next year.
I gave away a lot of the metal baking pans I brought. I use my silicone muffin tin, a 9x13, a 9x9, a loaf pan, a cookie sheet, and I have a set of stacking cooling racks. Everthing else I gave away.
We bought an electric fly swatter at Harbour Freight and it doesn't work very well on anything but large swarms of noseeums. I know people who swear by the things, but you have to actually trap a fly or wasp against it long enough to kill it. I think it's a waste of space.
Things we wish we had bought but either didn't have the money or the time to install them:
Solar panels. High on the list of things to buy once we sell the house. We'll be buying the semi-flexible ones that I can sew into our canvas
Wifi extender. This will be on the list for the summer.
Dinghy bridle for towing. Saw one in Oriental, NC at the Inland Provision Company and should have bought it. There are many times when we are going just a few miles and would like to tow the dink and it would be good to have to attach the dink to the boat at night.
I'm sure the minute I hit Publish I'll think of something else. If I do, I'll add it to the comment section. Enjoy!