Cruising World - - On Watch - Fatty and Carolyn plan to weather hur­ri­cane sea­son in Gre­nada this year.

Grow­ing up aboard the 1924 wooden schooner Eliz­a­beth in the 1950s was a trip: We had can­vas sails of Egyp­tian cot­ton, a tarred manila an­chor rode, a me­chan­i­cal wind­lass, a well-swung com­pass, a cal­i­brated chronome­ter, a cher­ished sex­tant and kerosene run­ning lights. I’ll never for­get the time my fa­ther brought me on a tour of one of the sailboats he was de­liv­er­ing to South Amer­ica and pointed out that it had two switch­able bat­ter­ies! Why in hell any­one would want two bat­ter­ies aboard a sail­boat was be­yond us.

I write this more than 50 years later, on a boat with 126-volt tro­jant-105 bat­ter­ies in my bilge. I used to carry a rig­ging knife with a mar­line­spike on my belt. Now I can whip out my dig­i­tal mul­ti­me­ter from the same lo­ca­tion. Yes, I’ve seen some changes, a very mixed bag of changes. And dur­ing the wit­ness­ing, I’ve come to re­al­ize that progress is a dou­ble-edged sword.

Let’s glance at on­board wa­ter­mak­ers, for ex­am­ple. When Carolyn and I started cruis­ing off­shore in the late 1960s, these were un­heard of aboard a small sail­ing ves­sel. Then, as the units grew more com­mon and de­pend­able, they seemed only a plus. But as soon as your av­er­age cir­cum­nav­i­gat­ing craft possessed one, your av­er­age ma­rina stopped us­ing wa­ter

as a way to lure you to its fuel dock. Thus, many shore­side fa­cil­i­ties that had clean fresh wa­ter for boats sim­ply stopped pro­vid­ing it, and at the same time, those few that kept the flow go­ing re­al­ized they now had an in­creas­ingly rare and pre­cious com­mod­ity, and started charg­ing ac­cord­ingly. A few even be­gan charg­ing, by the quar­ter-hour, a dock­age fee while you took on wa­ter.

Sud­denly fresh wa­ter was hard to find for the cruis­ing ves­sel. It’s ironic that the wide­spread use of wa­ter­mak­ers caused the de­vices to come into wider use!

Let’s stay with the wa­ter­mak­ers for il­lus­tra­tive pur­poses a mo­ment longer.

About 15 to 20 years ago, wa­ter­mak­ers re­ally came into their own by dra­mat­i­cally de­creas­ing in size and in­creas­ing in de­pend­abil­ity. Still, these early ro­bust de­sali­na­tors owned you as much as you owned them. I started hear­ing peo­ple say, “Oh, I can’t. I have a wa­ter­maker,” mean­ing they didn’t want to pickle their unit to avoid prob­lems, so they didn’t want to go up a river, into a cer­tain bay or to a dock be­cause of the bad wa­ter qual­ity. Thus, a me­chan­i­cal de­vice pur­chased to free you from the land sharks started to com­pro­mise and limit your cruis­ing itin­er­ary. Strange!

At the same time, some mari­nas sim­ply said, “Our wa­ter is for our cus­tomers.” That meant you now had to overnight at the ma­rina if you wanted wa­ter, and overnight­ing can be very ex­pen­sive com­pared to a weekly or monthly charge. Thus, the tran­sient cruiser had bet­ter bring a pock­et­ful of gold if he wants a glass of semi­clear wa­ter. (At the pricey Bali Ma­rina, the fresh wa­ter comes out with clumps of sea­weed and wig­gling worms, and has the faint odor and sheen of sul­furous gaso­line.)

Pocket cruis­ers fare the worst. They are too small to have wa­ter­mak­ers, and their crews of­ten can’t af­ford them. But alas, many mari­nas that de­sire to at­tract the prof­itable megay­achts now have adopted a pol­icy that states, “Sure, small boats are wel­come — with a min­i­mum charge of 45 feet.” Yikes!

And then there’s the case of mod­ern cruis­ers who have spent their life­time earn­ing enough to af­ford their ves­sel, and who aren’t as me­chan­i­cally in­clined as their fore­fa­thers were. Thus, sim­plic­ity of use has be­come a real sell­ing point. Highly de­pend­able wa­ter­mak­ers started mar­ket­ing set-it-and-for­get-it back-flush­ing units — and rapidly be­came so com­pli­cated that you can barely find the wa­ter­maker buried in the electronics. So what we now have are sailors cir­cum­nav­i­gat­ing aboard small-tank­age ves­sels that have fresh­wa­ter wash­down pumps and even fresh­wa­ter heads!

I’m of­ten asked a sim­ple ques­tion: “Should I buy a wa­ter­maker be­fore cross­ing the Pa­cific?” My long and ram­bling an­swer sel­dom sat­is­fies. The con­densed ver­sion is this: Yes, buy a sim­ple one, if you can af­ford it, but if you can’t, go any­way. I’ve cir­cum­nav­i­gated twice with­out one and once with. It’s a mixed bag.

Now here are a few more co­nun­drums to con­sider.

I per­son­ally hate bow thrusters — two po­ten­tially deadly holes in the hull, a gi­ant in­crease in drag, lots of weight for­ward that in­creases hob­by­hors­ing and a mil­lion com­pli­cated seals to leak. But mari­nas are shrink­ing as bow thrusters come into wide­spread use. I’ve re­cently been as­signed slips that were im­pos­si­ble to get into with­out one. Un­for­tu­nately,

Ganesh, our 43-foot, 30,000-pound Wauquiez ketch re­quires a foot­ball field to turn around.

We used to oc­ca­sion­ally see cou­ples in their 80s cruis­ing off­shore in very ba­sic ves­sels. We mar­veled at their abil­ity to crank their sheet winches at such an ad­vanced age. Now we see older cou­ples off­shore with elec­tric sheet winches. They get so lit­tle ex­er­cise it is dif­fi­cult for them to fend off an­other ves­sel as they drag through the har­bor.

While I’m in fa­vor of hav­ing free email aboard via ham ra­dio (and in­ex­pen­sive email via Sail­mail), I have no de­sire to have an In­ter­net con­nec­tion while off­shore. Many cruis­ers end up spend­ing as much money to surf the In­ter­net at sea as fru­gal sailors do on their en­tire cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion.

Each to his own, I guess. Sure, I love our sin­gle-side­band ra­dio and Pac­tor dig­i­tal mo­dem be­cause they al­low me to talk to all the boats around me, but I have no use for a satel­lite phone that ex­pen­sively

pre­vents me from do­ing ex­actly that.

Se­cu­rity off­shore is an is­sue, es­pe­cially be­cause we’ve re­peat­edly crossed the Sulu Sea, Malacca Straits and South China Sea, as well as cruised the Gulf of Aden off So­ma­lia.

One cruiser I know wanted to be sure he was well-armed be­fore head­ing out across the dreaded In­dian Ocean. Thus he at­tempted to pur­chase an AK-47 in Thai­land, a crim­i­nal act for which he went to jail for five years. (Yes, se­cu­rity against So­mali pi­rates was ex­cel­lent in the Big House.)

One of the ques­tions I ask my­self when pur­chas­ing an ex­pen­sive marine item (ac­tu­ally, dur­ing any ma­jor life de­ci­sion) is: Does this make me more free or less free? Ba­si­cally, I want a sim­ple and ro­bust boat that is ca­pa­ble of go­ing to sea at a mo­ment’s no­tice. The prob­lem is that the con­cept of sim­ple varies from one in­di­vid­ual to the next. For in­stance, I never want a boat with air con­di­tion­ing or a gen­er­a­tor, yet I have many dear friends here in the trop­ics who would not con­sider liv­ing aboard with­out both.

Air-con­di­tioned boats, of course, spend 99 per­cent of their time in mari­nas, with their tem­per­a­ture-sen­si­tive own­ers held pris­oner in­side in morgue-like con­di­tions. Many of them don’t even know their nextboat neigh­bor, whom they sel­dom meet in pass­ing. Only oc­ca­sion­ally do they leave the dock and go an­chor out. And even then, they sit in­doors, hid­ing in­side and pol­lut­ing the an­chor­age with diesel fumes and en­gine noise. In­ter­ested? Not me. Con­trast this with a non-air­con­di­tioned sail­boat. My wife, Carolyn, and I eat the vast ma­jor­ity of our meals out­side in the cock­pit, in full view of our many cruis­ing friends with whom we are con­stantly in­ter­act­ing. Peo­ple pass­ing in dinghies stop by to chat. Our seven silent so­lar cells pro­vide all our re­new­able en­ergy. We don’t give off any noise or pol­lu­tion — only self-sus­tain­ing and non­pol­lut­ing good vibes.

One of the coolest (sorry for the pun) as­pects of liv­ing aboard (air-con­di­tioned or not) is that there is no right way to do it. We have won­der­ful friends on en­gine­less 24-foot sail­ing ves­sels and just as won­der­ful friends on 74-foot Deer­foots with all the con­ve­niences.

My pur­pose here isn’t to claim my way is the right way, but rather that all ways have ad­van­tages and dis­ad­van­tages.

For ex­am­ple, my wife, daugh­ter and I lived aboard Wild Card, a Hughes 38, from 1989 to 1995 with­out an en­gine. We cruised the en­tire Caribbean, in­clud­ing north­ern South Amer­ica, with­out a prob­lem. How­ever, af­ter in­stalling a Perkins M30 diesel, we found our cruis­ing life vastly im­proved. True, hav­ing no en­gine freed us of the ex­pense and time of diesel main­te­nance, but it came at the added in­con­ve­nience of mak­ing many har­bors off-lim­its to us. In essence, we didn’t need an en­gine to move our ves­sel over vast dis­tances off­shore, only to fully en­joy the har­bors within sight of us.

For us, hav­ing an en­gine was more of a life­style choice than a nav­i­ga­tional one. Ditto for our dinghy propul­sion. On

Eliz­a­beth, Car­lotta and Co­rina, the first three cruis­ing boats I was in­volved with, I rowed our ten­der. How­ever, as our fam­ily grew, I aged and our abil­ity to an­chor cheaply pushed us to more chal­leng­ing lo­ca­tions in more re­mote ar­eas, the dis­tances to shore be­came too great. We used a 2 or 5 hp en­gine dur­ing all our cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tions. The mo­tors were small enough to be eas­ily lifted and yet pow­er­ful enough to push a loaded dinghy against a ma­jor squall.

While liv­ing aboard in the Vir­gin Is­lands, our dinghy acts as our car. Just re­cently, I pur­chased a 10 hp To­hatsu so Carolyn and I can plane off be­tween St. John, St. Thomas, Jost Van Dyke and Tor­tola. This saves us vast amounts of time and money, and has no draw­back in terms of weight be­cause we rarely re­move the en­gine from the ten­der. In spring 2018, when we leave on cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion num­ber four, we will prob­a­bly trade it in for a 5 hp Yamaha.

Each form of power was the right choice at the time: rowing when I was young and the dis­tances were short, a small out­board while ac­tively cruis­ing and a slightly larger, more pow­er­ful model for liv­ing aboard and in­ter­is­land trans­port.

Of course, all my dinghies have been set up to be eas­ily brought aboard, ever since my fa­ther told me to “tow any dinghy you don’t mind los­ing.”

The bot­tom line is that the cruis­ing life­style is in­fin­itely cus­tom­iz­a­ble, but ev­ery­thing is a com­pro­mise and in­ter­re­lated. Fig­ur­ing out your own right an­swers is part of the fun.

The more so­lar pan­els Fatty in­stalls (there are seven aboard Ganesh and count­ing), the more electronic giz­mos he can bring aboard. But as the gad­gets mul­ti­ply, he’ll soon be in the mar­ket for more power cells.

With six ra­dios, in­clud­ing two sin­gle-side­bands, and three FCC li­censes aboard, Fatty stays con­nected with other boats and friends near and far.

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