F A Qs
People often contact us with questions about our cruising life, Ocelot, and the reasons for the decisions we've made. We enjoy answering these, so please don't feel shy about asking interesting questions. We can't guarantee that our answers will be worth much more than what you're paying for them but we'll do our best. We've now had enough of these questions that we've decided to publish some of them, as we're sure other folks are interested as well. Thanks to all of you who've helped by asking these questions already. Hopefully, these will lead to even more questions!
|Why did you go cruising?|
|How will I know if the family will like cruising?|
|When is a good time to go cruising with kids?|
|Aren't you afraid to risk your family out cruising?|
|Why did you buy the Kronos?|
|How important is bridge-deck clearance?|
|How important is Ocelot's sailing performance?|
|What do you think of Fontaine Pajot catamarans?|
|What do you think of the Privilege Catamarans?|
|What company do you use for yacht insurance?|
|How difficult is it working on your own boat?|
|How do you handle your land based life?|
|What kind of long-distance radio do you recommend?|
|What Satellite Phone system do you use?|
|Are radars really necessary?|
|What Solar Panels do you use?|
|What Solar (Photovoltaic) Controller do you use?|
|What kind of Wind-Charger do you use?|
|What kind of watermaker do you recommend?|
|How big a dinghy do you recommend?|
|What kind of electronic charts do you use?|
|Do many cruisers try to work while cruising?|
Why go cruising?
One thing all potential cruisers should decide is why you want to go cruising. This is usually different for everyone, so it's a question each of us needs to answer individually. We like a nice sail as much as the next person, but that's not why we're out here. We want to experience the different cultures, peoples, values, and thought processes, without time-limits or having to pay hotel rates. We want to show the kids that the American way is not the only way, and sometimes not even the best way. We discovered early that we love traveling, and we wanted to expose our kids to those joys. We almost never take Ocelot out for "joy rides", even on nice sailing days (although we will get out the windsurfer and/or sailing dinghy). We've also met couples where the woman is just following her man, which seems so sad to us. We both enjoy cruising. One delightful bonus is that other cruisers tend to be both interesting, and very helpful and supportive of other cruisers (but you generally won't see this chartering, as charterers have their own support setups and are therefore outside the karmic circle).
If you decide you like the life, then there's the decision of what type of boat. Having crossed the Atlantic and done our bareboat chartering on monohulls, we decided we prefer multihulls. Jon actually prefers a trimaran, both for price and performance, but there are no production tris available and he doesn't feel confident evaluating a home-built boat. Perhaps if we knew a good boat-surveyor we'd feel differently, but we've seen too many idiots hanging out their surveyor shingles to trust them out of hand. If you decide you want a multi, we can (and would) recommend a good buyer-broker. We weren't planning to, but this is the route we eventually took, and it was a good decision. He won't cost you any money as he splits the commission with the selling broker, just like house brokers. We used Mr. Phillip Berman, president of the Multihull Company and can heartily recommend him (and no, he doesn't pay us anything to promote him, but if you see him, tell him we said "Hi"). His success has made his company grow and he's now more busy than he was with us, but if you mention our name he might give you more personal service.
How do I tell if my family will like cruising?
The easy way to check out how your family will take to cruising, of course, is to do some bareboat chartering, perhaps after taking some courses and sailing a bit on friends' boats. If you're buying your boat from a charter company, most will deduct the price of the charter from the sale of the boat. We found we were freer with money when chartering (we still had a jobs and income to return to) so it wasn't quite like cruising, but it's close. Actual cruising is somewhat closer to camping in a nice motor-home, as we're constantly practicing conservation of our limited resources, like electricity, water, and especially money. Having some good, low-management, investment income helps a lot. If you like adventure, travel, and feel at home on the water, cruising may be for you. We have found that people addicted to fashion, make-up, prestige, and "fitting in" are not likely to last long in the cruising life. We are a pretty independent, free-spirited, and free-thinking crowd. We have to be, because we're also a very international group. Boats from all over the world are out cruising - US, UK, France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Scandinavia, NZ, Australia, South Africa, you name it. We live basically outdoors, and mingle with people of all ethnic backgrounds. If someone's idea of roughing it is to not have room service, cruising is probably not for them.
When is a good time to go cruising with kids?
The decision of when to take kids cruising is always difficult, almost as hard as when to have kids in the first place. Most American cruisers seem to wait until the kids have left home, but we wanted to go cruising with our kids, before they left to start their own lives. We wanted ours to be old enough to remember it (say, ~8) so that's when we started traveling with them. We would suggest that the ideal window is when the kids are ~8-14, but we've seen older and younger. We got plugged into working and almost lost our "window of opportunity". Chris left to go to university after only 3 years and 12,000 miles. We had to make a re-prioritization of values and bail out of our comfortable working life before we were really ready. But as we like to say "Life is too uncertain - retire FIRST!"
Luckily, there are also a lot more families with kids out cruising than there were in the 1980s, which makes it much easier for all of us. We tend to follow other "kid boats" to a certain extent, because we, as parents, feel better when our kids are happy. Kids out here are a lot more open than back in the USA. They learn to make friends more quickly, and to be more accepting of others as well. Having email and SSB (and now, internet) on board has been a tremendous boon to our kids, as it allows them to maintain almost daily contact with their friends back in the US and on other boats. We've also noticed that cruising kids tend to be more mature and self assured. This is probably due to their increased responsibility (ours stand night watches all by themselves) and increased interaction with adults who've come to expect a higher level of responsibility and maturity.
Risks of Cruising
This question caught us aback and required some thought. We're not sure there's more risk out here than there is back in the US. It's just that it's different, and the devil you know is easier to deal with than one you don't. We can help answer questions, but this is an area each person will have to evaluate and answer for yourself. One thing is to become aware of your own limitations, which is the best way to deal with them. Nobody is born knowing the "art" of sailing. We all depend on experience as a teacher, and hope that our preparations make the lessons less harsh.
We do find that we stay up babysitting the boat (if the wind shifts) about once a year, and we'll admit to being concerned on some rough passages but it wasn't like we were going to die or anything. Ocelot can burn (which is why we have ~8 fire extinguishers) or lose the mast, or even flip (very unlikely), but she can't sink. The hull is thick and much lighter than water. Having experts check out all areas of the boat (engines, rigging, hull integrity, etc.), preparing for as many contingencies as possible, and preparing yourself personally is the best you can do. We have certainly learned from experience, and some of those lessons can be harsh, but they're unlikely to cost more than money and time. For instance, we once caught a line in our starboard prop. Before it broke, the rope repositioned the engine, tearing out all 3 engine mounts as well as the seal between the saildrive and the hull. OK, we said some bad words and spent some time up to our elbows in oily water in the engine room before we got things under control. Then we had to order in some parts and sail up to the Vava'u Group in Tonga to haul, but until then we continued cruising and having fun (thank goodness for a second engine). All cruisers have similar stories, usually several.
For us, the evils that kids are exposed to at school (drugs, peer pressure, sex, etc.) are much worse than anything out here, and the benefits of this life are wonderful. To be able to show our children this beautiful world, these people, their cultures and values. To be with our kids at this important point in their lives, when most parents (especially fathers) are working much too hard and not really a part of their kids lives. The risk/benefit ratio is one we're willing to accept, but we can't make that decision for others. If you're concerned, experience will help. Try some chartering, getting your own boat and taking some local trips. Take some Power Squadron courses. This will help you learn to handle a boat. Good luck!
Why did you buy the Kronos
Our primary requirements were: 4 cabins, galley up, centralized steering, and the ability to claw off a lee shore under sail alone. We also wanted good ventilation, nice accommodations, and windows that didn't look right at the tropical sun. France builds the vast majority of production cats these days, followed by South Africa, England, and some others. Unfortunately, most of these have dual steering stations out near the back of the boat, or the galley (kitchen) down one of the hulls, or huge windows looking right at the sun. We were not really prepared to back down on these requirements, to the occasional frustration of our wonderful yacht broker, Phillip Berman, president of the Multihull Company. We don't want our family out near a far corner of the boat when they're on night watch. We want them as close to the center of the boat as possible, so that's where we want the helm. It might be harder to see the sails from this position, but it's much easier to see all corners of the boat, and much safer as well. As for the galley up, we do a fair amount of entertaining, and the cooks like to be part of the fun. Our big pass-through window to the cockpit lets them join in no matter where the party is. As far as large windows looking right at the tropical sun, this is a problem with many of the cats we've seen. You can cover the windows with cloth, but then why have them at all? We much prefer our cool, vertical windows with good louvers that allow us to see out without letting the heat in.
Our final decision was based on many factors (of course) and like all boats, there were compromises in many places. The 2 main problems with the Kronos are related - while she's stronger than many cats, she's also heavier than some 45' cats, and she could have higher bridge-deck clearance. Since these are issues for ALL cats, it's really a matter of how important they are to you. Even big Utremere and Catana cats with 1m clearance pound going into big waves. All loaded up and ready to cruise with fuel, water, tools, spares, and the junk that 2 adults and 2 teens want, we weigh in at almost 15 tons. Most cats say they're much lighter than this, but remember that most specs lie - for instance, our "spec" said 7.5 tons. Also, there were several things that we modified on Ocelot to turn her from a charter boat into a cruising boat. See our modifications page for more on this.
Other "strengths" depend largely on what's important to you. We love the layout, interior and exterior. The rig and mast are very robust, using rod rigging on the diamonds and expensive 14mm (~5/16") Dyform rigging wire for the stays and shrouds. The whole boat has an aura of strength that gives us security. The woodwork is superb - a source of pride and joy to show off (note that earlier Kronos' had Canadian Maple interiors, but they apparently changed to teak with later models). The hull and decks are generally very strong and virtually all sandwich construction - Contourkote and balsa on deck, and foam in the hulls. It's all a bit over-designed. There are fixed keels that the boat can sit on out of the water. They seem much stronger than others we've seen - no buckling at all, even when sitting on only 4x4s.
Bridge-deck clearance is often talked about, and has different importance to different folks. The problem is to balance standing headroom, windage, and bridge-deck clearance, all of which affect the others. If you want 6'4" (1.9m) standing headroom in the salon and 5' (1.5m) clearance off the water in a 45' boat, you'll find that you're sailing a barge with too much windage to sail to weather effectively. We need a boat that can claw off a lee shore in 40 knots of wind without engines. Ocelot is perhaps a bit lower than we'd like (about 2' or .7m) but it really doesn't affect us much. Unfortunately, we haven't sailed enough other cats upwind to compare them. We do slam a bit when going to windward in a stiff chop, but we don't do that often. In 15 years of cruising, we've probably only spent ~5 nights going to weather in seas that caused pounding. Downwind usually isn't a problem, and that's the vast majority of our sailing. We have big wave-breakers, like 4"x4" (10cm) stringers, under the bridge-deck, which probably helps a lot. Then again, other cats with much higher bridge-decks also complain about slamming. Friends on a huge (and high) 63' (20m) aluminum cat managed to break off 3 of their stringers, but that was probably due to poor welds. We suspect that all cats slam to a certain extent, some just more than others. Even big Catana and Utremere cats with gobs of clearance complain of slamming. But we have several friends cruising on small cats with bridge-decks so low they arguably qualify as trimarans.
Ocelot is fast enough for us, but she's no race boat. She's our home, and we selected her more for comfort, safety, and strength than speed, as we spend a lot more time at anchor than sailing. Having said that, off the wind we usually average about half the apparent wind speed (more if we can fly the screecher). Upwind, she shoulders along just fine, making 7-8 knots into 20 knots of wind. These numbers are comparable with a good monohull, and perhaps a bit better than most 45' cruising monohulls (which also tend to be a bit overloaded). The GPS says that our maximum speed was 23.5 knots, surfing north of Columbia in 40 knots of wind and 20' seas with only a scrap of jib out. Off Venezuela we left the Los Testigos islands in 25 knots of wind, in company with ~6 other boats and ended up winning the "race" that develops whenever sailing boats are heading in about the same direction at about the same time. This included keeping off a Catana 41' which surprised us as they have a reputation as fast (if not so strong) boats.
Fontaine Pajot Cats
There are lots of Fontaine Pajot's cruising, in several different sizes, and they actually met many of our required specifications. They tend towards more fiberglass interiors rather than wood. This makes them lighter, cheaper, and easier to clean and maintain, but perhaps not so ... yachty. I was also told that they are built more like Fords, whereas the Wauquiez's are more like Mercedes (weight, quality and all) but we haven't verified this. The main reason we had to pass on Fontaine Pajot's is that Sue, at 6' tall, didn't fit in the galley, which on most models is situated towards the front of the salon area, and therefore has less headroom.
Privileges are reputed to be good, strong boats, and we almost bought one in Florida. They're well built and about the same weight as the Kronos. Unfortunately, they didn't quite fit what we were looking for, mostly for personal preference reasons. For instance, the salon is pretty small (you walk 2-3 feet into it and you have to sit down) so there's little room to walk around inside when it's raining outside. The salon windows look right at the hot, tropical sun. Also, the Privilege galley is usually down the port hull, which was a big point for us as we wanted the galley up. Again, this is a personal preference issue, as many cooks prefer not to be seen when they're creating.
We like to sail insured. We may be in the minority of cruisers, but Ocelot represents a fair percentage of our net worth. Unfortunately, to most cruisers, most insurance people seem to resemble Denebian Slime-Devils, above the amoeba on the evolutionary scale, but below, say, the cherry-stone clam. Our previous insurance brokers (Offshore Risk Management) got us cheap coverage (1.67%) but once allowed our underwriters to cancel our coverage because forms were not filed in time - forms that we'd already sent to Offshore, but that they had lost. These people do little else besides managing paper, but they lost 3 different sets of forms from us. I would stay far away from Offshore, despite their prices. Blue-Water Marine is also supposed to be poor, but we have no direct experience other than an expensive quote.
Caribbean insurance often makes boats stay out of "the box" (of high hurricane exposure). Sizes and locations of this box vary, and even staying out of it doesn't guarantee that you won't be hit. We prefer coverage that gives us responsibility without limiting our cruising grounds. Our insurance doubles our deductible (excess) if we're damaged by a "named storm" which seems reasonable to us.
European friends have had good luck dealing with Jo Livingstone of Pantaenius UK Ltd., but their reply to us was that their "Underwriters are no longer prepared to offer cover for American or Canadian registered or owned vessels unless they are permanently sailing within European waters ... because of the potential additional costs under US and Canadian legislation." We've recently been told this policy has changed but haven't verified it ourselves.
Brian Hepburn, Director of the NZ Island Cruising Association, seems a nice chap but some of his underwriters don't like US addresses or owners, presumably because of our litigatious ways. Nevertheless, Brian was able to set us up with Bronwyn Renall of Herbert Insurance Limited in Auckland, NZ. Bronwyn was able to save us ~$600 with a 1.44% quote from her UK (Lloyds!) underwriters. She was very responsive to our needs, but eventually got kicked upstairs, and her replacement was useless. Since 2009, we've been insured through Chandre Stemmers of Risk Benefit Solutions (RBS). We haven't had to make a claim (thank goodness) which is the real test of an insurance company, but when we took a near lightning miss and lost $4000 of electronics (our excess/deductible is $5000), they were quite responsive. If anyone out there has some good info, please contact us right away!
Putting your own goodies on a boat can save you a lot of money and give you the satisfaction of knowing that the job was done right, but it depends on how handy you are at that sort of thing. We've had to learn a lot about many different disciplines, like refrigeration, fiberglass, woodwork, diesel engines, etc. Luckily, the cruising community is very helpful and supportive, especially away from the US. Cruisers have lots of talent and they like to help each other out, usually charging nothing more than a cold beer after the work's done, just to keep the karmic circle going. Professionally, Jon's a Computer and Electrical Engineer and started his working career (at 15) re-wiring industrial buildings. To take the example of installing our radar, cutting a hole in the mast to drop the radar cable down was easy, though fishing it out at the bottom was fiddly and tedious. Pulling the headliner off to run wires is easy on Ocelot (it's all held on with industrial strength Velcro). Some of the initial wiring runs we've had to do were a bit difficult (no way to get behind cabinets) but whenever we have to run a new wire, we run a small rope as well (1/8" parachute cord) so we can pull the next wire through easily. The difficult part for us is fairing everything in so it all looks good, because we're not good at finish work. Installing the watermaker was straight-forward but we spent a fair amount of time thinking about it first. Most solar panels are pretty easy, but designing the mounts required some thought. A hard bimini would make that much easier. Autopilots usually require some custom hardware on the rudder-stock, but after that it's pretty straightforward. What you lose by putting it in yourself is support - coming back to the installer if it doesn't work right - but that's not really an option for us. By the time it breaks, we're far, far away.
Handling Land-Based Life
Getting someone to handle your land-life is a pain, for you and them. You want to eliminate as much as possible. Cancel all subscriptions and setup routine payments to happen automatically. We have given up having snail-mail sent to us. We just wait until a visitor comes down and then Sue's (wonderful) brother sends the accumulation to them. Our credit cards pay automagically and we check them on the internet. Cash comes from ubiquitous cash machines. Our main advice is to give someone you trust your (possibly limited) power of attorney, to handle unexpected things on your behalf.
Long distance radios were an expensive luxury in the 1980s, but now most yachts have them, to get weather info, email, and to keep in touch with the rest of the cruising community. We use a modified Ham radio. It's easier to modify a Ham set to transmit on the SSB frequencies (there are lots of websites devoted to this) than to modify a marine SSB to transmit in the Ham bands. Most boats don't want to carry both sets as the frequencies are very similar. However, if you're going to fly the stars and stripes, you're supposed to only use FCC "type-certified" SSB radios, as they're not supposed to drift. We've found this is hogwash. Marine SSBs have just as many problems, use more power, cost more, and have fewer controls. People who use Marine SSB radios are not supposed to know much about them, so they build them as idiot-proof as possible. You can not just dial in a frequency - you have to program it in first. You don't get the gauges and filters of Ham sets, because the folks they build them for aren't supposed to know how to use them. Having said all that, if you don't already know radio, I'd recommend a Ham and/or SSB radio course, just so you know what's going on. Ham clubs often give them for free. Also, listen to a net for a while before trying to transmit, so you know what's expected. This will save you sounding silly when you first come on, as some nets are very busy.
We like Icom as they're technically advanced and everyone's external hardware works with them. We use an Icom 706 Mk II/g, but it's not necessarily the best radio for everyone. It's very compact, has lots of features, and can be tricked into transmitting on any frequency from 1-500 MHz! However, many people never go out of the HF bands so they might be better served with a cheaper dedicated 1-30 MHz radio with more power and/or better filters. For more on this, see our Radio Email page.
The 2 main satellite phone systems are GlobalStar and Iridium. Both use an array of satellites in low earth orbits. Each satellite can "see" an area of the Earth several hundred miles in diameter. The main difference is that Iridium has true world-wide coverage, because its satellites can talk to each other, relaying your call to a satellite that can see a ground station. GlobalStar satellites can not talk to each other, so the satellite you are talking to has to, itself, be able to talk to a ground station. This usually works OK around the larger continental land masses, but doesn't work at all mid-ocean, or even around small islands (see GlobalStar.com for a coverage map). The trade-off is that GlobalStar sound (and data) quality is usually better.
So we originally went with Iridium, buying a reconditioned Motorola 9505 satellite phone for ~$800. For $20/month (and $1.50/minute for outgoing calls, which we never used) friends and family could phone us whenever the need arose. Even better, folks could send us instant messages for free - "Plane delayed 2 hrs", or "Check your email ASAP", or even "It's a Boy!". We were willing to pay $250/year for this service. Then Iridium increased their fees to $30/month, so we went with a pre-paid SIM card, paying $300 for 200 minutes that lasted 1 year. The increase in cost was offset by our ability to call out for up to 200 minutes for that year.
The problems came when the year ran out and we tried to renew for an additional year - Iridium discontinued that plan. Several websites still claim to sell that plan, but none will honor it. The cheapest plans available were $650 for 500 minutes that lasts 1 year. This is really outside our budget as we don't use the phone very much - we bought it so people could call us. Since few people ever call us, and we can usually find cheaper phone options ashore, we've decided not to renew our phone. The observant will notice that our Iridium phone information has recently been deleted from our contacts page, as our radio-email accomplishes the vast majority of our communications quite well.
We don't use our radar much at all, and I can't really say that we need it, but most yachts these days carry radar and when you need it, it's really handy. Like all electronics, don't put yourself in a position where you're depending on it - have a backup plan in place. We used to have a JRC 16-mile radar as we got a good deal on it, but it never worked very well. When it died in a near miss of lightning, we didn't mourn. We bought a "broadband" (actually, FM) radar that draws almost no power and is good for close in work (out to about 10 miles). Note that manufacturers specs tend to be highly optimistic - most radars work OK at up to ~½ their nominal range, but you'll struggle to get more than that. We never use the alarm feature and we always keep a human watch. We mainly use radar when we see a ship's light when we're on passage, to see how far away it is and to see if it's on a collision course. We generally don't see something on the radar before we see it by eye. Hooking it to your NMEA 0183 bus and your autopilot compass signal will give you lat/lon of your targets, which can be very handy. Sometimes we'll use it on a landfall, but "Never be in a hurry to enter or leave port". We've also used it to see (and see through) rainstorms. Our display is not visible from our helm, but our nav-desk is just inside the companionway, 2 short steps away.
A big decision with larger cruising boats is to go with 12vDC or add an AC electrical system. Diesel generators give you a lot more flexibility with toys (scuba compressors, high-volume water-makers, large freezers, etc.) that 12v boats simply can't cope with, but generators are also noisy and can be maintenance hassles. We already have 2 diesel motors to deal with so we decided to go the 12vDC route. (Note that we have a 1500W Heart inverter/charger for the blender, power tools, and sewing machine, so we can make lots of AC when we want to, but not for long periods of time).
We also decided not to go with a wind-generator this time around. We had one (from Hamilton Ferris) on Oriental Lady and it doubled as a great little towing generator after Jon built up a propeller arrangement for it, but it also made more noise than we liked, increasing stress whenever the winds increased. This time we decided to go with quiet power. The solar panel space awe had was above the dinghy davits, ~10 feet (3m) wide and up to ~6 feet (2m) long.
People talk about "efficiency" for solar panels, but the sun is free, so how efficiently a panel converts sunlight into electricity doesn't mean that much. For us, efficiency is measured in watts/$ - how can we get the most power into our batteries for the least money. Researching the panels that were available in 2001, we found that the bigger panels generally had better watts/$, so we went with the largest panels we could find at the time. These ended up being 4 Kyocera KC-120 (120-watts nominal) panels. Kyocera has an excellent guarantee, and when our panels developed problems in 2009, Kyocera shipped us replacement panels at no cost to us. Talk about service! For more on this, see our Solar panel page.
Our Solar Panel (Photovoltaic) Controller is an SB50 from Blue Sky Energy Systems. The chief feature of the SB50 is that it tracks the maximum power point of the PV panels. When a 12V panel advertises itself as "120 Watt", it does NOT give you 10 Amps at 12V as you might expect. First, 12V batteries need ~14V to charge. But what they don't tell you except in the fine print is that the 120W is measured as only 7A at 17v! Even if you connect the panels straight to your batteries, you won't get more than 7A (and you might cook your batteries).
What the SB50 does (and other max-power-point tracking, or MPPT controllers do) is run the panels at their maximum power point (7A at 17v) and run that power through a DC-to-DC converter to produce ~8+A at the 14v your batteries need. OK, so 8A x 14v = 112W so a bit of power is lost in this conversion, but you still get more current into your batteries than you would by just connecting them to the solar panels, and you get good, regulated charging as well.
The downside to these controllers is that the DC-DC conversion is done via a switching power supply. While operation is silent to us humans, it makes enough electrical noise that we have to shut it down when using the SSB radio (VHF is fine). Also, while they advertise "up to 20% boost" in current, we typically only see a 5-10% increase. They are also expensive - we paid ~US$350 in 2001. But the SB50 provides lots of control, allowing us to adjust the output voltage for our gel-cell batteries (14v) and automatically adjusting that set-point as battery temperatures change. You can also connect it to your main battery shunt and it will compensate for other loads on your system.
Actually, we don't have a wind-charger (often called a "wind-generator" which is ambiguous, as it doesn't generate any wind). We had one on Oriental Lady, but found the constant noise of these units to be too irritating. When it's blowing hard, the noise raises our tension levels, just at the time we want cool heads. But we have researched them, so here goes. The 2 most common wind chargers seem to be the Air-X (not the earlier models) and the KISS (from Trinidad, of all places). The KISS is quieter, but it has no voltage or current regulation, which makes them overpriced (In My Humble Opinion). The Air-X is much more sophisticated, but the constant noise gets on our nerves. We even avoid anchoring too close to them. We also don't like their slimy advertising. KISS uses a straightforward curve: at X knots of wind you'll get Y amps at 12v. (Note that you'll get somewhat less when trying to charge a 12v battery, as the charging voltage is actually ~14v). Air Marine uses a more round-about formula: if you get an average of X knots of wind over a whole MONTH, you'll get Y amp-hrs of electricity. They do this because it gives an inflated figure (any month-long average will have wind-peaks with much more power in them). Realize that you probably won't get anything like what either claims - we'd guess closer to 75%.
In the 1980s, no small yachts had watermakers, but now prices have come down so most cruisers have them. They won't pay for themselves in terms of money saved (water's usually pretty cheap) but the convenience and safety of being independent of shore water is very appealing. Watermaker water is usually much better than shore water, almost distilled quality. We use a 12v Spectra watermaker because Ocelot is a 12v boat. These are relatively expensive units (we paid US$5,000 in 2001) but they're the most efficient in terms of gallons/amp-hour of electricity. We started with a single-pump 9 gal/hr (nominal) unit and then added a second pump to boost production up to ~15 gal/hr (55 liters/hr).
We used to be very pleased with Spectra's support. In 2003, an internal part of ours broke in Raiatea and we didn't have a spare. We emailed Spectra and they immediately identified the problem and emailed us instructions for a quick-fix (which worked and got us running again!) Then they air-freighted us a full rebuild kit with everything we'd need for a permanent fix. When we mentioned that our feed-pumps weren't performing up to spec they also included 2 new pump-heads. All this was provided for free - they didn't even ask us to pay for shipping. Unfortunately, Glenn, who gave us this superb service, no longer works at Spectra, and their service has gone markedly downhill ever since.
Note that manufacturers specs tend to be optimistic, so you should de-rate them at least 20% for reality - we usually get 7-8 gal/hr (26-30 liters/hr) from our Spectra when we run just a single pump. The 4 of us go through ~15 gal/day (100 g/wk or 400 l/wk) with showers, more with the washing machine or guests. Watermakers should be run every day in the tropics to prevent growth on the membrane and, ideally, flushed with fresh water afterwards. We usually run just 1 pump for 2 hours a day, producing 15 gallons (55 liters) at a cost of about 15 amp-hours of electricity. We always flush the system with fresh water through a charcoal filter to remove any chlorine (which will damage the membrane).
If you are going to put a generator on board, it probably makes more sense to get an AC powered (or even direct driven) watermaker. They're cheaper, produce lots more water, and usually give less hassle. Instead of gallons/amp-hour, you're probably more interested in maximizing (gallons/hour)/dollar. See more on this subject on our Watermaker page.
In the 1980s we had a rowing dinghy and loved it. On Ocelot, we were 4 big people, we had lots of friends visit, and we sometimes went scuba diving. We bought a 12' (3.5m) aluminum Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) from AB (Italian company, built in Venezuela) with a Mercury 25hp outboard. This package weighs 230lbs (~100kg) all up. Aluminum is lighter than fiberglass, 2-stroke is lighter than 4, and the 25 weighed the same as the 20hp. We never remove the outboard, but we have very strong davits. When deciding what dinghy to buy, you really want to be able to plane with everyone on board and some gear (like groceries or scuba gear). A good dinghy will extend your cruising tremendously, as you'll explore lots more places. We have no problem exploring 3-4 miles from Ocelot's anchorage, more if we take a VHF radio. We'd recommend at least 10hp, better 15hp (which is usually the same engine with a different carburetor). For the Caribbean, get a good outboard lock (ours is an $85 custom stainless steel unit) and remember to hoist your dinghy out of the water every night or you'll lose your engine (no matter what size it is). Get a good dinghy cover to extend your dinghy's life - we got ours from Jonny in Margarita, Venezuela, for $100.
We generally have both paper and electronic charts for wherever we are. In the Caribbean we used raster type electronic charts and a miserable program called Capt'n Navigator. Cruisers there regularly pirate charts and programs and swap them. In the Pacific, the raster charts aren't as good and most cruisers use CM93 vector type charts (2 CDs cover the whole world) and the free and open source OpenCPN navigation program. We just put our laptop on the nav-desk, 5' (1.5m) from the helm as we don't trust the cockpit to be waterproof. Note that many charts do NOT agree with the GPS. Errors in Tonga were ~500 yards or ~¼ mile (½ km). Use eyeballs to enter anchorages the first time, and have your program leave a line of your track. The GPS is VERY repeatable, so you can then use your line for subsequent approaches.
To combat chart inaccuracy, especially in some of the remote places we go to, we now supplement our charts with satellite‑derived KAP files. These are exactly positioned (geo‑referenced) files that can be shared with other cruisers. See our KAP Files page for how to make them yourself, for free!
Be careful setting up your NMEA 0182/3 circuits, as only 1 talker can be on a circuit at a time. We have up to 3 talkers (Autopilot, GPS2, computer) so 3 circuits. Think about what you want talking to what. Make sure your laptop has a serial port (many don't any more) or get a good quality USB-to-RS232 adaptor (many don't handle NMEA-0182/3 signals very well). We use a 4-port serial-to-USB adaptor made by KeySpan, which has worked flawlessly since installed in 2006. This one is more expensive than others, but we've had no problems with it at all. Another option is to get a completely independent GPS with a USB connector. These are tiny and can now be bought for under US$50, but they can't interface with other navigational equipment besides the computer.
Working while Cruising
Most cruisers don't try to work while they're cruising. It's usually impossible to get working papers so most countries won't let them work for profit (although many like volunteers). Some cruisers fly home periodically to "restock the cruising kitty" but when we're cruising, we're cruising, and don't like to worry about financial issues. Better to pay off your boat (and any other financial obligations) and save enough that you can live off the interest. Note that cruising is usually much cheaper than living ashore in the US.
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